As Phiwokuhle Ndlovu was laid to rest on Wednesday, her father was being sought by police for allegedly poisoning the toddler.
For Thanduzile Ndlovu, 26, the moment she ran from the woods in south Johannesburg with her two-year-old foaming at the mouth relentlessly replays in her mind.
It alternates with the last desperate words of her husband, Russel Makhubela, 32, saying he is tired of struggling.
Ndlovu, who is eight months pregnant, said March 25 was the worst day of her life. It began with the family climbing the hill behind their shack in Lawley to collect firewood.
“My husband came back and said, ‘What’s the use of collecting firewood, because at the end of the day we will have nothing to eat tomorrow’.”
Ndlovu said Makhubela was feeling the burden of being the breadwinner but always having to ask his sister for money. “The baby was crying and he took her with him into the forest,” she said.
“He came back and asked me, ‘How would you manage to take care of the kids if I’m gone?’ And I said, ‘I’d try my best, even though we have little money.’ But he told me he’d taken poison and given it to the child too. He said we should die together as a family rather than suffer through poverty.
“I said I wouldn’t and pleaded with him to go back home, but he told me, ‘Can you see what’s happening to the child? It’s too late.’ I looked and there was froth coming from her mouth.
“I ran with the child, crying for help, but then I looked down at her and realised she was no more. I looked back up the hill for my husband but he had disappeared.”
Ndlovu said the couple arrived in Lawley in August from Mbombela, where they met at church in 2015. Despite being a registered security officer, Makhubela was unable to find work and could not afford the fees to maintain his registration.
Lawley community leaders bought a coffin for Phiwokuhle, and a taxi association has provided funds to build the family a larger shack. Section L leader Bruce Baloyi said: “This is our way, it’s what we call ubuntu.”
Section committee member Emily Phele is caring for Ndlovu.
“This woman needs help, but there is only so much the community can do,” Phele said. “But what will happen once everything is settled and her child comes? She doesn’t have work. She needs counselling.”
Community leader Simon Mamba said they were assisting police in the search for Makhubela.
“Police came with dogs and we went into the forest looking for him. All we found were some of his clothes and shoes at the edge of a dam. Divers searched the dam but we still don’t know where he is and if he is alive,” Mamba said.
Gauteng police spokesperson Capt Mavela Masondo confirmed that the toddler had died after ingesting “an unknown substance”, and that a search was under way for Makhubela.
– Sunday Times