Shakiera Hardien, 47, of Beacon Valley challenged her pain and worked through the grief of losing her four-year-old son, Rafique, 13 years ago by helping victims of crime, giving of her time as a reservist and missing persons volunteer at Mitchell’s Plain police station.
Talking about the day her son went missing, still makes Ms Hardien visibly emotional.
“It was a Wednesday in 2004 when my son disappeared. I left him at home with my mother, Elizabeth, and the domestic worker, as I had to go to work in Athlone.
“When I called home during tea-time, the domestic worker said he was playing next door with his friend and that my mother, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, was asleep.”
During the course of the day, Ms Hardien made several calls to her home to check up on her son and mother. “Eventually, at 2pm, the domestic worker picked up the home phone and said that my mother was not well and that my son was still next door. After 5.30pm, I left work, and, before going home, I went to the Promenade Shopping Centre to buy tablets for my mother,” she said.
Ms Hardien’s face darkens when she says that en route home she was stopped by a neighbour who, inexplicably, said to her: “Condolences on the death of your son.”
“My legs turned to jelly, and even though it was a short distance home, I felt like it took me forever to get there. Cars just whizzed past me in the road. When I walked through the door I found my mother in tears and my ex-husband, Faizel, with a questioning look on his face,” she said.
Ms Hardien then suffered a panic attack when she reported her son missing at the police station.
According to Captain Ian Williams, spokesman at Mitchell’s Plain police, the case was initially reported to the station on August 28 2004, at 6.40pm.
After 17 days, the search was called off when Rafique’s decomposing body was found wrapped in a carpet and dumped along a footpath at the back of Westridge swimming baths.
Captain Williams said that at the time it was believed that a car had fallen on Rafique, resulting in his death. “Real-time tests were conducted with a dummy weighing the same as Rafique to determine what type of object caused his death. The results were inconclusive.”
Ms Hardien said two people were taken in for questioning but nobody was arrested or charged for his murder. Her son’s death is currently a cold case.
Captain Williams said police records the case was listed as an “undetermined murder”.
“I could not go to the scene, but I was taken to Salt River Mortuary to identify his body. I saw my son’s face but not the body the way it used to be. I was in denial for six years, and I did not visit his grave site during that time. I was traumatised, and as the years passed, I saw so many cases being solved, but not that of my son. My mother helped me to make peace with his death before she passed on,” Ms Hardien said.
Ms Hardien is upset that close to 19 children have been murdered in the province since the start of the year. “Children are our generational capital. I hope politicians who make promises of helping families will keep them,” she said.
She told the Plainsman that she found solace in her work. “I work seven days a week and clock between 300 to 400 hours a month, working on missing persons cases.
“During school holidays, I help the police to conduct social crime prevention operations at Mnandi Beach. I also tag children when we have big events in the community. I also help run awareness campaigns and give talks on the work I do,” she said.
Ms Hardien said she dealt with cases involving missing children; rebellious teenagers who run away and the elderly and the mentally ill who wander off.
She was one of the first volunteers who received information about Stacha Arends, 11, whose body was found dumped on a soccer field at Swartklip Centre in Tafelsig.
“I went to her mother’s house to comfort her. I reassured her that we would try everything in our power to find her child. Seeing her tears was heartbreaking because it made me feel powerless,” she said.
Captain Williams urged parents to report their children missing as soon as they became aware of it.
“The longer you wait, the colder the trail becomes. We have built up a wide network of people from various organisations who are committed to keeping our children safe,” he said.
To the mothers of the children who have disappeared across the Western Cape, Ms Hardien said: “My heart goes out to all the mothers. It’s hard to find words of comfort when confronted by a case like this. I just want to tell them that I know how they feel, as I went through it myself. To the perpetrators, I want to say, stop hurting our children because they are our future.”