Woman to plead guilty to kidnapping Valerie

words by David Macgregor

The woman who was arrested two days ago in rural Transkei for allegedly abducting Valerie Matthews in 1997 will plead guilty to kidnapping charges.
In a shock development, the Graaff Reinet magistrate's court was told yesterday that Nolimon Khala will plead guilty to the charges - even though she was not asked to plead.

Miss Dina Landman, appointed by Legal Aid for Khala, yesterday told Magistrate Awie Hattingh her client would not fight the charges when she appears in the Regional Court next Wednesday.

Because of the seriousness of the offence, the case was reffered to the Regional Court - which is not permanently based in Graaff Reinet and relies on officials sent from Port Elizabeth.

It took @LiveWire only 10 days to solve the Valerie Matthews case - after police had lost her docket and unearthed no leads since her December 1997 abduction from the streets of Graaff Reinet.

Found in a mud hut in rural Nkwenkwezi last Wednesday, Valerie was re-united with her parents the next day in Graaff Reinet - even though local police said she was not from the area.

Tiny Valerie was not even listed with the national Missing Person's Bureau.

And, after visiting Valerie and throwing her a ninth birthday party on Wednesday Weekend Argus again helped bungling police and took them to the village to arrest Khala - almost a week after the youngster was re-united with her family.

Speaking after the shock announcement yesterday, investigating officer Inspector Richard Adams praised the Weekend Argus (etc) team for solving the case.

"Without you guys Valerie would be still sitting in a hut in the Transkei. She is safe at home, the kidnapper has been arrested and all we had to do was take statements. It was not an easy case to solve and we had nothing at all - until you guys showed up."

Facing a lengthy prison sentence, plans by Miss Landman to get Khala released on her own cognisance failed yesterday.

Khala was also denied bail, after strenuous objections from state prosecutor Diane Nel, and was remanded in custody at the Middleburg Prison - an hour's drive from Graaff Reinet - because of the lack of facilities in the town.

Court officials yesterday said (SUBS friday July 23) Wednesday's regional court appearance would be "very quick" because of the guilty plea and that she would be sentenced the same day.

"It is a very serious crime and she now faces a long jail sentence. It won't take long to finish on Wednesday," an official said yesterday.

Initially denying any wrongdoing when confronted in Nkwenkwezi by police and the Weekend Argus (etc) on Wednesday this week, Khala said that Valerie had called her "mommy" and jumped onto a bus with her for Cape Town.

"I tried to get her off and she refused, so I took her with me and looked after her. I did not steal her," she said.

In statements to police and during interviews at the time of her arrest, Khala said she had again tried to get Valerie off the bus when she returned back through Graaff Reinet, but the sub b pupil refused.

Khala also told sceptical police that she had contacted a local Transkei social worker to try and find Valerie's family, but nothing was done.

But, according to Valerie, she was grabbed screaming onto the bus after running an errand to a shop near her Santaville township home. She said she was forced to work as slave labour in Khala's kraal and when she pleaded with her abductor to be taken home, she was told that she could trying walking.

There were tense moments when Khala was arrested as the two policemen and freelance journalist David Macgregor were surrounded by a group of 100 villagers. After much negotiation, villagers agreed that she be taken to Graaff Reinet to make more statements.

Apparently a "very powerful woman" in the village, frightened neighbours only loosened up when she was driven away by police. They then again told the tragic tale of the little "coloured" girl who arrived in the area almost two years ago speaking only Afrikaans.

"The girl was brought here by Nolimon and forced to work in her kraal as a slave. She was not properly fed or clothed and roamed the hills barefoot and dressed in rags, begging for scraps of food," Esther Xabadiya said.

Valerie ran away from her abductor in May this year and was given shelter with another villager, Noasset Mamkeli.

Anxious for more detail on Valerie, Mamkeli said: "I am so happy you guys have got her home. I do not know why she was kidnapped by Nolimon, because she already has six children of her own."

Having changed her tune and swopped her simple mud hut for a prison cell, it is now a matter of days before Khala finds out how much time she will spend behind bars. - @LiveWire