By SINAZO ALUNGILE NOVUKELA
In January this year, a very special young woman turned 21. But if it hadn’t been for a very special (then-young) man, she wouldn’t have even made it to her first birthday.
The front page of Grocott’s Mail of 22 January 1999 shows Inspector Tim Hackart and his assistant, Jeffrey Jacobs, holding tiny ‘Baby Luck’. It was an experience that would change Hackart’s life… and save hers.
Now a Warrant Officer based at the New Street offices of the South African Police Service, Hackart told the story at an emotional reunion organised by Grocott’s Mail. Mihlali Ncula – for that is her name now – and Hackart had brought their families, who could scarcely contain their tears as they watched and listened.
Grocott’s Mail tried unsuccessfully to locate Jeffrey Jacobs.
“I was driving down from our unit which was based in Joza into town to pick up our colleague, a cleaner in our unit,” Hackart said. “As I was driving down Raglan Road, I saw people waving me down, asking me to stop.”
An old lady among them called him over and said, “Look, there’s a child inside this pipe!”
Indeed, there were faint sounds coming from a drainpipe next to the road.
Hackart was too big, so Jacobs crawled inside and brought out a packet.
“I opened the packet and I saw a baby inside, still wrapped in Settlers Hospital nappies – but she had turned purple and blue from lack of oxygen.”
Hackart started blowing air into her mouth to try and resuscitate her.
“I also smacked her on the bum so that she could cry – and she did, and I blew some more air into her mouth.”
He contacted his unit and told them to get hold of the hospital.
Hackart held her on his lap until they reached Beaufort Street.
“She was so tiny,” he recalls.
Then he passed her to Jacobs – “I had to fly through all the intersections.”
“When we got to the Hospital, I remember running up the stairs into the old ward in the Hospital. I met a nurse and asked her to help me with the baby. I told her I had just found her in a drainpipe.”
As soon as the nurse saw her, she said, “Oh, this is the baby that was stolen and we have been looking for her.”
Baby Luck was placed in an incubator and resuscitated.
“After that, I visited her for five days in the afternoons, just to see how she was doing. Every time, I would pick her up – her hand would naturally clutch my badge.
“I stopped visiting her then, because it was emotionally heavy for me.”
Child Welfare arranged for Baby Luck to be adopted by a local couple, who named her Mihlali meaning “rejoice”.
“We were saying, ‘Come and rejoice with us for our family has been extended!’ her family said, explaining how they chose her name.
With the assistance of Settlers’ Hospital, Mihlali’s biological mother was traced, tried and sentenced to 16 years for attempted murder.
“When I was in court to testify, I would have to ask the Magistrate to excuse me, because I would break down crying,” Hackart said.
Mihlali’s foster sister is Angalakha Ncula-Takana. She was doing Grade 10 at the time.
“They told me we will be getting a new baby, and that the day she comes home, a certain car will drop her,” Angalakha related.
“I was coming from school one afternoon when I saw the car. I ran the rest of the way home. Mama told me she is in the bedroom, so I went in and she was sleeping in the middle of the bed.
“I removed the blanket and I said to myself, ‘Hello You Beautiful Thing!’”
It was Angalakha who gave Mihlalli her first bath.
Mihlali”s family said she was a blessing to them from the day she arrived.
“She has completed the family,” they said.
Angalakha says she wears “the biggest shoes in the family” that no one else would be able to fill.
“She looks after our mother now. I don’t stay in Makhanda anymore, but Mama has Mihlali,” said Angalakha.
Mihlali is not only her mother’s helper, but also her sister’s ‘chomi’ – and Angalakha’s first stop to catch up on the neighbourhood gossip.
“God had a reason for her to come into our lives in this way,” her aunt told us.
Mihlali’s family taught her that she was a “collected” child, rather than a once-dumped baby.
She describes her family as loving and warm and had no doubt she was fully part of it.
“I didn’t know I was a foster child until a family friend used that against me when I was 12,” Mihlali said.
That was when her family told her the whole story of her adoption.
Mihlali says that she has met her birth mother but they do not have any relationship.
Both Mihlali and Hackart brought their families to the recent reunion.
Warrant officer Hackart said he had often wondered what had happened to Baby Luck.
“Knowing I was going to meet her was an emotional rollercoaster for me. Not many babies survive when they have been dumped to die,” he said. “Mihlali was the first baby I found who was alive, and survived.”
The Ncula family was overjoyed to meet the man who rescued their gift of love.
The reunion was especially poignant because during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown, two babies were found abandoned in Makhanda in one week.
According to Police Spokesperson, Captain Khaya Tonjeni, two inquest documents were opened for investigation. There had been no arrests at the time of writing.
Asked about the impact on police officers of finding and dealing with abandoned babies, often dead, Tonjeni said, “If one of the members is traumatised by what one has seen on duty, they can be given a debriefing and counseling session organised by the Employees Health and Wellness component.”
- Grocott’s Mail was unable to locate Jeffrey Jacobs and would be grateful for assistance from the community in this regard. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org