Culture

'Surprise! I'm Still Alive!' Woman Describes Arrival at Her Own Wake After Husband's Failed Hit

Noela Rukundo had travelled from Australia to Burundi, where her partner had arranged for her to be murdered

An Australian woman has described how her husband hired hitmen to murder her because he falsely believed she had been unfaithful, and his shock when she arrived home in the middle of her own wake.

“When I get out of the car, he saw me straight away,” Noela Rukundo said of Balenga Kalala, with whom she has three children. “He put his hands on his head and said: ‘Is it my eyes? Is it a ghost?’” she recalled. Her response was: “Surprise! I’m still alive!”

The tale began early last year when Rukundo returned to her home country of Burundi for her stepmother’s funeral. Unknown to her, Kalala, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, suspected her of infidelity and had paid about £3,500 to hitmen in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.

A subsequent court case in Australia, at which Kalala was jailed for nine years, heard that the men eventually decided they could not kill a woman, and could not kill her in particular because they knew her brother.

In an interview with the BBC, Rukundo, who has five other children from an earlier relationship, said she heard her partner on the phone ordering the kidnappers to murder her.

She said the ordeal began when Kalala, who was in Melbourne looking after her children, phoned her at the hotel where she was staying to suggest she step outside for air. When she did so a man with a gun bundled her into a car and took her to a building where she was tied to a chair.

Rukundo said she had no idea what was happening. 

“They ask me: ‘What did you do to this man? Why has this man asked us to kill you?’ And then I tell them: ‘Which man? Because I don’t have any problem with anybody.’ They say: ‘Your husband!’ I say: ‘My husband can’t kill me, you are lying!’ And then they slap me.”

The kidnappers called Kalala to say they had Rukundo and to ask for further instructions. They put the phone on loudspeaker, and she heard the reply: “Kill her.”

“I heard his voice. I heard him. I felt like my head was going to blow up,” she said. “Then they described for him where they were going to chuck the body.” At this point she fainted, but the gunmen spared her. They then gave her recorded phone conversations and money transfer receipts proving Kalala’s plan.

Five days later she returned to the family home to find fellow members of the local African community consoling Kalala, who believed she was dead.

“I felt like somebody who had risen again,” she told the BBC.