Amahle Thabethe was eight years old when she was lured away by an unknown man while playing with friends outside her home in Tsakane, a predominantly working-class township in South Africa. Amahle has been missing for more than two years. Every day her mother, Nokulunga Nkosi, wears a T-shirt with her face on it in the hope that someone will recognise her little girl, who she believes is still alive.
I couldn’t tell you what the date is today on the calendar, but I know that it has been 1,032 agonising days since I last laid my eyes on you.
My heart has been stuck in my throat since that fateful afternoon on April 6, 2019, when you were stolen from me. It is a day that I have been forced to painfully relive over and over again to strangers, policemen and the media in my desperate quest to find you.
I will never forget it.
It was a Saturday like any other and you were exactly where anyone would expect you to be on the weekend – playing outside with your friends. Just before 1:30 pm your friends came to find me. As they struggled to overcome the panic in their voices, I noticed you were not with them.
They said a strange man had approached all of you, and after singling you out, lured you away from the rest of them under the pretense of needing your help with directions.
I dropped what I was doing and ran outside. I looked for you, frantically. Our family and some neighbours came to help. We searched every corner, every hole and every home on our gravel street. I was so sure that we would find you, that there must be some mistake and that this would all go away.
But as the sun started to set, I experienced a crippling panic. It was getting dark and I still did not have you.
The ride to Tsakane Police Station felt like an eternity. A male police officer’s voice echoed in my head, almost bringing me back from the dark places my mind had wandered off to. “What was the child wearing?” he asked.
The answer to that question will forever be carved into my memory. I will always remember that you were wearing blue jeans with silver hearts on your right thigh and a long-sleeved white t-shirt with black stripes.
It struck me that what they don’t ask about missing persons are all the little things that make them so special to the ones who are missing them. I wanted to tell them that your favourite colour is yellow, that you are a ray of sunshine, that you have many friends, and that your favorite hobby is dancing.
I gave the police the remainder of your physical description while fighting back tears: “Eight years old, brown dreadlocks, brown eyes, small frame, average height, only pierced ears”.
With every word came the realisation that I was really at a police station reporting my only child missing.
That was the moment my world came crashing down. I couldn’t believe how we had gone from a wonderful life together to suddenly being stripped away from one another.
For eight years I watched you blossom into a girl with big dreams and ambitions to become a doctor. You are such a smart, talented girl, Amahle. You excelled so much in school that I could always excuse your love for watching cartoons all afternoon.
When I close my eyes, I can still remember the day you were born – November 25, 2010. Your eyes stood out, you were perfect to me but more than anything I was happy that you were healthy.
When reality kicks in and I open my eyes to a world where I do not know if you are scared or safe, if you are being fed, if you can remember how loved you are and if you’re OK, I cannot cope.
Soon after you were ripped from us, I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. It has been difficult to continue my job as an assistant welder because I have been in and out of a psychiatric hospital.
Do not worry; although sometimes I am overpowered by the hopelessness and agony I have felt from the core of my gut since the day I returned home without you, I want you to know that your mother will never stop looking for you.
I spend every waking moment thinking about you. I’ve posted flyers all over our community, talked to countless people and wear a T-shirt with your face on it every day so that I can continue to tell people about you even on those days when it is too hard to speak.
On April 16, 2019, your schoolmates decided to miss school and march through Tsakane to raise awareness about you. The next day, hundreds of people – our neighbours, friends and others from surrounding areas – marched in your honor.
Every year on your birthday, people come to our home from all over the country to pray for your return to us. From time to time I get a phone call from somebody I’ve never met encouraging me not to lose hope.
Amahle, you have a community of people who are on the lookout for you, pleading for your return and holding out hope.
The police have not shared many things with our family about their investigation, but I call them often in the hope that one day they will be the ones calling me to say, “We found her, come fetch her.”
I long for that day. I miss your laughter – so do your cousins, aunts and friends. You were always a quiet child but your laughter could be heard resonating from far away.
I am constantly praying for you. Praying that God deposits our tears into the heart of whoever has you so that they can bring you back to us. I know that you are alive, I cannot explain it but I can feel you. I promise we will find you.
I love you and I will never stop looking for you.
As told to Thabi Myeni.