Maverick Citizen

COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS

Desperately poor Eastern Cape mom kills herself and three of her four children

Desperately poor Eastern Cape mom kills herself and three of her four children
From left: Iyapha Mntsizela (14); Inga Mntsizela (8); Ntombizanele Mntsizela (35); Phila Mntsizela (4). (Photos: Supplied)

A desperate Eastern Cape mother allegedly used rat poison to kill herself and three of her four children on Sunday. The police said their preliminary investigation found that the family was desperately poor and the mother had become despondent. This is the second case of its kind in the Eastern Cape in just over a month.

On Sunday, 10 September, Ntombizanele Mntizela (35) fetched her four children from their grandmother’s house in Luzuphu village near Lusikisiki “to pray”. She then took them to a nearby forest and forced them to take “tank pills”, a deadly rat poison sold on the streets of the Eastern Cape for between R5 and R15. 

Three of the four children and their mother died.

The children’s bodies were found on Monday morning. On Tuesday, a search and rescue team recovered Ntombizanele’s body where it lay in thick bush. It is understood she also poisoned herself. 

Family spokesperson Lamleka Sikhunjwana said one of the children, an 11-year-old, had survived by playing dead.

“The child said their mother took them to the forest on Sunday night and poisoned and killed her three siblings, but she pretended to be dead and managed to escape,” Sikhunjwana said.

“That child was not okay. All she told us was that her mother tried to kill her and killed her siblings,” she said.

She said the child managed to get to a neighbour’s house at around 6am on Monday.

“She was taken to the St Elizabeth Hospital in Lusikisiki and is still in a critical condition,” Sikhunjwana said.

By Tuesday afternoon, Eastern Cape Health Department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo confirmed that the child was out of danger and receiving counselling from social workers.

The three children who were confirmed dead at the scene are Iyapha (14), Inga (9) and Phila (3).

Aluminium phosphate, a deadly poison used in the agricultural sector, is freely available and sold by street hawkers in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The mayor of Port St Johns, Nomvuzo Mlombile Cingo, said the family was struggling as they did not have money for the funerals.

“We are deeply shocked about this tragedy in the Jabavu area,” Cingo said.

She said the surviving child confirmed that their mother had used “tank pills” to poison them.

“For now, we don’t know what led to this,” she said, adding that the children usually lived with their grandmother.

She urged the Department of Social Development to conduct more mental health awareness programmes in the area and educate people about how to deal with adversity in life.

“As a municipality, we are speaking with different stakeholders to intervene in this family situation because it seems that the family is struggling.”

It is understood that officials from Social Development set out for the area on Tuesday, but were only expected back on Wednesday as the location is very remote.

Provincial police commissioner Lt Gen Nomthetheleli Mene expressed her deep sadness over the tragic incident. She said it has shaken the community of Lusikisiki to its core.

“It is alleged that on September 11 at about 2am, four children, aged between 4 and 14 years old, were asleep with their grandmother when they were awakened by their mother.”

She said the mother took the children to a forest in Luzuphu.

“They were forced to drink pills,” she said.

She confirmed that one of the children had managed to get away. The bodies of the children were recovered on Monday.

“On Tuesday, 12 September, at about 10am, the Grahamstown Search and Rescue Unit found the mother about 100m from the children, in dense bushes,” she said.

Police are investigating a case of murder. An inquest will also be held.

The health department’s Sizwe Kupelo confirmed that the bodies were transported to the Lusikisiki Forensic Pathology Services where the cause of death will be determined. 

Poverty and hunger rife 

“An incident of this nature also took place in the Tholeni administrative area in Butterworth in August, when a mother also poisoned and killed her three children,” Mene said.

The police officer said she was worried that these tragedies were motivated by desperation fuelled by poverty.

“This raises a profound concern about the struggles that some of our communities face daily. It is a stark reminder of the importance of reaching out to those in need, offering support, and fostering a sense of family within our community. 

“Poverty should never drive anyone to such a desperate and tragic act, and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victims.”

On Sunday, 6 August, a similarly desperate Butterworth mother, Bongeka Buso – who was deeply indebted and had run out of food for her children – poisoned her two youngest children, Orabile (8) and Oratile (5), with rat poison and stabbed her teenage daughter Anathi (14) to death before hanging herself. 

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

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers, said at the time that the Butterworth case was death and murder “by hunger”. 

But despite the deaths and a slow food parcel roll-out by the Department of Social Development, the province’s politicians have described these cases as “isolated incidents”.

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

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 area.

The situation in the province has become progressively worse. 

In a recent reply to questions in Parliament, Health Minister 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. 

On 21 July, responding to a question from the DA’s Kobus Botha, the province’s MEC for Social Development, Bukiwe Fanta, said only 56 food parcels had been distributed in the OR Tambo 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.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The powerlessness of a mother to protect her children from starvation is a soul-destroying, quiet violence

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

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