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Johannesburg - Two-year-old Milrose Ngwenya slept peacefully near three coffins under the shade of a makeshift gazebo.
Inside the decorated coffins were the bodies of children who had also been resident at the Mantadi Child and Youth Care Centre, just like herself.
The three were stoned to death last week. One of them, a girl, had been raped before she was killed, according to the police. Their bodies were found in the bush outside Mookgophong. The three were last seen at a march organised by Dikubu Primary School two weeks ago. No arrests have been made.
At the weekend, orphaned Milrose was among hundreds of mourners who came to pay their last respect to siblings Hosea, 10, and Johanna Kekana, 12, and their nine-year-old cousin Bafana.
Under the scorching sun, grieving family members, friends and well-wishers assembled for the joint funeral. Those who attended the five-hour service, held at a sportsground in Phomolong township, included Limpopo’s first lady, Mokgadi Mathale; ANC MP Maggie Mashishi; and ANC MPL Lehlogonolo Masoga and his DA counterpart, Desiree van der Walt.
The dead children had been staying at the shelter since June. The Limpopo Social Development Department cited alleged negligence by their parents as the reason why the children were taken to the shelter.
The sibling’s mother, Sarah, and their cousin’s mother, Mpho, are sisters.
Mpho, whose other children, aged two and five, were also taken to the shelter, denied she had neglected them, and blamed the department and the shelter for the deaths.
Mpho said the children had stayed with her 63-year-old mother because she worked at a farm at the neighbouring town of Mokopane.
But at the funeral service, the mayor of the Mookgophong local municipality, Sarah Monyamane, said the shelter and the school were not responsible for the deaths of the children.
Monyamane appeared to blame the parents in part for the youngsters’ deaths. “To put the children under a care centre while their parents are still alive is an indication of child abuse and negligence,” Monyamane said to loud applause from the crowd.
At the time of the disappearance and deaths of the children, the Kekana families no longer had authority over their children.
Officials at the shelter reported them missing a day after they had disappeared.
Rosina Mogotlane, mayor of the Waterberg district municipality, said it was unacceptable for parents not to fulfil their responsibility.
She said the perpetrator would be arrested soon.
At the cemetery, the two mothers and the siblings’ sisters broke into tears. It seemed unbearable for the inconsolable mothers as they watched three coffins, each with a doll placed on top of it, descending simultaneously into the graves.
Other children from the shelter had a written message for their departing friends: “Keep on dancing in heaven and enjoy yourself,” it read.