Heads to roll after officials fail to report death of two toddlers in Johannesburg

2019-06-13 17:41
Two-year-old Tshepang Assegaai. (Facebook/Shamieta Assegaai)

Two-year-old Tshepang Assegaai. (Facebook/Shamieta Assegaai)

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Heads are expected to roll at the City of Johannesburg after officials failed to report the deaths of two toddlers who allegedly ingested rat poison at a childminder's residence in Westdene, Johannesburg.

The member of the mayoral committee for health and social development, Dr Mpho Phalatse, told the media on Wednesday that action would be taken against those who had not reported the deaths to her office on time.

Phalatse claimed that she had only heard about the deaths of 17-month-old Othniel Wabet and Tshepang Assegaai, 2, earlier this week.

The toddlers' mothers, Antoinette Assegaai and Fanula Wabet, said they were told their children had died after allegedly sharing a lunch box brought by another child to the childminder's residence.

Tshepang died on May 10, while Othniel died on May 11 after falling ill on May 9. 

Police have opened two inquest dockets and are waiting for the toxicology report. 

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

Phalatse said the incident had shocked her.

"I do feel as the department, we have dropped the ball and I have questioned why this was never brought to my attention [on time]. There are expectations from officers, particularly an incident of this nature, to report it sooner rather than later.

"This is a gap in the system. I will be holding them accountable and I expect them to communicate things as they happen. But, also to prevent it from happening again."

Phalatse said there was a shortage of childcare officers employed by the City, which relied on partnerships with civil society, residents and other organisations to assist it.

She stressed that the City was doing everything in its power to support early childhood development (EDC) facilities within its catchment area and was partnering with practitioners whether they were compliant or not.

"We are trying to assist those who are not compliant through streamlined functions across various departments in the City. We have made the process fairly easy."

She said a report would be sent to the council calling on compliance fees to be reduced if practitioners could not afford them.

"Our approach is really a friendly one to try and assist ECDs to be compliant." 

Not an easy space to navigate

She added that this was not an easy space to navigate because of the legal framework around it.

"There is national legislation that regulates how we deal with children. We try to find the balance between ensuring the children's safety but at the same time improving access to ECDs... We are educating parents and communities on ECD compliance, unfortunately some are falling through the cracks like this one."  

EWN reported that Phalatse was concerned about the number of preschools operating illegally in the city.

She said she was worried because a number of privately-run preschools were operating without detection due to a lack of resources within her department.

Read more on:    mpho phalatse  |  johannesburg

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