Victim’s family challenge school food poisoning denial

Date: 13 Aug 2019

THE family of a 10-year-old girl who died of suspected food poisoning have rubbished claims that the school’s feeding scheme had nothing to do with the tragic death.

Yesterday, Mpumalanga Education MEC Bonakele Majuba said that, following a probe by the province’s Department of Health outbreak response team, the feeding scheme at Emalahleni’s Nelson Ngubeni Primary School was ruled out as a cause of death of two children and the illness of 12 others.

Two weeks ago, Busisiwe Mkhatshwa died after walking home from school with a friend, Sanele Mahlangu, who survived the suspected food-poisoning after being hospitalised.

Busisiwe, who was in Grade 4, died on arrival at the Witbank Provincial Hospital after her sister, Makgaugelo Aphane, saw foam coming from the girl’s mouth after she had taken an afternoon nap and had complained of a headache and sore stomach.

Majuba said yesterday that samples from the ill children and environment samples were taken, including inspecting the area surrounding the school where learners bought snacks.

Samples of snacks and popcorn were taken as it was believed that the popcorn could have caused the poisoning.

“Based on the samples taken from the food that is supplied by the school, there were no germs that could be linked to the food-borne illness,” Majuba said.

“This means that the food from the school was safe to be consumed by the beneficiaries. Learners can henceforth receive feeding.”

However, Makgaugelo Aphane, Busisiwe’s older sister, rubbished claims that snacks sold around the school could have been the cause of her sister’s death.

Aphane said that Busisiwe did not eat the popcorn after school as she had already been feeling ill and that Sanele, the girl’s neighbour who survived, was the only person who ate the snacks and survived.

“Where my sister buys her popcorn, children from Empucukweni Secondary School and Nancy Shiba Primary School buy from the same vendor. Why was there not a single illness or death from learners at those schools?

“I also ate that popcorn on Sunday,” Aphane said.

“It is very painful for us as a family because we feel like the department is defending itself and the school. It would be better if they were to admit that a mistake happened with the feeding scheme.

“There is something terribly fishy with the manner in which my sister died because I could see that she ate poison,” an emotional Aphane said.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said an inquiry was opened for the children who had survived, and that two separate inquest dockets were opened for the two children who died.

Hlathi said that they were waiting for reports from the SAPS forensic team, and would send the information to the National Prosecuting Authority for a final decision.

KHAYA KOKO khaya.koko@inl.co.za @khayakoko88

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