Around 6 o’clock on the morning of December 13, a small group of community members gathered outside a house in Wattville‚ Benoni.
They are huddled next to a stormwater drain on Xuma Street‚ where a small black trash bag has been placed on a blanket on the cold tar road. The contents of the bag seem to have caught their attention.
It’s a baby that is moving inside the black bag. A newborn baby girl with her umbilical cord still attached.
Nomfundo Vilakazi is jogging just a street away when she receives a call from her aunt that a baby was found stuffed into the stormwater drain just opposite her grandmother’s house.
Still dressed in her running gear‚ she rushes to the scene‚ where she finds the baby still in the plastic bag on the road. She moves through the crowd to take a look and there she sees the little girl‚ who ever so often sticks her pink tongue from her mouth as she squirms.
“No one had picked her up. I asked why she was on the cold road and everybody made excuses‚ saying they were waiting for the police‚” Nomfundo says.
She takes the baby into her arms and as she lies in Nomfundo’s arms‚ she soils herself – possibly her very first bowel movement.
For Nomfundo‚ it’s love. Love at first sight.
It doesn’t take long before a whole squad of police officers from the Actonville police station arrive at the scene.
“Who will ride with the baby to the hospital?” the police ask.
The community members are all quiet. Some are afraid this may be the start of them taking responsibility for the child.
“I will‚” Nomfundo says without hesitation.
She and her aunt Nomvula‚ who just like 32-year-old Nomfundo‚ has never had a child of her own‚ follow the police escort to the hospital.
“Half of the division of Actonville police‚ all male‚ came to make sure the baby was safe and would survive. They only left when the baby was clean in her drip and was incubated. It truly was a sight to see when thinking about it‚” Nomfundo says.
Baby Thandolwenkosi (the love or will of God)‚ as named by Nomfundo‚ is attended to by hospital staff at a private facility in Actonville. Despite the fact that the hospital has no maternity ward‚ the staff is ready to assist. One of them dashes out to get clothing for baby Thando. She returns with a pink blanket‚ crawler and a few nappies.
The family is given breakfast and coffee as they wait and each nurse comes and gushes over the baby girl‚ all intrigued by her tale of survival.
Thando was probably in the drain for just a short while.
A community member who was heading to work had walked past the drain and heard crying coming from inside.
Realising that this was not the cry of a kitten‚ she alerted neighbours‚ one of whom was lowered into the drain and brought the little girl to safety.
After being bathed and put in her brand-new clothes at the hospital‚ the nurses tell Nomfundo that Thando cannot be kept there as it’s a private facility that has no capacity to take care of children. She needs to be taken to the local government hospital.
An ambulance is called and Nomfundo hops into the back with Baby Thando in her arms and off they go to the hospital. Nomfundo seems heartbroken as she recalls the contrasting reception they received at the second hospital.
“This baby was thrown away? With clothes like that?” the nurses and social workers at the second hospital ask.
It’s a long wait before Thando is attended to but she is the talk of the ward. The nurses make their way up and down the corridors of the hospital before Thando is finally admitted.
“Abandoned black female” – that is the name written on her file and on the big white board where all the names of the new patients are recorded.
The nurses tell Nomfundo that the name she has given the little girl can’t be used. It’s not her child. She shouldn’t grow too attached‚ they say.
Nomfundo and her mother‚ who had since arrived at the hospital‚ alert the staff of their intentions. They want to adopt baby Thando. They want to adopt the “baby from the drain”.
It’s late afternoon when Thando is finally allocated a bed in one of the rooms in the ward‚ and the time has come for the family to say goodbye. Adamant that this isn’t a final goodbye‚ Nomfundo asks whether she can come back the following day to check on the baby. There are mixed reactions from the nurses and social workers.
It’s day two and Nomfundo cannot wait to return to the hospital to find out how Thando is doing. She rushes to the hospital during visiting hours and greets the nurse on duty.
“I’m here to see the baby that was found in the drain yesterday. I had asked for permission to come back today and the matron said I could‚” she tells the nurse‚ who looks at her stone-faced.
“Go and tell the matron you’re here. She is down the passage‚” Nomfundo is told.
The matron is less than pleased to see her.
“Yes‚ you found the baby but what are you doing here?” the matron asks.
Nomfundo bites her tongue‚ realising this is a battle she could lose.
“I just want to make sure she is okay‚” she answers.
The matron reluctantly agrees and Nomfundo and her cousin head to Thando’s cot.
She is one of three children in the room. The first‚ a little boy is in his cot with a drip attached to his arm as his parents sit by his side‚ watching over him.
The second child is on the other side of the room. His mother hasn’t arrived at the hospital yet and the little baby is crying hysterically and is all alone.
Thando‚ now just a day old‚ is sleeping peacefully when Nomfundo takes her from the cot. She opens her big eyes.
That feeling returns. The feeling of yesterday when she first held Thando in her arms. The hour of holding and feeding her seems to go by very quickly and soon it’s time to say goodbye again.
It’s day three and Nomfundo and her mother start the day at the office of the social worker to find out whether she can keep Thando‚ at least for the Christmas holidays. But it’s not good news.
Despite there being a warm home‚ clothes‚ milk and a family that is ready to take Thando in‚ the hospital refuses their help.
“There’s a lot of red tape‚” Nomfundo and her mother are told by the hospital’s social worker.
They cannot keep the baby. Not yet at least.
Thando will be kept in the hospital until next year when the provincial social workers are back from leave in January and ready to attend to her case.
With Christmas around the corner‚ the future of the “baby from the drain” is still uncertain.
But a family awaits‚ hoping to change her name from “Abandoned Black Female”.
By Naledi Shange