An 11-year-old girl spared her own life when she decided to play dead whilst her 35-year-old mother from Port St. Johns poisoned herself and her four children and later strangled the other three.
The incident took place on Monday 11 September and the mother was laid to rest on Wednesday with three of the children.
The remaining child survived the tragedy and has shared her miraculous story.
Hours after her mother and three siblings died, the 11-year-old girl turned up at the home of a neighbour, Nofezile Sikhundlwana, and told her that her mother had tried to kill her.
In an interview with Scrolla.Africa, Sikhundlwana has recounted what the terrified young girl told her.
She said the child told her that her mother had collected her children that weekend from their grandmother’s house where they lived.
On Sunday, she allegedly sent the children to go and buy six beers, which was unusual because she didn’t drink alcohol.
Later that evening, Sikhundlwana said the woman instructed her children to drink the alcohol. Then she waited for them to fall asleep. In the early hours of Monday morning, she woke them up to go and “pray” at the nearby village of Luzipho near Lusikisiki.
But the children never arrived at the destination. Instead, the mother took them on a detour and went into a nearby forest. That’s where she allegedly put the so-called “tank pills” in the beers and forced them to drink.
Tank pills contain aluminium phosphide, a deadly pesticide used to poison rats, rodents and cockroaches. Farmers use them inside maize tanks to kill insects.
The pills, which can be easily bought on the streets, have become a commonly used method of suicide in the Eastern Cape.
Non-governmental organisations have for years been calling for the deadly pills to be banned or severely restricted.
Sikhundlwana said that after drinking the poison in the forest, the children grew ill but were not dying – and the mother grew impatient. That’s when she began strangling each child with a doek.
Seeing what was happening to her siblings, the surviving child played dead – as though she had been killed by the poison.
She waited until the mother left before escaping from the forest.
“The child arrived in the morning as I was preparing my children for school. She looked shaken and asked me to hide her as her mother was trying to kill her,” Sikhundlwana said.
“I Instructed my children to go into the other room and locked the doors, so she could speak freely. She told me her mother had killed her siblings.”
The children’s bodies were found later that morning. On Tuesday, a search and rescue team recovered the woman’s body about 100m away from her children’s.
The three dead children were aged 14, eight and three.
The mayor of Port St. Johns, Nomvuzo Mlombile-Cingo, said the family was poor and had no means to bury the mother and her children. The municipality spoke to different people in the area and was able to arrange a dignified funeral, which took place on Wednesday.
The surviving child has been treated in hospital for ingesting poison, and is said to be recovering well.
This is the third incident of this nature reported in the province since November last year when a mother beat her four children to death with a hammer and later died while in police custody in the town of Ngcobo.
On 6 August, in the village of Tholeni in Butterworth, a destitute woman strangled her three children and then killed herself allegedly because of poverty and hunger.