It’s been almost a year since Ezam Thabeng and Kwahlelwa Ndongeni died just minutes apart at an East London daycare centre, but the families still do not have answers.
Mildred Thabeng, Ezam’s mother, says she has only seen the detective investigating the case once and they have been told to wait for answers.
“I try to be as nice as I possibly can because I do not want to irritate her (the investigating officer) but I always send her messages to ask for any new information or updates.
“You know as a person you are not equipped about the steps you should follow in the event your child dies. As parents we want to do something but we just do not know what to do. Police said we should wait two weeks for the autopsy results to come, but to this day we still do not know what killed our child,” she says.
Mildred they are struggling to make ends meet as she and her partner Kanya Makabela, Ezam’s dad, are now unemployed.
“We have hit rock bottom. It is so draining to worry about what the family is going to eat, how you are going to pay fees for the older child, where you will get money to pay rent and buy electricity. And all the while you carry the heavy burden of grief and no closure.
“It is difficult for us to say we are accepting this because we do not know what we are accepting. Our child died and that’s just it. No one was held accountable or arrested. The principal disappeared and that house where the daycare used to be is now occupied by other people it is not a daycare center anymore.”
She says she is in contact with Kwahlelwa’s family and they have not heard anything either.
“Sometimes you feel so helpless that you wish you could take the law into your own hands, but what good will that do? You will get arrested and I would never risk doing that to my eldest daughter, Gomolemo.”
When baby Ezam died she was only 5 months old. On what would have been her first birthday 2 April 2022, the family bought a cupcake and balloons and went to her grave.
“We spoke to her and spent time with her. I decided that I will do that every year for as long as I live.”
Ezam and Kwahlelwa were at a daycare center in Southernwood when the tragedy occurred. The parents were called by doctors at Frere Hospital after the children died. No one from the school called them to inform them that the kids had fallen ill.
The school requested an e-hailing taxi because they were afraid that an ambulance would take too long. The principal is now nowhere to be found. Ezam’s parents had chosen that daycare following a referral from someone whose child had gone there before.
Private investigator Samantha Kernerkamp offered her services for free and managed to track down one of the caregivers at the school, the one who took the babies to the hospital.
At the time, Samantha told Drum the woman alleges that at around 3pm on that fateful day, 31 August 2021, they were waking the children up from their afternoon nap when she realised that Ezam was not waking up.
“She alerted the principal and together they went to the bathroom, undressed her and splashed her with water trying to wake her up. While doing that, another teacher brought Kwahlelwa because he too was not waking up.”
Mildred says they need a helping hand.
“I know we are not special and that everyone is going through something, but please we need help. All the MECs that came here promising counselling and everything never returned after the hype died down. I have been doing piece jobs as a domestic worker and we are just so desperate for help. I am losing my sanity.”