Maverick Citizen

COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS

Butterworth mom desperately cried for help before family murders, suicide – Social Development MEC

Butterworth mom desperately cried for help before family murders, suicide – Social Development MEC
The victims of the Butterworth, Eastern Cape, tragedy (from left): Bongeka Buso, her teenage daughter Anathi and her little ones Arabile (8) and Oratile (4). (Photos: Supplied)

Bongeka Buso (38), who killed her three children before hanging herself in her rondavel in Tholeni Village near Butterworth, tried to find help at a local community centre but had only visited once, MEC for Social Development Bukiwe Fanta said at the funeral of the Buso family on Sunday. Fanta also asked where the fathers of the children were and why they had failed to help.

Speaking on Sunday at the funeral of 38-year-old Bongeka Buso, Eastern Cape MEC for Social Development Bukiwe Fanta said that Buso had sought help at a local community centre in Tholeni Village near Butterworth before killing her children and then herself.

Buso killed Orabile Buso (8) and Oratile Buso (5) with rat poison, after using the last of the food in the house, before stabbing her teenage daughter Anathi to death and then hanging herself. It is understood that she was deeply in debt and the family was often starving.

A debt collector looking for repayment on a loan found them on the morning of Sunday, 6 August, at around 7am.

In a suicide note reportedly retrieved by police, the mother, known in the area as a quiet introvert, said she had become overwhelmed by her burdens.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Desperate Eastern Cape mom kills starving children and hangs herself

Arrival of the bodies of the four Buso deceased who were killed by their mother at Tholeni locality, Butterworth, Eastern Cape, on 13 August 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Church delegation paying last respects to the mother Bongeka Buso, her teenager daughter Anati Buso, and Arabile (8) and Oratile (4), during the funeral at Tholeni Locality, Butterworth, Eastern Cape on 13 August 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Eastern Cape police commissioner Lieutenant General Nomthetheleli Mene said it was 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.”

Fanta said she had spoken with the counsellors at the community centre and confirmed that Buso tried to ask for help once, but had never returned.

“The kids were getting the child grant and they were receiving school nutrition,” she said. 

“I think for me this was more a case of someone with mental health issues. She needed someone to talk to but I still do not understand why she didn’t. I spoke to the social workers,” Fanta said.

The residents of Tholeni Village have experienced horrendous violence in the past two decades. It became known as the village of death after serial killer Bulelani Mabhayi murdered 20 women and children there between 2007 and 2012.

Mabhayi, dubbed the Monster of Tholeni, is serving 25 life sentences for his crimes.

Since then, a community nutrition centre where families could access counselling and food was set up in the village to help people cope with what had happened. 

Elders carrying caskets of Arabile (8) and Orabile (4) on Sunday morning in Butterworth, Eastern Cape, on 13 August 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Fanta said she confirmed that Buso was receiving a child grant for each of her children and that the children were in the school nutrition programme.

“Nobody is asking where the father is. What is he doing?” she added.

She said that while food parcels were available, people needed jobs.

Buso’s relatives and neighbours said they tried to help the family with food when they saw the children were hungry.

Child rights activist Petrus Majola said he could barely hold his tears back when the hearses arrived with the children. 

“It was not their choice to die. Maybe it was because of hunger. The child grant is not enough any more. We must reconsider the amount. It is not even enough for a week,” he said. 

“Maybe she said [to her children] … Let me not leave you behind.”

Majola said ward committees must extend the type of door-to-door work they do during election time and regularly check on their communities.

“Then we can intervene accordingly,” he added. “Everybody had a responsibility here, not only the government. Community members also locked their doors and ate their own food.”

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 Butterworth district.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Seven children starve to death, others fight for their lives while malnutrition ravages Eastern Cape

During the heartbreaking funeral, members of the Buso family said they were still struggling to come to terms with the fact that Bongeka had killed her children.

Nkulumbuso Buso said if they knew that she was suffering, they would have intervened.

“We are heartbroken as a family.”

She said that if the South African government did things the right way, Buso would have had a job and they wouldn’t be standing at open graves.

She added that while the three children had different fathers, Buso’s current boyfriend had also not been around to provide support.

As part of the funeral, the family performed a ritual ceremony to welcome Bongeka and her children home. The elderly women were also given an opportunity to see the bodies.

Learners from Cunningham Senior Secondary School paid their last respects to Anathi, who was in Grade 8. 

Oratile and Orabile were at Toleni Primary School. 

Bongeka and her children were buried in the village. DM

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