The family ate the meal of mushrooms together on the night of December 5, the vegetable having been a regular feature on the households dinner menu.

Johannesburg -

Poverty has been blamed for the tragic death of an Olievenhoutbosch family after a meal of wild mushrooms.

The incident was ascribed to a vicious cycle in which they were trapped.

Some charity organisations in Pretoria said the family went down the route of many poor families: “They either end up so poor the families are fragmented, take up illegal activities, or die,” said Joanne Seko, of Hlalakahle Projects yesterday.

The problem in this case was deeper than a meal of poisonous mushrooms, she said. “It’s a case of having no options. It’s similar to those mothers who forage at dumping sites to feed their children.”

Four of the five-member Mthethwa family had sat together for a meal of mushrooms on December 5, which mother Johanna Mthethwa had picked along the way home from work. She was employed as a housemaid.

She had cooked and served them to her husband Samson Phiri, her son Frank Mthethwa and daughter Angela Mthethwa, who all fell ill and died in hospital the following week.

Her other son, Emmanuel, had refused to eat that night, saying he was fed-up with eating mushrooms.

The community in which the family lived has been described as poverty stricken – the family being among the worst affected.

A close neighbour said the situation was so serious that days went by without enough food to feed the family. “They were a private family whose issues weren’t well known in the community, but we do know that Johanna struggled hard to make ends meet,” said the neighbour, Melisa Skhanjana.

The situation in the Mthethwa household was so desperate, she said, that the meal of mushrooms could possibly have been all that they had on their plates that night.

When Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi visited the home earlier this week, he was confronted by poverty, and the obvious lack of resources in the Mthethwa home.

He said: “She picked these mushrooms somewhere between work and home, and according to the medical report, they were very, very poisonous ones,” he said.

“The situation exists across so many communities, all around us, where women struggle to maintain the homes, and deaths happen in all shapes and forms,” said Kea Modise-Moloto of Bontlebame, an NGO that works with women and children.

Her organisation provides intervention in the plight of women and girls, and she said the Mthethwas had become a statistic, one of many families who met their demise through the painful reality of hunger.

“Society needs to stand up and act fast if women, children and their loved ones are to be saved,” she said.

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- Pretoria News