Pretoria - The parents of a toddler who died after apparently choking while being fed at a Hammanskraal crèche on Wednesday said they were devastated and needed a lot of time to heal.
Baby Gofaone’s parents, Seipone and Jack Shelaku, said they had been through one of the most traumatic ordeals of their lives.
The 11-month-old baby allegedly choked while being fed porridge at Utlwanang Daycare in Temba, Hammanskraal, and later died in Jubilee Hospital. The Pretoria News went to Utlwanang for comment, but management was unwilling to discuss the matter.
Seipone said her baby had only been at the daycare for a week; they decided to enrol him there so he could spend time with his 3-year-old brother.
They preferred not to disclose the name of the brother.
The parents had planned to organise a joint birthday party at the daycare centre for their boys on September 28.
“We thoroughly planned for his first birthday party, which is why we enrolled him specifically this month so we could throw them both a birthday party at the school,” the distraught mother said.
It was his second week at the daycare when Baby Gofaone’s father prepared both boys for school, with encouragement from the mother. She wanted the father to warm to the idea of the baby going to daycare.
“I was cleaning the yard and came into the house as their father was preparing them.
"The father was enjoying it and the baby was crying.
"I went in to explain to the baby that he was a big boy and should not cry,” she said. “I explained he had to go to daycare; how he is going to see me when he came back.
"I told him of the fun activities he would do at daycare such as playing with other children, and he responded with a laugh and giggles.”
Not knowing that the worst was yet to happen, she waved her baby boy goodbye as he was strapped in the car, and off he went to daycare.
Later that morning, she received a phone call from the centre, saying her son was not well.
“I received a call telling me that my baby was not well and had been rushed to hospital.
“I called my husband and we rushed there, only to be escorted to the counselling room. Worried and paranoid, we did not expect what the people at the hospital had to say.
“They told us he had died that he had choked of food while being fed. Seeing his little body, lifeless at the hospital was awful,” she said, closing her eyes as she recalled those dreadful moments.
The mother explained how she was still in shock and denial over the incident. She said she didn't believe that he was really gone.
The baby’s father said it was painful taking the child to daycare and for him never to return home.
“We sent them to daycare, expecting to bring both of them back home, but only one came back it is heartbreaking and painful,” he said.
Seipone claimed the daycare management went to her house to explain how the incident had happened.
“They said my son was being fed by a teacher when he choked. They then performed CPR on him and he vomited the porridge through his nose and mouth,” she told the Pretoria News.
She had never experienced problems at the centre as their older son was enrolled there.
“His brother was enrolled at that daycare earlier this year, which is why we saw fit for the baby to go there. The school is neat, and the teachers are brilliant with children.
"We were comfortable with our children being under their care, but this blew us apart,” the mother said.
The baby’s older sibling keeps on asking where his brother is, and that breaks the parents’ hearts. They said they had tried explaining the death to him, but could not. “Both of us spoke to him. We even showed him his body explaining that God took him away. But it has been difficult because he constantly wants to know where his baby brother is.
"His father tried speaking to him, but we don’t think he understands. They were best friends and inseparable,” the mother said.
She described her son as "a joyful child, he was full of life, the house was always noisy. And he loved sharing everything he had; he brought joy to our lives".
The baby was learning to walk and talk and that was one of the memories they would forever cherish, remembering his funny walk and the words he used to utter with a funny accent.
The couple said they were blaming no one, but they wanted the post-mortem results for clarity.
Their baby was given an emotional send-off on Saturday, after which MEC for Social Development Nandi Mayathula-Khoza visited the family to give them support and offer counselling.
The MEC said: “As we send our condolences to the family we will leave no stone unturned to ensure that tragic incidents like this are brought to an end.”