Outrage over sick kids

2019-03-05 15:30
A parent speaks during a meeting at Sombongangani Primary School on Monday.

A parent speaks during a meeting at Sombongangani Primary School on Monday. (Nompilo Kunene)

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Emotions ran high during a school meeting at Sombongangani Primary School on Monday as fuming parents demanded answers on how their children became sick, allegedly after eating amasi provided by the school’s nutrition programme last week. 

More than 300 parents gathered at the school in Elandskop on Monday morning after over 171 pupils were treated for food poisoning last Monday. Parents said their children had diarrhoea and were vomiting.

The meeting was also attended by circuit managers from the Department of Education, ward councillors, different teachers’ unions and police officers.

On Thursday last week, a group of parents had disrupted teaching, demanding a meeting about the food poisoning incident. This resulted in the school being closed on Friday and Monday.

A parent said she was part of the group that disrupted the classes because it was unfair that her child was still recovering at home while other children carried on learning.

The school’s principal, Lindiwe Zama, was brought to tears on Monday as disgruntled parents weighed in on the matter.

Zama said she was not responsible for the school’s nutrition programme.

“There is a committee that handles everything to do with the nutrition programme and I have nothing to do with that committee. I also had no say as to who received the tender to prepare food for the children. The Department of Education made that decision, so I don’t understand why I’m being accused of siding [with] and protecting the service provider,” she said.

Zama said samples were collected from all the children’s vomit and from the amasi bottles and that they were still waiting for the results from the Health Department’s district office.

“I have worked so hard to improve and elevate this school and it breaks my heart that today parents, who I am seeing for the first time, are pointing fingers at me and calling me a liar.

“My qualifications are not limited to me being a principal at Sombongangani, so if I am no longer needed here I can leave and go be a principal at another school, which I can also elevate,” said the emotional Zama.

The principal also asked for a list of parents who claimed that their children were still in hospital and offered to pay all their hospital bills.

Bukelani Zuma, who is the service provider for the school’s nutrition programme and also an IFP councillor serving in both uMgungundlovu and Msunduzi councils, reassured parents that he was not running away from them as he also lives in the area and is very well known.

Speaking during the meeting, Zuma accused some of the parents, who were very outspoken during the meeting, of using the school meeting platform to achieve political vendettas against him.

He also reassured the parents that he would not have deliberately tried to poison their children.

“I also bought the amasi from another company. If it is indeed contaminated then I suggest we also get them involved and they must also answer.

“I won’t hide anything. On Monday we had about 45 four-litre bottles of amasi; most of the bottles were purchased from an Underberg company that produces amasi ... They expire in April,” said Zuma.

He said he had also eaten the amasi but the parents loudly accused him of lying.

“The amasi bottles were collected and are being tested by the Health Department. If they are indeed contaminated then I apologise to the parents as it was never my intention to harm them,” he said.

The councillor said that after learning about the pupils being sick and fingers pointing at the amasi provided by him, he hired five taxis which helped transport parents and children back home after being treated at hospitals on Monday night.

There will be another meeting with parents once the test results are released.

It was also agreed that the pupils would all return to school on Tuesday and would continue eating the food provided by the school’s feeding scheme, but that amasi will not be on the menu.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  food poisoning at school
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