One woman has lived to tell a tale of the darkness that laid in her husband’s heart only because of a kindness she found in the most unexpected of places — from the hitmen who had been paid to kill her. One year after she was supposed to have been dead and buried, Noela Rukundo says she feels like a woman who has risen again, and after she attended her own funeral it is easy to understand the feeling she speaks of.
“”Surprise! I’m still alive!”
Those were the first words Noela Rukundo spoke to her husband only a few minutes after he emerged from their home after her funeral service. She had been sitting outside waiting for the mourners to leave before confronting the man who had promised till death do us part — and then put a contract out on her to ensure that end. There was no elation on Balenga Kalala’s part for finding his wife alive, only terror.
“When I get out of the car, he saw me straight away. He put his hands on his head and said, ‘Is it my eyes? Is it a ghost?'”
Kalala’s screams of terror followed a touch to his wife’s shoulder that proved she was very much alive.
BBC News told of how just five days before the confrontation took place in Australia, 7,500 miles away in Africa, Rukundo’s native Burundi almost became her tomb. The woman had flown from Melbourne to attend the funeral of her stepmother. Distraught and in pain after the event, she took a phone call from her husband in Australia and followed his advice to go outside for some fresh air. Moments later, as she stepped outside of the hotel’s compound, a man with a gun approached her.
“He just told me, ‘Don’t scream. If you start screaming, I will shoot you. They’re going to catch me, but you? You will already be dead.‘”
A terrified Noela was forced into a waiting car before being blindfolded and taken on a drive that lasted about 30 to 40 minutes. She was then ushered into a building and tied to a chair. Then one of the men in the room spoke, asking what she had done to the man who wanted her dead, the man who had paid them to kill her. Rukundo did not believe them, insisting that her husband would never have her killed. They laughed and called her a fool.
Convincing Noela that her husband was indeed trying to kill her was a simple task for them. They called the man who was paying them, put him on loudspeaker, and triumphantly announced that they already had her. The same voice that had consoled her less than an hour ago came on the line and spoke two simple words that still haunt Noela.
Balenga Kalala had met Noela Rukundo after arriving in Australia as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He had fled a rebel army whose rampage through his village had taken the life of his wife and son. Noela arrived after he was already settled in Melbourne, but the two shared the same social worker, and since Balenga could already speak English he was often asked to translate for Noela who only spoke Swahili. The two fell in love and had three children during their 11 years together, adding to the five from Rukundo’s previous relationship. Rukundo says she always knew he was a violent man, but never thought that it would be directed at her.
But in a bizarre turn of events, Kalala had hired hitmen who had principles. The men asked for additional money, described to him in that room where she was tied how they would dispose of the body but had no intention of killing her. According to the Washington Post, these hitmen did not kill women and children and knew her brother. They kept her captive for two days and then released her on the side of the road with a mobile phone, recordings of the conversations with Kalala, and even the receipts for the alleged payment of $7,000 in Australian dollars that was the fee for killing her. They had also given her a warning, that her husband was serious about wanting her dead and other hitmen would no doubt finish the job if it became known she was still alive and in Africa.
The original payment for her death had been received from November; it was February when they kidnapped her. The men had called her stupid for not realizing that something was wrong in all those months. They told her to “tell other stupid women like you what happened.”
It took three days and the help of the Kenyan and Belgian embassies, as well as her pastor in Melbourne, for Noela Rukundo to secretly return to her neighborhood in Australia. By then, her husband had told everyone she had died in a tragic accident and sought the support of the community as he mourned.
The night Balenga Kalala discovered his wife had not been killed by the hitmen he had hired, he apologized vehemently for everything but it was too late. The police were called and a court order obtained. During an hours-long interrogation, Kalala denied any involvement in the plot to kill his wife until he was confronted with the evidence she had obtained. He reportedly started to cry then, unable to offer an explanation for hiring hitmen to kill his wife except to say that he wonders why as well.
“Sometimes Devil can come into someone, to do something, but after they do it they start thinking, ‘Why I did that thing?'”
Rukundo says her husband had thought she planned to leave him for another man. Chief Justice Marilyn Warren sentenced Kalala to nine years in prison on December 11 last year for incitement to murder, admonishing that his ridiculous jealousy and premeditated actions had almost cost eight children their mother.
The worst is not over for Noela Rukundo, however, as she now faces backlash from many in Melbourne’s African community who believe that she should not have turned her husband into the police. She has received threatening messages and her home has been broken into, and she has had to seek help from Department of Human Services to find a new place for her and her children to live.
The mother of eight says that every night while lying in bed, her husband’s words replays in her head, a haunting melody of betrayal: “Kill her, Kill her.”
“But I will stand up like a strong woman. My situation, my past life? That is gone. I’m starting a new life now.”
[Photo Courtesy of Kzenon/ Shutterstock]