The country was astonished when Sibongile Khumalo, of Hluhluwe, claimed that poverty had forced her to eat cow dung. She has since retracted her statement. Sitting outside her one-room cardboard shack she now claims she was coerced into cooking up the story  a claim denied by those she blames.

It was all a lie! This was the startling confession of an HIV-positive woman, Sibongile Khumalo, a month after she claimed that poverty had forced her to eat cow dung before taking her anti-retrovirals.

At the time, Khumalo said when she tested HIV positive seven years ago, she was told to take her drugs after meals for them to be effective.

With no money or food, Khumalo told a newspaper she was forced to eat the cow dung before taking the ARVs.

There have previously been reports by aid agencies of similar incidents in Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Her story horrified and touched the public.

Her plight attracted the attention of KwaZulu-Natal’s Economic Development and Tourism MEC, Mike Mabuyakhulu, who visited Khumalo at her home in Tin Town, in Hluhluwe.

Since then Khumalo has admitted she lied.

During a recent visit to the area, residents pointed out there were no cows in the area and questioned where Khumalo was getting the dung from.

When the Daily News arrived in Tin Town, an uneasy-looking Khumalo, wearing torn clothes, emerged from her one-room cardboard shack, with a straw mat in hand.

“I don’t eat cow dung,” she said, shamefully looking down.

“I’ve never eaten cow dung. It was all a lie,” she said, when asked where she got it from.

Clasping her hands, Khumalo tried to lay the blame for the lies on officials from a non- governmental organisation by saying they had told her to lie.

This is a claim that has been vehemently denied by Sibongile Mthembu, founder of Qedusizi, the organisation that helps the community with food parcels .

“She’s the one who told me that she eats cow dung,” said Mthembu angrily.

“I have been working with this community for more than a year and I get donations without having to tell people to lie about eating cow dung,” she said, accusing Khumalo of destroying her organisation.

“She is now blaming me for her own wrongdoing. She must be arrested for fraud.”

Khumalo, who with other community members rummage at a nearby dump site for food and clothes, said she had been promised a “better life” if she went public about eating cow dung.

“I was told by a lady from the organisation to lie so that they would get funding for the community and that I would benefit greatly from that,” she said, with tears rolling down her cheeks.

During Mabuyakhulu’s visit it had emerged that Khumalo, 45, was receiving child support grants for four children.

Ncumisa Fandesi, provincial spokeswoman for the Department of Social Development, said this sounded alarm bells and prompted a joint investigation with the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) into Khumalo’s affairs.

Vusi Mahaye, of Sassa, said their investigation revealed Khumalo only had one child.

“This woman was claiming to be living in utter poverty and was forced to eat cow dung as a substitute for food, yet she was earning about R1 000 a month in support grant.”

When Sassa asked to see the three children, Khumalo told them they were with their father in Richards Bay.

“The law clearly states that the child has to stay with the person who’s receiving the child support grant.

“We offered to drive to Richards Bay to see the children and that’s when she told us that she had lied about the other children,” Mahaye said.

A fraud case was then opened and Khumalo was arrested.

She appeared in the KwaMsane Magistrate’s Court where she was released on R500 bail.

Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said the matter was adjourned to next month.

Sobbing uncontrollably, an apologetic Khumalo said she was remorseful for her actions.

She said she was just trying to make a better life for her three-year-old son.

“I now know I shouldn’t have lied about eating cow dung or having four children but I was desperate. I needed the money.”