Parents are increasingly neglecting and abandoning their children to have a “nice time” leaving them at risk.
Nine children have died countrywide in the past two days due to shack fires. In Alexandra on Sunday morning four children died while trapped inside their burning home.
“Our young parents don’t care about their children. You will see them looking beautiful with the latest weaves but their children don’t have something as basic as underwear.”
These are the words of Emfundisweni Primary School principal Thembakazi Giyama who was speaking on Wednesday at the memorial service in honour of the four children who died after a fire engulfed their home in Alexandra.
The four children – Mbalenhle Fihlani, 5, Nonhlanhla Ngubeni, 7, Sandile Ngubeni, 4, and Amukelani Ngubeni, 2 – died in the early hours of Sunday when their two-bed roomed house burnt down as they were sleeping. The fire is alleged to have been caused by a heater and the only window in the house was apparently too high for them to reach.
Pictures of Mbalenhle Fihlani, Nonhlanhla Ngubeni, Sandile Ngubeni, and Amukelani Ngubeni. (Renata Larroyd/M&G)
One of the children died at the scene and the three others succumbed to their injuries in hospital.
It is alleged that their mothers, sisters Bongiwe Ngubeni, 31, and Nelisiwe Fihlani, 28, were at a tavern when the fire broke out. The four had been left under the supervision of a 14-year-old who managed to escape to seek help. By the time help arrived, it was too late.
“Parents are dumping their children on us and these children are coming to school with so much baggage from home. We don’t have the support we need.”
Giyama spoke on the challenges that learners face at school. She said parents, especially younger ones, are not involved in their children’s growth and development.
One of the children’s parents, Bongiwe, was given a job at Emfundisweni but she only worked for one or two months, Giyama said.
“I don’t want to speculate on what happened that night and put blame on anyone but this is a winter for all of us. We have all lost and we all need to do better as a community to take care of our children.”
The two sisters were arrested and charged with child negligence and culpable homicide. They appeared briefly at the Alexandra magistrate’s court on Tuesday.
The two will remain in custody until their bail application hearing on September 28 and the court will decide whether the mothers will be allowed to attend the burial of their children on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Gauteng social development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza visited the home that burnt down where she told media that was saddened by the incident and that parents need to do more to take care of their children.
“Parents should take care of their children but if they can’t they should hand over the children to the Gauteng department of social development because we have places of safety and secure care places which are conducive for their care and protection. No child should die in such a tragic manner. This simply should not be happening,” she said.
School children at the memorial service (Renata Larroyd/M&G)
In a statement, the social development department said the provincial government was providing “psycho-social support” for the teenager who survived the fire and “other family members who may need it.”
The department, in the statement, also said that they would assist the teenager with a “school uniform, food parcels through SASSA [the South African Social Security Agency] for the next three months and a R3 380 cash contribution also from SASSA” for each family, since their belongings were burnt.
Nine other children have died countrywide in fires in the past two days. After the Alexandra fire on Sunday, three children were killed in a fire when their shack burnt down in Phillipi, Cape Town on Monday night. Two other children died when their shack also burnt down in Kagiso on the West Rand on Monday as well.
The cause of the Phillipi fire is still being investigated and an inquest has been opened into the Kagiso fire.
Johannesburg Emergency Management Services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi told Sowetan newspaper that there has been an escalating number of incidents where young children are left without supervision or locked up in their homes.
“Parents are out having some nice time in shebeens and taverns which is disturbing. These incidents are reported almost monthly throughout the City of Johannesburg,” Mulaudzi said.