Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu in Nkayi
EXACTLY 3 kilometres from Mr Julius Ncube’s homestead lies a pathway connecting Forest Area to the Nkayi main road, where the last footprint of kidnapped Awakhiwe Ackim Ncube was found on December 4, 2016.
Members of his paternal family had gone to the fields that morning leaving the boy, who was then aged four, in the company of his grandfather, Mr Ncube (76).
His father and mother had separated and were not staying in the village.
At around 8.30AM, the old man realised that Awakhiwe had moved from his usual playing spot near the homestead.
Mr Ncube asked his older grandson to go to their neighbours’ homestead to check if Awakhiwe was there, sensing that something was amiss.
The boy came back and reported that Awakhiwe was nowhere to be seen, although he had spotted his footprints on a pathway leading to the forest.
The whole family was called to the homestead while some men followed the footsteps.
The large gaps between the four-year-old’s footprints made them conclude that the boy could have been running very fast.
Within a few hours, the whole village had been turned into search parties that went in different directions calling the boy’s name only to return with no luck.
The footprints led the family to the main road 3km away, but they did not understand how Awakhiwe, whose footprints were the only ones on the ground, had reached there, without help or some form of influence.
The distance covered by a minor, seemingly alone, became a mystery.
Villagers decided to continue with the search late into the night, hoping to find fresh trail or clothes, or even that a wild animal had pounced on Awakhiwe.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and today marks five years, one month and two weeks since the boy was last seen at his home in eMajoyi Village in Nkayi, Matabeleland North Province.
Fortunately, the boy who will be turning 10 soon was discovered at Namanga Border Post which connects Tanzania and Kenya – more than 3 700km away from home.
Awakhiwe, who had almost become another successful human trafficking victim, cried and asked for his mother in IsiNdebele, raising the suspicion of border officials.
Investigations led to the arrest of the suspected kidnappers, Ms Margaret Juma Magero and Mr David Ochieng Omentho, who are believed to be married.
The officials suspected the child was Zimbabwean or South African.
Awakhiwe was placed in a children’s home in Nairobi but five years later, he still has not been reunited with his family in Zimbabwe.
Chronicle caught up with Mr Ncube on Wednesday who said his grandson’s disappearance had brought him so much pain.
He said “as I patiently await my death”, his last wish is to be able to see Awakhiwe and find the closure he has been longing for, for years.
The old man said his wife failed to cope with the boy’s disappearance and developed hypertension which claimed her life two years ago.
“I was working on my garden here at home while the whole family had gone to the fields and Awakhiwe was playing with his cousin, early in the morning at around 8AM.
I then realised that they had left the home and asked one of my grandsons to look for the pair.
After a while he came back telling me that they had spotted Awakhiwe’s footsteps heading towards the forest,” said Mr Ncube in a quavering voice, holding back tears.
“We searched for him for days, made police reports and did everything but still we didn’t find him.
I eventually went and consulted a tsikamutanda (witch hunter) who demanded eight goats to help our family trace the boy and when I refused, he just bluntly said I was too late, the boy had crossed borders to an unknown country.”
Mr Ncube believes Awakhiwe’s disappearance was a result of evil spirits which were used to lure him away from home.
“I have been struggling to sleep; I find myself talking to unseen people asking if I will ever find peace.
At one point I was even thinking he had died, but the fact that I hadn’t seen his body made things worse,” he said.
Mr Ncube said although he managed to make a timely police report, the family will need help to have the boy come back to Zimbabwe.
He said the incident has strained relations with his former daughter-in-law who has never contacted the family since then.
“My daughter-in-law was separated from my son and would regularly visit her two children who were staying with us.
When Awakhiwe disappeared, she asked for his elder brother and that was the last we saw them.
I do hope that one day the boy comes back so that at least we are vindicated as the Ncube family,” he added.
Authorities from Zimbabwe and Kenya are said to be still working on paperwork to repatriate Awakhiwe.
Awakhiwe’s mother, Ms Nobekezelo Maseko, who stays in Inyathi Village, Bubi District, said she was living every day with the hope of reuniting with her son.
“My life has never been the same and I regret leaving my two children with their paternal relatives even if they insisted.
I sometimes fail to eat when I think of what my son is doing, whether he is well taken care of and if I will ever see him,” she said.
She said her first months without Awakhiwe were the most difficult as she couldn’t eat and sleep.
She also spent her hard-earned money consulting prophets who just told her that the boy is still alive.
“I started the paperwork with the police and social welfare on January 9, 2017 and until today, my son hasn’t been returned to me.
At first I was eager to make follow ups with police and other officials who sent me from office to office.”
Ms Maseko said the last time she made a follow up was in 2018 when officials told her the issue “would now be handled by Government”.
“The police officers also googled the children’s home keeping Awakhiwe and a carer confirmed they had him, however, emphasising that the process to have him back would be very long,” she said.
“I wonder what he is doing every time, if he is at school and what language he uses. I cannot wait to get him back so that my life can be normal again.”
In an interview, the manager of the Happy Lives Children’s Home in Nairobi Mrs Sarah Kemani said she was not in a position to comment on the issue.
“A lot of people have been calling me but we do not have any record, in fact we do not rescue children outside Kenya.
I think it will be better if you go through the Kenyan Government as I am not allowed to give any information on children.
Maybe that child was rescued and brought to us using another name, I am not sure but it’s best that you deal with the Government,” she said.
Efforts to contact the Kenyan embassy in Harare were fruitless yesterday as officials were not responding to phone calls.