‘We survived death by a whisker’
Published On January 31, 2014 » 2719 Views» By Hildah Lumba » Features
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IT HAPPENED TO ME LOGOWhat comes does not beat a drum otherwise BWAKIYA BVUNDAMINA and a close friend of hers would have much rather sat on the last floor of her flat chatting over a cup of tea, than climb down the stairs to collect a souvenir the friend had brought her from abroad because, that’s when gunmen pounced on them. Read their ordeal.

THEY say death is all around us each second, each minute and each day. The fact that we survive it at all is, in itself, a miracle and God’s grace.

The Bible also says the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.

This is what happened to me some good 18 years ago when I was almost killed.

In the early 1990s, I was privileged to work for one of the top five-star hotels in Lusaka and was accommodated in a flat in one of the townships. Coming from a respectable family, I had the pleasure of knowing many top government officials, some relations and others who have been close family friends, many of whom I would meet and chat with over a cup of tea at the hotel.

One of my friends was a regular visitor at the hotel and, on a particular day, he told me he was about to travel abroad and that I wouldn’t see him until he returned after a week and we said our goodbyes and parted.

True to his word, the day he arrived, he came to my home early one evening. I can’t recall the exact date, but it was a Friday around 19.00 hours while it was still not dark and people were busy walking up and about while others stood chatting.

I lived on the last floor in a block of flats with my five-year-old daughter, one-year-old son and a niece. When he arrived, he found me putting my son to bed. I then offered him a cup of tea as he said he was just checking if I was home.

He had brought me a small souvenir from overseas which he had left in his car in the car park. I then suggested that rather than him going all the way down and coming back up again, why not go together so that I could collect the parcel from him myself.

After finishing his cup of tea, we prepared to leave. But before I walked out of the door, I picked up a sweater which I threw over my shoulders, and simply said I was going down stairs and would be back shortly.

As we approached the car, he went to the driver’s side, while I stood by the passenger’s side waiting for the doors to open as my parcel was in the back seat. Drama was about to unfold!

Before he could insert the key into the key hole, a man in a long coat appeared from nowhere carrying a pistol. He stood behind me pointing it at my back. Presently, another one emerged with an AK47 rifle followed by yet two more carrying pistols as well.

They advised us not to panic, not to call out for help, but warned that, if we did, they would shoot us.

I froze and I stood like a robot, not sure of what to do next. They then asked for the car keys from my friend and threatened to shoot me if he refused to hand them over.

At this point, my life was in his hands, but he did not hesitate for a second; he simply handed the keys over and then they asked him to take off his shoes and lie down on the ground and he obeyed their order.

The one with the keys then opened the doors and ordered me to get into the back of the car while my friend lay prostrate.

This meant one of them was now going to be driving; the other one was in front, while I was stuck in the middle with the other two at the back. Gripped with trepidation, I recalled how I put my son to sleep, saying: “see you soon” to my daughter and niece and wondered whether those would be my parting words.

I then closed my eyes and started praying and said: “My God if this is the day I am going to die then let it be, but please help me!”

The car was a white Toyota Corolla with a GRZ number plate and as the new driver tried to start the engine, it failed. He made three unsuccessful attempts until one of his friends suggested to him in vernacular that the owner should just come and start the car himself. He dutifully obliged.

Now we were four at the back with me squeezed in the middle. All this time, I was not looking at their faces, but just praying. My friend then calmly got into the car much to my relief and, thanks to God, I was not going to be killed alone. Death was the only thing on my mind now. I couldn’t see what was coming ahead and the prospect of coming back home seemed so very remote.

He then started the car, and the criminals reiterated their calming instructions for us not to panic and they even directed us which route to use. With a gun pointed at you, there is very little else you can do, but obey your captor’s commands.

At this point, we were driving on Chilimbulu Road through, of all places, the Kamwala Secondary School football field! We were now in the middle of the field and it was getting dark when they ordered him to stop the car. I opened my eyes at this point and looked up, only to receive a slap across my face from one of the gangsters who asked what I was looking at.

They then directed me to take off my slippers, and get out of the car while one of them grabbed my sweater and ordered me to lie on the ground. My immediate fears were that they were going to rape and kill me right there.

All I heard, however, as I lay there lifeless with fear, were doors closing and the car revving off into the night.

After a short distance away from where I was left, I got up and started running towards Chilimbulu road and stood right in the middle of the road waving my hands like a mad woman, oblivious of the danger of my desperate act.

The driver of the first car that stopped actually thought I was trying to commit suicide. I then pointed to the speeding car which was far off, but still fairly visible and told the driver that the vehicle belonged to my friend who had just been abducted by four gunmen.

Could he be the proverbial good Samaritan who could kindly drop me at the nearest police station, I asked the man. He turned out to be, up to a point. As I sat there recalling what had just happened, I was shaking, but it had not yet registered in my mind. I must have been numb with shock because I couldn’t feel a thing.

I thought I was having a nightmare from which I would soon wake up. At the police station, I asked the gentleman to wait, but he didn’t; he just drove off leaving me standing speechless.

I run into the station trembling, but was told to calm down and narrate exactly what had happened. I angrily responded that we were wasting time because what was important now was to try, at least, and follow the bandits in the fleeing car as there was one important man in it, my friend.

Unfortunately, this happened at a time the police service was handicapped with transport. I had no choice but to wait for either the station vehicle to return from patrols or wait for one from head office.

I couldn’t believe what my ears were hearing. I felt as if I was drowning further into the boundless sea of hopelessness.

Just when I thought all hope was lost, however, as we were still waiting for transport about some 40 minutes later, I couldn’t believe my sight; I saw my friend walking into the police station as well, much to my relief!

He had also, miraculously, been released near a famous drinking place where he managed to stop some kind people who came to his rescue and drove him to the police post.

Immediately he walked in, the officers begun to panic with their radios as they couldn’t believe that this was the person I had been talking about.

We were then given two very armed officers to escort us to try and recover the stolen vehicle.

Our starting point for the search was the famed night club where we were told we had just missed the criminals by a whisker as they had stopped to buy some beer and had driven off.

We continued our search, but to no avail. By the time police had set up road blocks, the vehicle had disappeared without a trace. What had begun as a beautiful day for me had suddenly turned into a nightmare.

I was taken home around midnight and found both my children sound asleep. That’s when the reality of what had happened sunk in as I broke down and cried, not because I was sad, I cried tears of joy, because I had just survived; things could have been worse.

The sweater that was grabbed from me was not common as my sister had recently bought it for me abroad that year. I would recognise it if I saw it; I could smell my perfume on it. And guess what? It so happened that as I was going home one day from town, I saw this boy who had a kantemba near the station in town.

I pretended to be interested in his wares and then complimented him on the sweater he was wearing and, when I asked where he had bought it, he sheepishly said a friend of his, who happened to live in Kamwala, had given it to him.

I didn’t say much, but asked him if I would find him the following day as I was interested in buying something from him and he affirmed that he would be available and then I left, satisfied with the trap I had set.

The following day, I called my friend and excitedly told him about my previous day’s discovery and he wasted no time in arranging for a CID (criminal investigation department) officer to pick me up in order to lead them to where the boy was.

We parked at a vantage point, a little distance away, where he couldn’t see me on ChaChaCha road and I pointed to where he was. The police then picked him up in another car and took him to the police force headquarters for questioning and, there, he spilled the beans.

He said that what he had told me was the truth, but went further by offering to lead the police to where the friend of his lived.

Apprehended, he led them to his other friends and to a hide-out in one of the townships in a brick fence where, presumably, the cars were being taken once stolen, repainted, resold sometimes to the same owners without suspecting which, in turn, led to another search at a bigger yard somewhere else where the illicit car trade thrived.

Here, that’s where the scam was bust as the police arrested the whole gang. About 30 vehicles, ready for ‘shipment’ to other towns for sale, were found on the premises. Indeed, they say some things only happen in movies, but mine was a true life story.

I survived a possible killing along with my friend, and for that, thanks and glory be to God the Almighty, for saving our lives and making it possible for me to share this story with you.

NB: Contributions to this column, the column you write, should be sent to The Editor, “It happened to me” P O Box 30394, Lusaka, email: tozletters@gmail.com or drop them at any of our Times Printpak offices. Please note that it may take some time before articles are published; this is because they are published on a first- come- first- served basis. Don’t lose hope. Keep sending in your valuable contributions. Editor.

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