Child dies in food stampede

2009-03-09 00:00

A stampede for food vouchers and a free breakfast from the government for destitute people at Estcourt led to the death of a child, two other reported deaths and an alleged miscarriage at the Social Development offices there yesterday.

Welfare MEC Meshack Radebe said a crowd of more than 2 000 gathered after being told by IFP councillors in the Umtshezi Municipality that they would receive food vouchers under the relief of distress programme. He said the IFP also told the people that his department would give them breakfast.

Radebe said reports from ANC councillors and office staff alleged that IFP councillors, led by Umtshezi Mayor Lymon Shelembe, bussed people from poor communities on Sunday night and held a street party throughout the night while telling people that they would receive the vouchers.

The Witness has learnt that when the office staff got to work yesterday, they were allegedly instructed by IFP supporters to open the gates and give people food vouchers paid for by IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi. It is alleged that IFP supporters told ANC supporters not to queue for the vouchers, saying that they were for IFP supporters only.

Witnesses allege that the stampede for the vouchers led to the deaths of two children, aged six months and two. It is further alleged that an old woman was trampled on and died, while a pregnant woman allegedly lost her unborn baby in the stampede.

Only one of the deaths was confirmed. Police spokeswoman Captain Charmaine Struwig confirmed the death of the two-year-old. “Police have opened an inquest into the death of the child and will rely on a postmortem to confirm whether the death was caused by the stampede or from natural causes. No other injuries were reported,” said Struwig.

It was later established that the six-month-old boy fainted and was taken to the hospital after being squashed against a taxi while in his mother’s arms.

The mother of the boy, Zandile Mkhize (24), told The Witness that her child would be kept overnight for observation. Mkhize said her baby started vomiting and had diarrhoea after the incident.

At the scene people were shouting that they wanted food, while an IFP supporter told them, through a loud hailer, that the ANC government had lied to them about the availability of food vouchers because the ANC also gives vouchers to its supporters.

The supporter said that if the IFP was in charge people would have gotten the vouchers and a grant of R5 000 a month.

“The people who told you to come here were playing with you and I hope that one day God will punish them for lying to you, promising you food and leaving you like this. They are probably in restaurants having food while you have waited throughout the night because of their lies,” MEC Radebe told the crowd.

He said the crowd should disperse and wait for social workers to come to their homes to assess the extent of their poverty before they could get vouchers. Radebe said he would return with about 300 social workers to assist in these assessments.

The relief of distress programme is intended to help child-headed households, orphans and families that do not have people who are employed.

“We cannot establish that without visiting homes and schools. Not all of you here are destitute,” said Radebe.

Shelembe arrived after Radebe had addressed the crowd and told the people the MEC had no right to come to “his town” and address the people without notifying him.

“The people of Umtshezi must not be lied to. If the MEC wants to campaign for his party he must do so without lying to people,” said Shelembe.

Most of the crowd dispersed after 3.30 pm, but some said they would wait to see whether the staff would feel sorry for them and give them vouchers.

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