Toddler's 'murder' puts spotlight on vetting nannies for hire

Langelihle Mnguni, who was allegedly murdered by his nanny.
Langelihle Mnguni, who was allegedly murdered by his nanny.
Image: Naledi Shange

The owner of a placement agency, who introduced Lerato Mnguni to the nanny now implicated in the gruesome death of her toddler, says her hands are clean.

The woman, Mpho* said she felt she was being “blamed” for the tragedy that unfolded in Daveyton, Ekurhuleni, on Friday.

The toddler's death has thrown into sharp focus what steps placement agencies take to vet potential nannies.

“I was there with the family on Sunday and I feel as though I am being blamed. What I don’t get is what this whole thing has do with me,” she said, adding that she was attending to her sick child and could not answer more questions.

She requested a face-to-face interview be conducted later. 

Mnguni said the agency owner introduced her to the nanny, who had cared for her son since he was two months old. But last week, more than a year later, the child was found dead.

The nanny said she had been attacked during a break-in and that the toddler was snatched by the intruders. His body was discovered in a storeroom at his home.

A post mortem revealed he had been strangled.

Langelihle’s father, Sihle Tshabalala explained how the couple had met and hired the caregiver.

“We started looking for a nanny and someone referred us to an agency in Tembisa. We went there to the house [where the nannies reside]. We interviewed several of them and then we chose her,” said Tshabalala.

“Obviously, you ask questions, references and during that interview, she told us that she used to look after a child somewhere and we asked her, ‘why did you leave’. She told us the child was old and had now started school.”

Mnguni alleged that after the tragedy the agent said she did not do background checks on nannies she placed with families. In a WhatsApp sound recording, Mpho told Mnguni that it was her responsibility, as the nanny’s employer, to ensure the woman had a work permit.

Mmabatho*, a nanny at a different agency, said as far as she knew, no background checks were needed to enlist with the agency.

“All you need is R200. You go to the agent and they will register you and request your passport.”

She was put in a line-up when a potential employer conducted interviews. “My employer then paid a [finder's] fee of R500 to the agent and then, on my first salary, I needed to pay the agent R450,” said the woman.

If things did not work out with her employer, the R450 “guaranteed” the agency would find her alternative employment.

TimesLIVE contacted a few placement agencies, which offer their services on social media. Three were reluctant to talk about how they vetted and placed nannies.

Nathi Saba co-owns MomCan Nannies. She explained that linking a nanny to a family was a rigorous process.

Saba said it started with an employee explaining their needs, finding suitable candidates and considering what the nanny and potential employer had listed as their requirements.

“The vetting process or responsibility lies with the agent. That is why we are in the middle. That is our service. In terms of the training, this is why we stay part of the relationship for six months ... we don’t just hand over the nanny to the client.

“I wouldn’t say it isn’t expensive [to get them vetted]. We need to check their papers and their permits in a legal way, which is in a police station. We make sure that they have referrals. We call their referrals to [confirm previous employment]. We don’t take what they tell us at face value.”

She said it was all about developing a relationship with the nannies, before sending them to a family ... where they came from, their family members, where they would stay on off-days and who they knew in SA [if they were foreigners].

A partner in another Johannesburg placement agency, who asked not to be named, said several agency owners took shortcuts because of a lack of knowledge of how to run the business.

“A nanny is meant to be vetted. She should have a work permit if she is not South African and they need police clearance and references.”

When a nanny applied to be enlisted with an agency, she needed to provide these documents. 

“The amount the job hopefully pays us is for the training, but they come to us with all their papers and we check them for free,” she said.

In her experience,she had come across nannies who produced fake references, listing relatives or friends as previous employers.

“Agencies that take shortcuts miss these things. So it is better to pay for a capable agent and get value for your money, rather than place your family at risk with an unqualified person,” she said.

* Names have been changed to protect identities.