'I am in a lot of pain, she was my only daughter'
02 March 2016, 16:37
Johannesburg - Thabani Tshuma will never get to hear his daughter's footsteps as she runs home from school or watch her as she quickly changes out of her uniform to go and play with her friends in front of their humble home in Reshumile, Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg.
He will also never again have the chance to call her back home when the sun begins to set.
"Angel. Even the neighbours knew her. She was a child who loved playing," he recalls.
"You would never find her [in the house]. She would arrive home, take off her uniform and go straight to her friends.
"You always had to call her and tell her to come back in the house. If you didn't call her, she would continue playing. She was just a child."
Four days ago, 6-year-old Angel Sibanda's body was found lodged in boulders 10km downstream from where she was swept away in a flash flood on her way back from school.
The Grade 1 pupil was with a group of children who were trying to cross a stream last Thursday, during heavy rains, when they were swept down from a low lying area out to the Jukskei River.
Two of the children were rescued but Angel was missing.
When the family realised Angel had not returned from school, her mother, Sbonisa Sibanda, called Tshuma who was at work and asked him to come home to help look for their daughter.
"So I came home and found that she really was missing. When I asked what happened they said three children had been taken by the water but that one of the kids was still missing."
Search and rescue
Search and rescue efforts halted at around 20:00 that Thursday, but Tshuma was still not sure whether the child that had been swept away was his Angel.
By 06:30 the next day, he was already at Angel's school waiting to see whether any of her classmates could provide information about her whereabouts the previous day.
The school's principal took Tshuma to Angel's class and relayed the story to her teacher.
"Then a small boy came and told us that he and the others had left with her after school but that they separated when they came to a woman selling treats near the school.
"He said 'We were with her, but we left her by the spaza'. So I didn't find my child at the school," Tshuma says.
He returned to the small stream near their home, the stream that she usually skipped over on her way home, about 20m away from the house.
For the next two days, Tshuma was assisted by neighbours, friends, members of the SA police service as well as search and rescue teams in the search for the little girl, all to no avail.
On Sunday morning, an elderly fisherman spotted a body while he was preparing to cast out. The police were alerted.
A police officer called Tshuma just after he had woken up, asking him to accompany him somewhere. The officer did not give Tshuma any further details until they arrived at the site.
"When we parked the car, I looked towards the river and saw a body covered with a plastic sheet, so began to ask myself if that was her."
The police officer then told Tshuma that a body had been recovered, but they were not sure whether it was Angel.
"When I arrived and lifted the cover I saw that it really was Angie, but she was badly hurt and her body was beginning to smell," he says, his voice low, occasionally looking at the ground.
"I told the officers that that was the child I was looking for."
Tshuma says he felt an indescribable pain after realising his only daughter was no more. He found it difficult to sleep that night.
"I felt a lot of pain when I saw her. I felt a pain that I can't even describe.
"Even now, on some days I can't sleep because I feel hard pains in my heart. But I just drink a glass of cold water and I find myself falling asleep after some time.
"Imagine separating from your child in the morning when she's heading to school and coming back to find that she is no longer alive."
Although Tshuma appears strong, he constantly squeezes the red and white cap in his hand as he relays the story outside his home. Inside, family members and friends have gathered to comfort the grieving family.
As he speaks, his voice is low but clear enough to make one understand the journey he has been through since last Thursday.
‘I try, for my wife’
His wife is not coping as well as he is, he says.
"Even when you talk to her you can see that she is not okay. But I talk to her, so that she doesn't think about what happened too much. I try."
On Tuesday morning, she went to identify Angel's body at a city mortuary. Tshuma was worried about how that would affect her. She is pregnant.
Little Angel will be remembered as a simple child, who loved her friends and playing in the dusty streets of Reshumile township.
"I've really lost a lot because I really loved that child. Even the neighbours knew. I didn't want to hear anything [bad] about her. She was my only daughter."