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HEALTHCARE HEROES

Baby kidnapped from Gqeberha mall 7 months ago found by alert Dora Nginza Hospital social worker, admin clerk

Baby kidnapped from Gqeberha mall 7 months ago found by alert Dora Nginza Hospital social worker, admin clerk
Dora Nginza Hospital social worker Portia Marinana became suspicious of altered paperwork and eventually found a kidnapped baby. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

An extraordinary story has unfolded of how a persistent social worker managed to solve a seven-month-old case involving the kidnapping of a baby from the Gqeberha shopping mall.

On the afternoon of Friday, 23 June, an elderly couple walked into the office of Portia Marinana, a social worker in the Department of Paediatrics at Dora Nginza Hospital in Gqeberha.

“They wanted help with a proof-of-birth document for their seven-month-old grandson. It is easy. We always do that,” Marinana said. 

“But we are very strict about just issuing these documents. I have to check whether the baby was indeed born here. I explained to them that we don’t issue proof of birth to just anyone. The biological mother must come here to get it. 

“They told me that they were the biological grandparents of the baby. Their son was the father. They said the biological mother was their son’s girlfriend and she didn’t want to come. According to the couple, the mom was not compliant at all when it came to registering the baby. 

“I said the late registration of birth department only operates on Tuesdays. ‘Will you come on Tuesday?’ I asked, ‘I promise I will help you’.”

“They claimed their grandson was born at Dora Nginza Hospital on 26 November 2022. I asked for the baby’s Road to Health booklet to confirm the place of birth. The booklet confirmed that the baby was indeed born at Dora Nginza Hospital. It had the Dora Nginza Hospital stamp. Inside the booklet, there was a discharge summary.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: The confusion about kidnapping in South Africa — the numbers just don’t add up

“On both the Road to Health booklet and the discharge summary, the original patient details were erased with Tipp-Ex and new patient details were written down using a pen. They were in different handwriting on the card that did not match. Three things had been changed: the name of the mother; the date of birth of the baby; and the date of birth of the mother.

Dora Nginza Hospital social worker Portia Marinana tells the story of how she became suspicious of altered paperwork and eventually found a kidnapped baby. 29 June 2023. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

“I became suspicious,” Marinana said. “‘What is happening here?’ I asked myself.”

She asked the grandparents to return on Tuesday, 27 June, so that they can be helped. 

“I contacted Kaamilah Eagles, the senior administration officer for late registration of birth, to set up an appointment for the elderly couple. I asked her to check whether the baby’s mother was on the system. I raised my suspicions with Mrs Eagles. She could not find the baby’s mother on the system or in the maternity records.

“When I phoned her, I said: ‘Hey, Kaamilah, I don’t know if I am paranoid or not?’ I told her all the red flags. Kaamilah said she will check. She came back to me and said this person did not give birth here in November. ‘Are you sure,’ I asked. She said ‘yes’.

“I knew something was wrong.”

On Tuesday, 27 June, the grandmother returned to the hospital. 

“It was raining … She brought the baby with her so I could see who she was talking about. I was, like, ‘Ok, wow, hi. What a cute baby!’

“The baby is really cute. He is healthy. He is a really lovely boy. He smiles a lot.

“The grandmother presented the suspicious Road to Health booklet and the discharge summary. Apart from the erased patient details, I also noticed huge discrepancies.”

Together, Marinana and Eagles uncovered that the ages of the mother and the age of the patient on the discharge summary were not the same. They traced the folder and found it belonged to a 33-year-old woman from New Brighton who had given birth to a baby boy on 22 November 2022. She was discharged from the hospital on 26 November.

“I had to investigate further to find the missing pieces,” Marinana said. 

“It was evident to me that the 19-year-old woman whose details were filled in on the Road to Health Booklet was not the person to whom this document was given, and also not the same person in the discharge summary. 

“Immediately I knew that this baby did not belong to the son’s girlfriend. It belonged to the woman whose folder we had drawn.

“I didn’t know anything about a kidnapping or anything like that. My instincts told me I had to investigate.

“I said to granny, because the mother of this baby used Tipp-Ex they are finding it difficult to locate her on the system. I took the grandmother and the baby to the paediatric emergency department while I was gathering more information. I went to the sister in charge and asked her to keep an eye on the granny and the baby. 

“I involved the security personnel to make sure that she doesn’t leave. At this point, I thought she might panic and leave because it had taken an hour. All the security including the manager came to my office and said they will watch her.

“Then I thought, let me just take my car. It was raining … I can’t wait for the hospital transport because there are legalities and procedures you must follow. I knew by then, this was an emergency. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Silence is the biggest challenge in understanding kidnapping in South Africa

“I asked Mrs Eagles to come with me and we went to the address of the mother to whom the Road to Health booklet was given originally. I said come with me, we are going to do a home inspection. You must be able to say how we found them. We went to the address in New Brighton. There was an elderly woman there and two young women. 

“I said to her, ‘Where is your baby?’ She just started crying. She said her baby was kidnapped and nobody had been able to find him. The whole family started crying. I said, ‘We have your baby. I am 100% sure we found your baby. He is the most beautiful baby boy. He is healthy.’

“I counselled them about the legal processes but I reassured her that we will have them together soon.

“We went to the car and took a deep breath, me and Kaamilah. We just realised this thing was bigger than we thought.

“We went back to the office. I took out my phone and started googling ‘baby, kidnap, Kenako Mall’. That is where she told me her baby was kidnapped. Then I saw the article. The investigating officer’s contact details were there. I phoned. I said: ‘I have the baby’. 

“He said: ‘What? Where? How?’

“I said ‘I cannot talk on the phone. I am tired. The whole day I have been busy with this one thing’. He said he and the captain will sort it out. I said come and bring a warrant of arrest because I am 100% sure that this baby is the one.

“The most difficult task I had then was to tell the granny who raised this beautiful baby boy so well that this is not her grandson. I thought let me wait for the police. She might not believe me, but she will believe them. 

“First, I gave her an orange. I said to her: ‘We are almost done.’ She was happy.”

“The police came. My office was full of SAPS officials. They were in disbelief that I had solved the case. I said, can I call the granny because I must break the bad news to her? She came in and sat down. 

“I said, ‘Granny, I am afraid I have bad news. This baby was stolen from the biological mother. You are not the grandmother.’ She started crying. I showed her the evidence. 

“I told the police the suspect was at granny’s house. Granny was still in denial. She said some bad words to me. I have offered our services. I respect her. It is going to be difficult for her.”

She said eventually the grandmother understood and accepted what had happened. 

“I said I will counsel them. Also the son. He was a father for seven months,” she said. 

On Tuesday, the police went to arrest the girlfriend. 

“Before I went to bed I phoned the police. They said she confessed. She admitted everything.”

Marinana said she later found out that the suspect had befriended the aunt of the baby and then borrowed taxi fare from the grandmother. 

“The grandmother told me that she wanted to sleep at their house, but she had a bad feeling about her. So she gave her R20 taxi money.”

Later, she phoned the mother of the baby on the day that she was discharged. “She offered to return the R20.”

The suspect then got the mother to accompany her to a nearby mall to draw money for the taxi.

“At the mall, she needed to sit down and gave the baby to the suspect to hold for a few seconds. When she looked up, the woman and the baby were gone.”

Since then, she, her sister and her grandmother barely left the house while waiting for news of the abducted baby.

DNA tests have been submitted and the family is awaiting the results to confirm the baby’s parentage.

“It won’t be long. The investigating officer said she confessed. The suspect even knew the address of the woman whose baby she took.

Police spokesperson Captain Andre Beetge confirmed the arrest: “A 20-year-old woman was arrested on Tuesday, 27 June 2023, in Gqeberha following the kidnapping of a four-day-old baby in November 2022.” He said that the mother of the child left with a woman who was fraudulently posing as a friend of the family. 

“They went to Kenako Mall (about 1.5km from the hospital) to buy clothing for the baby. While in the mall, the suspect disappeared with the child. A case of kidnapping was opened at SAPS Algoa Park. On Tuesday, 27 June 2023 (7 months after the kidnapping), alert staff at Dora Nginza Hospital contacted the police after a woman attempted to register the baby boy using fictitious paperwork.”

He said the suspect was arrested and charged with kidnapping.

Dora Nginza Hospital acting CEO Dr Zukiso Nxiweni. (Photo: Deon Ferreria)

The hospital handles the birth of more than 800 babies a month. 

“For me, this is ubuntu. I tip my hat. This is a really good job. This is about information. They really cared,” said Dr Zukiso Nxiweni, the hospital’s acting CEO. 

“I just want to say well done … well done. You saved a beautiful baby boy.” DM

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