Johannesburg - Ten-year-old Snothile Hadebe travelled alone by taxi from KwaZulu-Natal to Joburg to enjoy the school holidays with her mother. Wearing a red jacket to shield her from the cold weather and carrying a large bag, she arrived in the inner city on Monday evening.
But she soon found herself lost in the Joburg CBD, which is notorious for high levels of crime and increasing rates of child abductions. The child burst into tears as she wandered around looking for the "red building" her aunt in KwaZulu-Natal instructed her to find to locate her mother. As the sun was beginning to set and the cold front began to set in, Hadebe asked a passersby for help in a desperate bid to find her way.
It was at about 5.30pm, when she was spotted by Cebile Lekhuleni, who couldn't ignore the desperation on the child's face. Lekhuleni explained to The Saturday Star that she was walking from Park Station to her residence at Wits University.
"As I was walking I saw the girl in tears speaking to a man and he was trying to find out why she was crying. I stopped to intervene because her expression drew me to her. She was genuinely scared," said Hadebe.
Without any other details to go on apart from the "red building" advice, the 25-year-old decided to take the girl to Wits with her. There Lekhuleni consulted with a campus security guard, who advised her to call the police. "I called 10111 at around 6pm but two hours later the police still hadn't arrived," she said.
She then decided to post about the incident on social media to help the child find her mother. Her post on Facebook read: "I found this little girl lost inside Joburg (Rissik Street, one of the busiest streets) a few minutes ago. Her name is Snothile Hadebe, 10, and her aunt got her into a taxi to Joburg from KZN to visit her mom, no number no anything they just told her to look for a red building. Really!
"It's about 4 degrees and it's dark, so many horrible things happen to girls this age - abductions, rape and murder. I'm no parent but this is k*k!!!"
The post soon went viral, with scores of social media users offering advice on how to help the girl. Eventually, at 9pm, Lekhuleni took Hadebe to the Hillbrow police station and the child was handed to officers. She returned the next day to inquire about the child and was told that officers managed to track down her mother.
She posted again on Facebook to inform her followers that the child was safe and to thank them for their help. A segment of the post read: "Thanks to everyone for making the post go viral, which enabled her family members in KZN to know she didn't get to her mom, and thanks to everyone that in-boxed me with useful numbers to call, including the counsellor in/or around Winterton and the police there. She is safe now."
Lekhuleni said that while she could have fallen victim to a scam by approaching the child, she simply could not ignore the girl’s plight. "I thought that anything could have happened to her and I knew that I had to help where I could," the Wits student said.
She has since been hailed for the role she played, with many saying that the child could have been harmed if she hadn't intervened. Boitumelo Lekalakala wrote on Facebook: "Cebile, you saved a life! Anything could have happened to that child had she not been found by you. Thank God she was found by you, you were God sent, God bless you darling, you saved a life."
Meanwhile, Thabo Sibanda applauded Lekhuleni for living up to the ideals of ubuntu. "Thank you Cebile God bless your heart. Madiba must be smiling in heaven for you have shown the spirit of ubuntu. May we as mothers, sisters and women take a lesson from this and practice humanity and not ignore. Once again, thank you."