Maverick Citizen


Desperate Eastern Cape mom kills starving children and hangs herself

Desperate Eastern Cape mom kills starving children and hangs herself
The victims of the Butterworth tragedy, from left: Bongeka Buso, her teenage daughter Anathi and the little ones Arabile (8) and Oratile (4) (Photos: Supplied)

A debt collector looking for repayment of a loan found the bodies of a Butterworth woman and her three children at their home on Sunday morning. It is understood that she had poisoned her small children by mixing the last food in the house with rat poison. Her teenage daughter died after she was stabbed in the throat. The mother then hanged herself. Family members said the woman was deeply in debt and the family had been starving for weeks.

A debt collector looking for repayment on a loan from a desperate mother in Butterworth, Eastern Cape, found the bodies of the mother and her three children in their home at 7am on Sunday.

In a suicide note that is understood to have been retrieved by the police, the mother, known in the area as a quiet introvert, said she had become overwhelmed by her burdens.

Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said Bongeka Buso (38) was found hanging from a rope in her rondavel. Two of her children, Orabile Buso (8) and Oratile Buso (5) were found dead on the bed. It is alleged that Buso took the last of the family’s food and mixed it with Rattex to poison her smaller children.

Her other child, Anathi Buso, understood to be about 14 years old, was found lying on the floor next to the bed with a knife in her neck. Community members said it looked as if she’d been trying to stop her mother from poisoning the two small children, and there had been a physical altercation. She was found in a pool of blood.

“It is suspected that the two younger children were poisoned. The motive for the deaths is not known; however, it is suspected that it could be driven by poverty,” Naidu said.

She said there would be an inquest and three murder dockets had been opened.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eastern Cape case of Buso family tragedy was ‘murder and death by hunger’

Eastern Cape Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Nomthetheleli Mene expressed her sadness and concern.

“It is a deeply concerning and heartbreaking issue that women facing poverty can be driven to such despair. Socioeconomic challenges can exacerbate their vulnerability to mental health issues. Addressing poverty and promoting mental health support is crucial to prevent such tragedies. As we commemorate Women’s Month, I urge women to raise their voices and speak out. It is crucial to address concerns promptly rather than waiting until they become more difficult to resolve,” Mene said.

Bongeka’s uncle Mkhululi Buso said the family was still in shock. 

“The young children were receiving grant money, but we think that she was under pressure and struggling to pay some of her debts because they were starving sometimes,” he said, “but as I said we don’t know what exactly happened.”

He said he wished she had shared her problems with them before deciding to take her own life and the lives of her children.

Mkhululi confirmed that two of the children had been poisoned and a third was stabbed.

Bongeka’s neighbour Nomthandazo Maboko said she still could not believe what she’d seen inside the rondavel. Maboko said after the debt collector called for help, she immediately ran to the rondavel.

“My first concern was for the safety of the children,” she said.

“When I pushed open the door, I saw her hanging and I looked around. I found the one child dead and saw the other two were also dead and their stomachs were swollen. I tried to wake them up but it was late,” Maboko said.

She said the worst moment was finding the teenager with her face in her own blood.

“Even though we don’t know exactly what happened or what led to this incident, Bongeka had a lot of debt and they were struggling for a long time,” Maboko said.

“Sometimes she was asking for food from neighbours just so they can have something to eat.”

“We have a lot of people who are starving in Butterworth,” Maboko added.

Skyrocketing malnutrition

In March 2022, Daily Maverick highlighted the cost of living crisis, especially in rural Eastern Cape after seven children died of severe acute malnutrition in the district.

In October, the founder of Gift of the Givers, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, said it had become normal to starve in the Eastern Cape. He warned of an impending malnutrition crisis in the country. 

The situation in the province has become progressively worse. 

In a recent answer to questions in Parliament, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said the incidence of severe acute malnutrition for children in the Eastern Cape is now 2.7 per 1,000 children. That is close to four times the figure in 2018/2019.

According to the minister, severe acute malnutrition cases in the province have increased by 287.7% over five years, a higher rate than anywhere else in the country. 

Yet on Friday, 21 July, responding to a question from the DA’s Kobus Botha, the province’s MEC for Social Development, Bukiwe Fanta, said only 30 food parcels had been distributed in the Amathola district since the start of the financial year in March. The district’s budget for food parcels had been cut by R100,000 since last year and the province’s budget for food parcels by R900,000.

“Nowhere is the devastating impact of the cost-of-living crisis more evident than in female-headed households in the Eastern Cape,” Botha said on Monday.

“The tragedy that struck the Tholeni Administrative area in Butterworth yesterday, where it is alleged a mother first murdered her three young children before taking her own life, apparently motivated by extreme poverty, should never happen. The government has failed this family; no steps taken now will ever change that. Our resilient women, who have fought against and endured so much injustice, are being pushed beyond their breaking points by the skyrocketing costs of basic necessities,” he said. 

“At the same time, the social safety nets that have been put in place to aid families in times of crisis are failing,” Botha said.

The mayor of the Mnquma Local Municipality in Butterworth, Tunyiswa Manxila-Nkamisa, and Council Speaker Monica Qaba, visited Bongeka’s family on Monday morning.

Manxila-Nkamisa encouraged people to speak up and not bottle up problems that they were dealing with in their personal lives. She urged those who were suffering to get help through the municipality’s Special Programmes Unit.

Manxila-Nkamisa said it was tragic that Bongeka had decided to keep quiet.

‘Food is an immediate need’

Corene Conradie from Gift of the Givers in the Eastern Cape said the need for food in the province is “alarmingly high”.

“We worked on the ground throughout Covid-19. The pandemic seriously aggravated poverty in rural areas. Families can’t cope to put food on the table any more. Food is an immediate need.”

She said that in February 2022 the organisation had been alerted to a food crisis in Butterworth as outreach teams were seeing many undernourished children. The local hospital also reported an alarming number of children whose growth was stunted. 

“And then there were those who were admitted just too late. People have become used to being hungry,” Conradie said.

She said she was convinced that hunger was partially to blame for sending the mother in Butterworth into a deep depression.

“With our 50 soup kitchens in the Eastern Cape, we are providing 23,000 meals a day. We are feeding between 4,500 and 5,000 families a day. And I can tell you now that this is just a drop in the bucket,” she said. “There just isn’t enough. The need is alarming.”

She said Gift of the Givers wanted to work with NGOs, the government and corporate South Africa in setting up a more sustainable food system. “We must go back to farming and grow crops in our communities.

“We need donors to donate towards that. We have got the teams. We will go and assist. We will get people with knowledge. We just need the funding,” Conradie said. 

She said apart from disaster food relief and the soup kitchens, Gift of the Givers is continuing to invest in special fortified food.

“We got such good feedback from using this food. So many calls from children’s homes and reports on how it changed the lives of children with HIV and TB.”

She said Gift of the Givers has already rolled out R25-million worth of this emergency food. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Patrick Devine says:

    Corruption, looting and complete mismanagement by unqualified, incompetent, venal cadres is not a ‘victimless crime’, as Jacob Zuma once said.

    The looting cadres have blood on their hands.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    This tragedy can be laid at the feet of an inefficient and corrupt government who make promises they have no intention of delivering merely an act to stay in power to rob the tax payer and look down with scorn on the disenfranchised. Your day will come …..

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    And where is the father of these children pray tell?

    • Anita Laubscher says:

      How does this question help?

      • Ben Harper says:

        I think the question raises the dialogue that needs to be had on this matter. How did it get to that state and surely the Mother is not the only one responsible for the family unit? It highlights rather the trend of the poorest having the highest number of children that they had little to no chance of supporting. It’s a dialogue that’s necessary so that perhaps some will understand what they can and cannot afford to do and maybe, just maybe, some can lift themselves out of poverty and that repetitive cycle of unchecked procreation and misery

      • Ben Harper says:

        Do you know the percentage of Black children that grow up without a father in South Africa? 70%
        Doesn’t that make your question seem somewhat naïve if not a tad silly? Do you not think now that Jane’s question is VERY relevant to the debate?

  • Niki Moore says:

    This is the saddest story I have read in a long time. Almost as bad as a previous DM story about how children walk miles to attend their sub-standard schools in the Eastern Cape in a vain hope to educate themselves out of poverty.
    I hope that the overweight and over-indulged government ministers, sitting in luxury restaurants and sipping fine wine with their tax-payer-provided meals, read this or hear about this and are ashamed. But I won’t bet my life on it.

  • Geoff Krige says:

    Eastern Cape Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Nomthetheleli Mene said “It is a deeply concerning and heartbreaking issue that women facing poverty can be driven to such despair. It is crucial to address concerns promptly rather than waiting until they become more difficult to resolve.” Never a truer word spoken. But when will the corrupt ANC looters listen? Similar words have been spoken again and again and again for 20 years, and we have still not seen any appropriate action taken. How many more people must die of hunger before government officials stop their corruption? How many more taxi commuters must die before taxi bosses stop filling their own already stuffed pockets first? How many more people must die of cholera before the ANC realises that competence rather than appointment of useless cadres to key national and municipal posts is necessary? How long before the entire country agrees that the treatment of our poor people by the ANC is worse than the treatment meted out by the apartheid government?

  • Enid Pretorius says:

    She said Gift of the Givers wanted to work with NGOs, the government and corporate South Africa in setting up a more sustainable food system. “We must go back to farming and grow crops in our communities.

    I couldn’t agree more – give a man a fish and he eats for a day ……………….

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      So which is it? Teach people to grow their own food or “ kill the farmer, kill the Boer”. Tough choice for the illiterate voter – that’s where we heading folks!

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    I fully agree with the comments posted before me. This is such a sad and tragic case and a sign of the desperation within our society, but do the ANC cadres care?, does Cyril care? does fatboy Juju on his hydraulic podium care?
    No they dont give a toss about the poor, especially poor black people.
    This country stinks to high Heaven.

  • Can you send this article to our Prime Minister to help out, out of the Phala-Phala US Dollars or may be to Gwede or Julius Malema. Surely one of them can afford it>

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    I want to support what Gift of the Givers say, that our people must start to grow their own food; even in their own back yards if necessary. But furthermore, I have to caution that debt can only increase the burden, because there is interest to be paid on top of the money borrowed. So it does not make sense to borrow money if you don’t have money to pay it off with; it most certainly is not what should be done to get money for food. In such a case it is most certainly better to grow food in your back yard, or to go for assistance from welfare organisations. As for borrowing for other things, especially luxury goods, it is better to first save the money and then buy, because in that way it costs you much less.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.