Child drowns in crèche pool

2008-02-06 00:00

A two-year-old child drowned in a swimming pool at a crèche in Pietermaritzburg this week.

Thando Mkhize, who would have turned three on March 17, died when he fell into the unsecured, 1,27-metre-deep swimming pool at the Stepping Stones crèche in Brixham Road, Orient Heights.

Thando’s body was found floating in the pool minutes after it was discovered that he was missing.

The police have opened an inquest case and it will be sent to the senior public prosecutor for a decision on whether there was an element of negligence in the accident.

Mondli Mkhize (28), little Thando’s father, who is a policeman, is devastated by the death. He left the boy at the crèche less than three hours before he received the dreadful call.

"I was shocked and I still can’t believe he is gone. I had left him at the crèche in the morning … I can vividly recall him saying, ‘Goodbye daddy’."

At 11.30 am, Mkhize said he received a call to go quickly to the Daymed Clinic. "When we arrived, we found our baby was dead."

Stepping Stones crèche owner Julian Harry said Thando was on his own when he drowned. "All the children were playing outside and when they returned inside, one of them was missing. We believe Thando wandered on his own towards the pool area," he said.

The pool is easily accessible from the jungle gym where the children were apparently playing.

Harry said the crèche has been operating for two years, but the pool was built much more recently: three months ago.

Construction was still under way at the crèche alongside the pool area yesterday. Workmen were building a fence to secure the swimming pool and were drawing water from the pool. Harry said construction had been going on since last week. The builder, Mike Stenning-Smith, confirmed that he started work at the crèche last week. He said he had not worked on Monday due to rain.

Harry could not explain how Thando drowned. "I can’t even say how it really happened, but my wife found him floating in the pool. We immediately rushed him to hospital where he was certified dead." Harry used his own car to take the child to hospital. Police spokeswoman Inspector Joey Jeevan confirmed that by the time they reached the hospital the child was dead.

Msunduzi Municipality environmental health officials at the crèche yesterday said that one of the requirements at a crèche is that a swimming pool should be secured. Msunduzi Municipality spokeswoman, Evodia Mahlangu, said that the crèche should be registered with the municipality and the Social Development Department once they comply with the municipality’s requirements.

"They also need to make an application to the city planner in terms of the Town Planning Scheme," she said.

The Stepping Stones crèche was not registered. "The owner informed our officials that he was not aware that he was supposed to make an application of approval."

Mahlangu said the municipality "requested [the owner] to make an application to establish the crèche in terms of the scheme".

She confirmed that the swimming pool was not adequately fenced and that the owner has been told to make it secure immediately.

Mkhize told The Witness that Thando started going to the crèche in January. He said the pool was already there then, and he was told that his child would be given swimming lessons in the pool. "They assured us that swimming lessons would be done under supervision."

Police are investigating.

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