'What did our children eat?' - Mothers demand answers following toddlers' death

Two mothers are demanding answers after their toddlers died last month, allegedly from food poisoning, while under the care of a childminder in Westdene, Johannesburg.

Antoinette Assegaai said her two-year-old daughter, Jessica Tshepang, had been going to the childminder, who has not yet been identified, since she was six months old.

"I was desperately looking for a place where my daughter would be safe when I am at work, and a friend recommended this place to me. I didn't even ask if the childminder was complying with the law or not.

"Everything went well until May 9, when I went to fetch Tshepang. I was told by the lady, who was looking after her and the other children, that my child had been admitted at hospital," she said.

Assegaai added that Tshepang had died in hospital the following day. She was told her daughter died from food poisoning.

Fanula Wabet said her 17-month-old son, Othniel, had attended the same daycare.

When she went to collect him on May 9, the childminder told her that Othniel had fallen ill and had been taken to Rahima Moosa Hospital.

Othniel died two days later.

On Wednesday, the City of Johannesburg’s member of the mayoral committee for health and social development, Dr Mpho Phalatse, visited the house where the daycare was operating from. A man refused her entry, saying that the childminder had vacated the house.

Phalatse told the media that the fatal incident was only brought to her attention this week.

"This is something I will be correcting within environmental health. The region had investigated it last month. One of our environmental health practitioners had visited the facility and interviewed the parents of the two children who died.

"According to the report I have, it is alleged by the early childhood development [ECD] practitioner that one of the children had allegedly brought a lunch box to the facility and shared it with two other children.

"According to the family of the child, who had allegedly brought the lunch box, it contained the same food that the family had eaten, and nobody fell ill," she said.

Wabet said the caregiver needed to provide answers. 

"We want to know who allegedly fed our children poison. We were shocked when we learned that one of the children allegedly came carrying food laced with rat poison and shared it with our children.

"I still have Othniel's lunch that he took to the house on May 9. The food is stored safe at home waiting for the police to test it for poison.

"It has also not been properly explained to us what type of food our children ate. All we want is for the law to take its course and whoever poisoned our children must answer for it," said Wabet.

Phalatse said the childminder, who was looking after seven children, was not registered.

"It was an informal arrangement with the children's family. As a department, we do see a need to really strengthen awareness by targeting communities and parents, particularly on what to look out for when you leave your child with somebody.

"This is a highly regulated environment, you can't just take it for granted. We need to make sure all parents are aware of what constitutes a legal ECD," she said.

Police spokesperson Captain Jerbes du Bruyn said no one had been arrested and the police have opened two inquest dockets and were waiting on the toxicology report.

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