The mothers of Alexandra children who died in fire were ‘good parents’: teacher

The three Ngubeni sibings and their cousin were killed in a fire at the weekend.
The three Ngubeni sibings and their cousin were killed in a fire at the weekend.
Image: Naledi Shange

The class teacher of Nonhlanhla Ngubeni – one of the four children who died when their home in Alexandra‚ Johannesburg‚ burnt to ashes at the weekend – said on Wednesday the mothers of the children were good parents.

Three siblings‚ Amukelani Ngubeni‚ 2‚ Sandile Ngubeni‚ 4‚ and seven-year-old Nhlanhla died in the fire alongside their cousin‚ Mbali‚ who was five. They had been left alone and were locked indoors overnight as their mothers reportedly went out drinking.

“I have seen them [the mothers] do good for their children‚” teacher Fikile Mokhethi of the Emfundisweni Primary School told mourners at a memorial service held in honour of the children.

The mourners who filled the Thusong Youth Centre responded with applause.

“Things happen. We all make mistakes‚” said Mokhethi.

She said it “would be a sin to God” if she did not acknowledge that the two were good mothers.

“At the beginning of the year‚ you don’t know the parents‚ but there are some that you become accustomed to. Nonhlanhla’s mom brought her child to school each day. She would carry and bring all her children with her each morning.

“At 1pm each day‚ she was at my door to pick up her child. She also once came to apologise one day that Nonhlanhla had not done her homework. She said she had battled to understand what was needed with the homework‚” Mokhethi said‚ highlighting that she was an active parent.

“Mbali’s mom was the same. They were always together.”

Addressing the grandmother of the four deceased children‚ Mokhethi said: “I want you to know that they took care of their children. Their children were clean and tidy. Whatever has happened‚ I plead for their forgiveness. I know that wherever they are‚ they are hurting because they loved their children.”

The elderly woman sat amongst other relatives‚ with a scarf draped over her shoulders. She kept a stern face as she was addressed by Mokhethi.

The small hall was packed to capacity with community members and school children who had come to pay their respects.

The department of social development said the children had been locked indoors and were left trapped in the burning room‚ with only one window which was too far for them to reach. Their 14-year-old relative survived the blaze.

The mothers of the children‚ Nelisiwe Fihlani and Bongiwe Ngubeni‚ appeared in the Alexandra Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday on charges of child neglect. Their bail application was postponed to next Friday.

Speaking to this publication  on the sidelines of the memorial service‚ relative Sisana Godoza said they were told they would receive assistance to obtain permission for the grieving mothers to attend their children’s funerals but by Thursday afternoon‚ they had heard nothing of their request.

Emotions had run high at the memorial service. Weeping community members were assisted out of the hall after a few classmates of the deceased children were lined up at the front for the final roll call.

One by one the children’s names were called out by their teacher and each answered with “present” but as the teacher called the names of the deceased children‚ no response came.

A piercing cry from the back of the hall broke the silence in the room‚ as the teacher called out the names of the children twice‚ only for some of their classmates to softly murmur “absent“.

Mbali’s Grade R teacher‚ Sindi Gqada‚ said she had heard from the children in her class before school started that Mbali had died.

“When it came to marking the register‚ I did not know what to do when it came to her. I had to go to the HOD [head of department] for direction and I asked‚ ‘do I write absent’?”

A red pen was used to write the word “deceased” next to Mbali’s name.

A community member who took to the podium at the memorial service rendered a poem that spoke of the pain suffered by the children as they died without their mothers being present.

However‚ she said the situation would have been different had the fathers or uncles or any other relatives of the two women been present to assist and support them in caring for the children.

“I have heard that this is not the first time that they leave these children. What do you say as neighbours when things like this happen?” she asked.

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