Distraught father recalls Sadia’s last moments, suspect denies involvement

Photo and story by Raksha Chattergoon

The murder trial of Sibonelo Mkhize, who is being charged for the murder of nine-year-old Sadia Sukhraj continued at the Durban High Court on Monday, 18 February. Sadia who was killed in a botched hijacking in May 2018 was on her way to school when Mkhize and his now deceased accomplice, Siyabonga Bulose allegedly hijacked her father’s vehicle from her grandparents’ house in Shallcross. Mkhize faces charges of murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances.

Investigating officer, Sivan Chetty took to the witness stand when court reassembled on Monday. According to Chetty, Mkhize’s dead accomplice Siyabonga Bulose was linked through his finger prints to four other hijackings in the Mariannhill and Pinetown areas.

In a statement read by the defence lawyer, Mkhize states that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Mkhize was an innocent bystander, who was on his way home after purchasing cannabis from a nearby informal settlement.”

The accused claims that he was then accosted by two unknown men who bundled him into a car and drove him to the scene of the crime. He was then assaulted by a mob and arrested. Mkhize has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and denies having any knowledge of the crimes in question. The trial which is set to run for the rest of the month has seen eight witnesses from the state, including Sadia’s distraught father Shailendra Sukhraj. Sukhraj who was the first witness to take the stand, fought back his tears when recounting the day of the tragic incident.

In an emotional break down, the grieving father explained how the men demanded his keys while holding a gun towards him, “They were just meters away from him, I tossed them the keys,” said Shailendra.

While gasping for air and attempting to hold back his tears with every word, Sukhraj explained that the last time his saw his baby girl alive was when the suspects were reversing out of his in-laws drive-way. “The vehicle hit the gate at the top of the yard, and I saw her jump up in fear. The back door opened on impact.

“A passerby who witnessed the incident told me to jump into the car and we gave chase. We were on Higginson Highway when I realised that I have a tracker app on my phone. The vehicle had stopped on Caucaus Road in Shallcross. The ignition was switched off. I asked the driver of the vehicle to make a U-turn and take me back to Shallcross,” added Sukhraj.

He explained to the court that when he arrived at the scene of the crime, a number of residents and police vehicles where already present. “I was informed that Sadia was shot and rushed to a nearby hospital,” said Shailendra.

Sukhraj described the horrific moment when he arrived at the hospital, “The nurses refused to allow me to see my baby, they said the doctors where still working on her. After pestering them I was confronted by the doctor in charge who told me that she was already gone”.

He said he was then allowed to see her and described what he saw as her lifeless body, “I could not believe that this child was taken from me in seconds”.

Shailendra who could barely complete a full sentence said, “I could have fired the shot that killed my daughter”, while during the cross-examination he admitted that he could have also fired the shot that killed one of the suspects, Siyabonga Bulose.

Another witness Siyanda Thabethe, a security guard at a local car paint shop in the area testified on Wednesday, 13 February. Thabethe who was harshly bumped by the hijacked vehicle explained to the court what he witnessed, “I saw the driver of the vehicle search for something in the car, once he found it he did not exit through his door but he jump out the rear driver’s door, with a black bag in his hand. He ran down the pathway.
I went to the car and opened the passenger front door, I took out the suspect and placed him on the floor next to the car. He asked me to call the ambulance but I said we need to wait for the police. I saw the little girl laying in the back and asked him why they shot her. He responded by saying “We did not shoot her the owner of the car did.”

Thabethe who bravely tied the suspect with cable ties to prevent him from fleeing was applauded for his actions. A fourth witness, Naresh Singh who assisted in removing the nine-year-old from the vehicle also testified on the same day, “I was driving to work when I came across a vehicle which seemed like it was in an accident or hijacking. I approached the vehicle and noticed a man sitting next to the door gasping for air, I then noticed another man trying to remove a child from the rear seat of the car. He asked me for help because her leg was jammed behind the driver’s seat

“I noticed that the driver’s door did not have any glass so I reached in a pulled the seat forward, the man then handed me the child. I proceeded to take her to the last car on the beginning of the road, I asked them to rush her to the nearest hospital. She was covered in blood, I placed her flat on the back seat. A lady was franticly asking for someone to help save her child.”

Singh added that she was in a white school dress, with white socks, black school shoes and her tie. Sadia had also still been carrying her school bag on her shoulder. Singh was thanked for his selfless assistance. Witness number five who is Malvern SAPS officer Warrant Officer Hemant Raghoonundan, was called to the stand on Thursday, 14 February. Raghoonundan commonly known as Trevor is the off-duty officer who was responsible for single handily apprehending Mkhize

Raghoonundan who spent the majority of the day recalling the day of the incident, gave a descriptive explanation of the scene of the
crime. He explained how he attempted to shield Mkhize from the violent and angry community members who showed up with various weapons, ready to assault Mkhzie. “The community showed up in numbers. Approximately 600 community members, with any and every type of weapon you can think of,” said Raghoonundan.

Warrant Officer Raghoonundan who ran approximately 25 meters through the rubble filled park described the scene as “chaotic” as there was around 600 community members who were seeking “vengeance”.
Raghoonundan’s statement was disrupted by scheduled load shedding at 10am, court resumed at 12 where the officer went on to explain how he had to fight off members of the community who had knives, pipes, sjamboks and sticks in their possession. “As a police officer I was simply doing my job, I attempted to shield Mkhize but I was one officer amongst 600 angry community members. I had to fight off some of them, leaving me with a list of enemies at the end”, said the heroic officer.

He went on to say that once Mkhzie was in his custody, he had to ask a passing motorist for a lift back to the crime scene on Caucus Street, in Shallcross. The selfless unknown men in a red Toyota conquest who assisted the officer were thanked.

Mhize was restrained by his belt which Warrant Officer Raghoonundan used to tie his hands, he was thereafter handed to a Chatsworth policeman, who escorted him to the station for his safety from the violent crowd.

The late Sadia Sukhraj would have turned 10 on 25 February.

Court is expected to continue till the end of the month. The Chatsworth Tabloid will bring you updates as the trial progresses.