On February 22, 2015, Noela Rukundo was sitting in a parked car across the street from her house in Melbourne, Australia, and she had revenge on her mind. She watched patiently as several people left her residence, all looking tearful after having said a last goodbye to a loved one. But Rukundo wasn’t interested in them. No, she was waiting for one man in particular: her husband. And here he was, at last. Rukundo got out of the car.
Rukundo was the very last person that her husband, Balenga Kalala, expected to see, especially as he was currently attending her funeral. Indeed, Kalala had told his entire family that Rukundo had died in an accident while visiting her native home of Burundi. This was no happy reunion, however.
“Surprise! I’m alive!” Rukundo said as she approached a terrified Kalala. Trembling, Kalala reached out to touch Rukundo, and he screamed when he found that she was real. “I’m finished,” he said, when he could finally talk. And about that he was right.
The incredible true story behind this mind-boggling real-life scene almost sounds like the premise for a Hollywood movie. Indeed, Rukundo had no way of knowing that the man she had been with for a decade – the man with which she’d had three kids – would turn so awfully against her.
The pair initially met in 2004 when they were both recent immigrants to Australia from Africa. Kalala, in fact, was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tragically, armed forces in the country had destroyed his community and slaughtered his family.
Kalala fell in love with Rukundo after a social worker asked him to translate Rukundo’s Swahili. Sometime later, they moved into the Melbourne suburb of Kings Park, where they lived as one large family. Certainly, to add to Rukundo and Kalala’s three kids, Rukundo already had five from her last partner.
But then, in early February 2015, Rukundo had to fly back to her native Burundi, East Africa to attend the funeral of her stepmom. “I had lost the last person who I call ‘mother,’” Rukundo told the BBC in 2016. “It was very painful. I was so stressed.”
She retired to her bed in a hotel in Bujumbura, but she was interrupted by a phone call from her husband. “He told me to go outside for fresh air,” Rukuno explained to the BBC. That’s when Rukuno’s terrifying ordeal truly began.
As soon as Rukundo walked outside, a man with a gun accosted her. Rukundo told the BBC that the man said, “Don’t scream. If you start screaming, I will shoot you.” He bundled her into a car between two similarly armed men and blindfolded her.
Half an hour or so later, the vehicle came to a halt, and Rukundo was forced inside a building she had never seen before. They secured her and asked, bizarrely, “What did you do to this man? Why has this man asked us to kill you?”
Rukundo told the BBC that she had no idea what was going on. Flabbergasted, she simply replied, “Which man? Because I don’t have any problem with anybody.” To her disbelief, they answered, “Your husband!”
Of course, Rukuno didn’t believe the men at first, and she told them so. The men reacted by striking her and insulting her. Then they rang their “boss” and put him on speakerphone. Amazingly, Kalala’s voice came through the phone, loud and clear. “Kill her,” he said.
“I felt like my head was going to blow up,” Rukundo said to the BBC. And when the phone conversation turned to how they were going to dispose of her corpse, she fainted. She was in for another surprise, however, when she came to.
“We’re not going to kill you. We don’t kill women and children,” Rukundo claimed the hit men told her. They kept her captive for 48 hours and then dumped her by the side of a road. They told her to get out of the country as soon as possible.
But that wasn’t all. Rukundo said, incredibly, that they gave her a flash drive containing wire transfer receipts for the $5,000 they had received from Kalala for the job as well as recorded discussions of the crime. Rukundo took it and fled back home.
Once there, she teamed up with her pastor, who kept her secret and assisted in getting her back to Kings Park without her husband’s knowledge. In the meantime, Kalala believed she was dead and arranged his wife’s funeral.
“I felt like somebody who had risen again,” Rukundo told the BBC. And that must have been what Kalala thought when he saw her on February 22, 2015. Once his initial shock wore off, though, Kalala wailed that he was sorry for all that he had done.
Runkuno telephoned the cops, and Kalala was arrested. He later admitted his guilt in a recorded phone call between himself and Rukundo. Apparently, he wanted Rukundo dead because he thought she was having an affair, which Rukundo has denied.
Kalala’s case went to court in December 2015, and he was handed nine years in jail after pleading guilty to incitement to murder. For her part, Rukundo is attempting to move on with her life.
Indeed, she is working to find a new home for her and her family. “I will stand up like a strong woman,” she told the BBC. “My situation, my past life? That is gone. I’m starting a new life now.”