‘One day a child will die’

2015-03-15 15:00

‘Sometimes the food isn’t clean and I don’t like eating it,” nine-year-old Karabo Mogashwa from Makgane Primary School in the Sekhukhune district in Limpopo tells her grandmother about the meals she gets at school.

But the Grade 3 pupil has no choice: sometimes there is no food at home and she walks an hour to school fuelled only by tea.

About two weeks ago, on February 27, the little girl had tea for breakfast, walked to school and at 10.30am ate her daily meal of samp and beans provided by the school nutrition programme.

Then she landed up in St Rita’s Hospital for three days.

The department of education in the Sekhukhune district is now investigating whether the food Karabo ate was contaminated.

Karabo and more than 400 of her schoolmates have been the latest victims of food poisoning in Limpopo over the past six months.

Hundreds of children in 15 schools have been sent to hospitals and clinics in Sekhukhune after eating meals allegedly contaminated with everything from poison and broken glass to nails.


Cases of food poisoning have been opened with the police. A source close to the investigations spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity and said he thought there was something political about the incidents.

“There has just been a snowball effect since the first case was reported last October. There have been many allegations surrounding the service providers, but that is not in our mandate to investigate,” the source said.

He said these allegations included sabotage and how nine service providers received contracts to procure the food without a tender process.

City Press has also seen a report compiled by the Sekhukhune district dated October 22 2014 – after the first wave of food contamination reports – stating that there was an investigation into four cases, but there was no concrete evidence of glass in the food.

The source said he found it peculiar that the report recommended that certain companies should be investigated and others fired “even before the facts have been found out”.

The report recommends that seven companies be investigated.

“The service of all three companies involved in Sekhukhune cluster [will] be discontinued?...?We further recommend that KLM, Shonalanga and Venbeck be considered as replacements, as they served us well previously,” reads the report.

In November, two of the companies delivering food to some of the affected schools were indeed replaced.

But investigators on all fronts are no closer to finding out who is trying to poison the food that children are fed in schools.

City Press visited five of the affected primary schools – Makgane, Hlakudi, Makeke, Mashegoanyana and Kwenatshwene. The principals refused to speak about the incidents and parents said they were still waiting for answers from the principals.

Stella Mnguni, whose 14-year-old niece, Khethiwe Mnguni, attends Hlakudi Primary, said she’d decided her niece would no longer eat school food.

She said the community had been outraged when, in October, children were rushed to hospital.

“Khethiwe was fine when she left that morning. We became worried when she and the rest of the schoolchildren did not come home from school at 3.30pm,” Mnguni said.

“I went to the school and found out that they had been rushed to hospital. She was there for two days. But when we wanted answers from the principal, she told parents they must sign consent forms for their children to participate in the feeding scheme. If they do and the children get sick, it’s not the school’s fault. We won’t sign those forms.”

Khathabahle Mdhluli, the mother of 14-year-old Tshepo Tshwenyane from Mashegoanyana Primary, said her son had still not recovered from the contaminated food he ate in October.

He was rushed to Jane Furse Hospital, but was released the same day.

“My son has no idea what is happening to him. Two days after he returned from the hospital, I could see on his face he wasn’t well again. I’ve had to take him to the clinic numerous times. It broke my heart when he said he wanted to join the church so he could get healing,” said Mdhluli.

City Press understands that when the children were rushed to the hospital, their treatment was the same: they were all told to eat brown bread. Yet no tests were done or diagnoses given.

City Press found that a doctor’s note had been provided in only one case.

Karabo returned home on March 3 with a note diagnosing her with food poisoning – yet the Sekhukhune district’s report states there were allegations that there was glass in the food.

The report states that, on February 27, when Karabo and hundreds of others fell ill, a pupil at Makgane Primary School found glass in a classmate’s food and reported this to a teacher. But the report goes on to say: “It was then inconclusive to link the pieces of glass to the food in the majority of cases.”

This is just one of many conflicting statements emerging in the feeding-scheme puzzle.

When the Limpopo department of education was contacted, spokesperson Paena Galane said the issue of the National School Nutrition Programme was handled nationally.

Galane said that, because the Limpopo department of education had been under administration since December 2011 – a process that formally ended in January – the national department had been responsible for terminating and signing contracts.

But national education spokesperson Elijah Mahlangu said Limpopo should answer the questions.

“You will know that the administration ended at the end of January. The province will answer your questions,” Mahlangu said.

Later, the acting head of the provincial department, Martin Mashaba, said the department believed the case at Makgane Primary was “isolated”.

That’s in spite of about 15 prior cases in the Sekhukhune region.

“The case was also investigated and those investigations revealed that the foreign objects may not have come from the cooking process, nor were they associated with the packaging and delivery process. Indications are that foul play is involved, hence the involvement of the SA Police Service and the Hawks,” said Mashaba.

This confusing back and forth hasn’t done much to boost parents’ confidence in the system that is supposed to feed their children.

Karabo’s grandmother, Selina Mogashwa, said: “Something must be done. We said the feeding scheme must stop until the principal knows what is happening. But it hasn’t. One day a child will die.”

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