The kidnapping of the 13-year-old daughter of the president of the Congolese Solidarity Campaign, reverend Raphael Bahebwa Kabambire, on a busy street in Durban two weeks ago has shaken the Congolese community. The girl was returned seven hours later, but now she is scared to leave her house.
Kabambire, an earnest and outspoken activist against xenophobia, said the kidnapping has struck fear into his family. “I don’t have any proof, [but] my wife said that there was surely a link,” said Kabambire through a translator. “We suspect [the kidnapping] is linked to my [political] activities.”
The girl’s mother sent her to the Jumbo Cash and Carry on Sylvester Ntuli Road (formerly Brickhill Road) in South Beach, about 2km from their home on Mahatma Gandhi Road (formerly Point Road), to buy a fragrance. On the way back, she was accosted by an unknown man who held a cloth over her face and dragged her into a nearby car. She was driven around for seven hours, sandwiched between two men in the backseat, before being dropped off in central Durban.
The teenager told New Frame she was not able to understand the kidnappers because they spoke isiZulu. She said before she passed out, she felt the kidnappers put a pipe into her mouth and some sort of gas entering her airways. Kabambire said the fact that the kidnappers used a substance on his daughter should be a priority for the police.
Compounding the family’s woes, the South African Police Service has only registered a case of robbery – not kidnapping.
“The complainant alleged that on 7 November 2018 at 10am, she was walking on Sylvester Ntuli Road when a vehicle stopped behind her. An unknown man approached her with a cloth in his hand,” said KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson lieutenant colonel Thulani Zwane. “He then pulled her towards a vehicle. While in the car, she woke up to find a cloth was placed on her face.”
When she was pushed out of the car, “she noticed that her fragrance and money were missing. A case of robbery was opened at Durban Central police station for investigation,” Zwane said, but he was unable to explain why a case of kidnapping had not been opened.
Kabambire confirmed that his daughter returned home unharmed, but called on the police to investigate the case to explain why his daughter went missing for seven hours. “We never said it was a robbery. The men in the car didn’t get anything from [my] child … But taking a child between 10am and 5pm, it’s a [kidnapping],” said an exasperated Kabambire.
Living in fear
The reverend has travelled extensively to North West and Northern Cape, as well as throughout KwaZulu-Natal, to assist Congolese and other migrants who face xenophobia. He said he had never been threatened for his activism before. “No, never. Of course, I’m an activist. I’m exposed because I defend a lot of causes for xenophobia victims … [but] no one has threatened me in [KwaZulu-Natal],” he said. “But as my children often accompany me to meetings or marches, they are also exposed.”
“I don’t really know the personal issues of everyone in the community … What I know is that I have no problem. I have no debts towards anyone. We are waiting for the police investigation to have some more answers,” he said. “I’m a leader of the community … Since that day, we don’t feel fully safe.”
Despite living in fear, Kabambire said he would continue with his activism, and expects his children to become activists as well.
Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, chairperson of the Africa Diaspora Forum, said he was also recently threatened during the elections of the forum’s new executive, but dismissed it as a minor issue. He acknowledged that migrants often struggled to open cases with the police. “A lot of migrants, particularly from Ethiopia and Somalia, for example, come to the police stations to open cases, but are not successful, and the biggest barrier is communication,” he said.
“There are a number of issues that affect our migrants, especially when it comes to opening cases … Even sometimes the police tend to be very rude to them and look at them as a target because they don’t know their rights, and they just abuse them and refuse to open cases,” Sibanda said.