In a twist after an all-night search by police and the parents of a two-year-old taken in a bakkie hijacking, police have arrested the hero who “found” Emmanuel Khoza and handed him to police.

The 21-year-old man, whose name is known to the Daily News, had been hailed as a hero for finding Emmanuel at the KwaMashu men’s hostel.

He has now been implicated after he allegedly bought the stolen bakkie from the hijackers and “returned” Emmanuel to the police, a part of the deal the hijackers had insisted on, said Warrant Officer Yamarasen Govender, who led the investigation.

It became clear as the story unfolded that it was a case of “criminals with consciences”, and the child was unharmed.

Emmanuel’s mother, Precious Manda, her baby, Lucia, and fiancé Elias Khoza, had been visiting family on Thursday, December 19.

On the way home they had stopped at a tavern in Cato Manor and, while Khoza was talking to friends outside a tavern, three men jumped into the bakkie. Manda had been sitting with her baby in the front, and Emmanuel was playing with the steering wheel.

As they drove off, Manda, clutching her baby, had jumped from the moving vehicle. The hijackers shot at Khoza as he jumped on the back of the bakkie to try to stop the hijackers, and he was grazed by the bullet.

He attended to Manda’s injuries, and then called police and started searching for Emmanuel.

The parents endured 14 hours of stress before being told a child, thought to be Emmanuel, had been found. Police officers at KwaMashu police station had fed a hungry Emmanuel and he was reunited with his mother soon afterwards.

Govender said his team had been determined to find the hijackers.

“When the hijackers stole the bakkie in Cato Manor, they drove around Durban and then went to a garage in Mount Moriah to get diesel.

“It was late at night and the accused, who is a petrol attendant, was working the night shift,” Govender said.

The investigators believe that, at the very least, the hijackers were acquainted with each other as they frequented the same hostel.

The hijackers then struck a deal, said Govender, that the suspect could buy the bakkie for R2 500, but with one condition: he had to take Emmanuel to the police station the next day, saying that he had found Emmanuel alone in the hostel.

Emmanuel had been left to sleep alone in the bakkie all night, covered with a night gown, said Govender.

“(The suspect) told police he had found Emmanuel running in the bush near the hostel and that he was concerned because anything could have happened to him and there was no adult with him,” Govender said.

Although he gave his correct name when he took Emmanuel to the KwaMashu police station, the suspect had given incorrect contact details, said Govender.

Two weeks later the suspect was arrested in Howick after he and a petrol attendant had a dispute about the filling of the vehicle. Police said they had been called by the petrol station manager.

Police questioned the man, became suspicious, looked on their system and discovered it was a hijacked bakkie and arrested him.

“When we found him he said he had nothing to do with the hijacking and did not know the bakkie he bought was stolen,” Govender said.

After a few days in a holding cell, the suspect confessed and assisted police with their investigation, he said.

“After we had our suspects, we began monitoring them at their KwaMashu homes, making sure they were the ones we were looking for. We arrested them early on Tuesday morning,” he said.

After the arrests, the suspect positively identified them, Govender said.

The alleged hijackers will appear in court today, charged with kidnapping and hijacking. Police are still looking for a third suspect.

Daily News