Durban - The best Christmas gift a Durban family could have hoped for arrived a little early when their toddler was returned 14 hours after the family car was hijacked.
As little Emmanuel Khoza playfully ran around the Cato Manor police station yesterday, oblivious to the ordeal his parents had endured the previous night, his mother Precious Manda, 23, kept a watchful eye over the two year old.
“He’s free now,” said Manda, not taking her eyes off him.
Wearing a red vest and grey corduroy pants, an energetic Emmanuel told his mother how the “uncles” had “guns” and “fire”, referring to cigarettes.
When asked how he was, he smiled and put up both his thumbs.
Appearing drained, Manda said she hadn’t been able to eat or sleep after helplessly watching three hijackers driving off in the family car with Emmanuel inside.
She spent the whole of Thursday evening crying and praying.
“I didn’t want to prepare myself for the worst, but I knew the longer he was away from us the more danger he was in,” she said.
In a scenario similar to that of award-winning movie Tsotsi, Manda and her fiancé, Elias Khoza, were left devastated and frantic when their white Isuzu double-cab was hijacked in Cato Manor.
The couple, recalled Manda holding her six-week-old baby girl Lucia, were returning from her parent’s home in Lamontville at about 8pm.
As they approached Bonella, Khoza stopped at a tavern to speak to some of his friends.
Emmanuel was sitting in the front passenger seat and jumped into the driver’s seat when his father stepped out.
Manda said she was breastfeeding her daughter when she saw three men surrounding the car.
She initially thought the men were Khoza’s friends.
“One of the men, who had a scar on his face, was wearing the same shirt as Elias’s friends so I just thought that they had come over to greet us,” she said.
She soon realised their lives were in danger when the men – believed to be in their early 20s – became aggressive.
It dawned on her that they were being hijacked when the hijackers reversed the car at high speed.
Without thinking Manda jumped out of the moving car with her baby. She tried grabbing and shouting at Emmanuel to get out of the car, but she was too late and could only watch as the hijackers sped off.
Noticing the commotion a frantic Khoza came running.
“I ran and ran after the car, but those guys were flying and fired a shot in my direction,” said Khoza as he chased after the very active Emmanuel along the police station corridors yesterday.
Recalling the incident, Khoza said he quickly moved his injured and hysterical wife out of the road and then he and his friends went knocking at some nearby houses for assistance.
“At least seven cars came out, all driving around looking for my little boy, but we couldn’t find him”
The bakkie did not have a tracking device.
After scouting the area without any success, Khoza reported the incident at the Cato Manor police station where a team of detectives, led by Yamarasen Govender combed several townships in Durban.
The toddler was found outside the KwaMashu men’s hostel by residents yesterday just after 10am, 14 hours after the ordeal started.
He was taken for a medical check-up and except for a rash on his arm and forehead, was given a clean bill of health.
“We suspect he slept outside and was bitten by mosquitoes,” said Manda.
Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said a hijacking case was being investigated. No arrests had been made yet, he said.
Independent on Saturday