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Every day eight-year-old Nonjabulo Sabela would walk the kilometre home from school, take off her school shoes, and drop them and her school bag on the front porch at home.
Then she would go off to play - like many other children in her neighbourhood.
But last Friday, Nonjabulo, who loved church, singing and playing, didn’t come home.
On Thursday, her family discovered her body in the overgrown bush near her school, Mzwilili Junior Primary. She looked to have been raped, murdered and her body dumped in the bush.
The family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit is now investigating the death of the Grade 3 pupil.
The incident was a tragic start to the national Stop Rape campaign which was launched on Thursday. But as President Jacob Zuma was launching the campaign, teachers and pupils at the school in uMlazi’s D section were mourning Nonjabulo.
Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker said Nonjabulo’s body was found at 5.30pm on Thursday.
He said police did not want to speculate on the state of the body, whether she had been raped or how she had been killed.
“A post-mortem will be conducted on Tuesday and will give us conclusive answers to those questions.”
When the Sunday Tribune visited the girl’s home, we found that her parents had gone to Umbumbulu, where she will be buried this week.
But her aunt Nomusa Sabela, 29, recounted the family’s horror.
She said they went to look for Nonjabulo after teachers complained about a smell coming from the bushes.
The bush is on the school premises and Nonjabulo walked through the overgrown shrubbery to get home.
“There were five of us, including Nonjabulo’s mother, Mbali. We followed the smell and my cousin… found the body.”
Sabela said Nonjabulo’s body was found face down with her uniform turned up. Her underwear was found next to her body.
Residents say the girl’s eyes were gouged out and that she had been stabbed in the abdomen, with shards of glass stuck in the wound.
“We just started crying,” said Sabela. “We don’t know who did this painful thing to our child.
“Words cannot describe how we feel about her death.”
Zodwa Mabizela’s swollen eyes were a testimony to her grief - she was Nonjabulo’s teacher.
“I have had to rearrange the seating in the class because every time I look at her chair, I see her face,” she said.
Mzwilili Junior Primary principal Sbusiso Mkhwanazi said Nonjabulo was a quiet, intelligent and disciplined girl.
Mkhwanazi believes she was kidnapped by someone in the community.
“We also believe the child was raped and kept in a house, and when the body began to decompose, the perpetrator dumped the body here.”
He says he had made several attempts to get the bush cleared.
“We have been asking the department to clear the bush since 2010 because it is shelter to criminals and rapists, but it is too late for Nonjabulo,” said Mkhwanazi.
Eureka Olivier, administrative director of Bobbi Bear, said: “Today we have one dead eight-year-old and a perpetrator on the loose.
“Children must not walk home alone. They must not get into vehicles with people they do not know or accept anything from strangers.”
Naicker advised parents to ensure that their children are always supervised by a responsible adult.
KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said: “The department is saddened that this happened on the day of the launch of the Stop Rape campaign.
“We are working closely with the police to ensure that the perpetrator is arrested this week,” said Mahlambi. - Sunday Tribune