File picture: Dumisani Sibeko / African News Agency (ANA)
Two Joburg toddlers died under mysterious circumstances with claims that they ate a lunch box apparently laced with rat poison.

The 2-year-olds, Othniel Wabet and Tshepang Assagai, attended an allegedly unregistered daycare centre in a private home in the Westdene area where they are believed to have eaten the poison.

The owner of the property, Barry De Beer, said while the matter was only reported to the City of Joburg’s MMC for health and social development Dr Mpho Phalatse this week, the children died on May 10.

De Beer said his domestic worker didn’t run a preschool but was a child-minder to about eight neighbourhood children for extra income. Government regulations required that child-minding facilities with more than five children be registered with the Department of Social Development.

De Beer said the worker, who declined to speak to The Star, fed all the children except for Othniel, who always brought his own lunch box from home.

“Apparently, that lady sent her child with a lunch box and he shared it with other children. He doesn’t eat here so he couldn’t have been poisoned here,” De Beer added.

He said on the day of the incident, Othniel shared his meal with Tshepang and another child. The two died while the third child didn’t take ill. He said the deaths didn’t occur on his property.

But angry parents have denied the lunch box claims and placed the blame squarely on the daycare centre.

Othniel’s mother Fanula Wabet said the centre didn’t tell her he had been admitted to the nearby Rahima Moosa Mother And Child Hospital.

Instead, when she went to fetch him in the afternoon, she was only then informed that he was ill.

“One lady told me that she took the baby to the hospital as he wasn’t breathing well. I rushed to the hospital. This isn’t the first child I have sent to that crèche, my two other children also attended it.”

She strongly denied that the lunch box she had packed had any traces of poison.

Tshepang’s mother Antionette Assagai said her daughter died a day after Othniel.

“My other daughter picked her up from school as I was running late from work. She was fine when I got home, and then she suddenly became ill,” Assagai said.

Doctors informed her that Tshepang had ingested poison and needed to be admitted to ICU. She died the next day.

Yesterday, Phalatse corroborated claims of a poisoned lunch box but blamed the daycare centre.

“According to the report, it’s alleged that one of the children brought lunch to the facility and then shared the lunch box. The lunch box contents were the same food that the family also ate for a few days and nobody else fell ill so it is really pointing to this facility.”

Phalatse admitted the city needed to shoulder some blame.

“I do feel that as a department we have dropped the ball. I have questioned why this wasn’t brought to my attention until the ward councillor brought it to my attention,” she said.

Sophiatown police spokesperson Captain Jerbes De Bruyn said it was were investigating two inquests and no arrests have been made.