School food declared safe but probe into pupils’ deaths continues

School meals. School Nutrition Programme Resumption
. File Photo
Written by Cynthia Maseko

After two Mpumalanga pupils died of suspected food poisoning last month the school nutrition programme in the province has been declared safe, but some parents are not satisfied.

In July, 12 pupils at Nelson Ngubeni Primary School were rushed to Witbank General Hospital with signs and symptoms related to food-borne illness, allegedly as a result of food contamination.  Two of the pupils died and Education MEC Bonakele Majuba launched an investigation and promised parents he would get to the bottom of the incident. Health-e understands the learners to be six and nine years old. 

The National School Nutrition Programme was also suspended. 

Majuba told journalists on Monday [12 August] that based on the samples taken from the food that was supplied by Nelson Ngubeni Primary School, there were no micro-organisms that could be linked to the food-borne illness.   


However, some parents told Health-e News they remained concerned. 

“Even though the MEC announced that the results of the investigation were negative and the food eaten by the learners at the school was not contaminated, I am still worried because we don’t know what led the learners to hospital,” said Delisile Nkosi, who has a child at the school. She said the community relied on the feeding scheme because most parents could not afford to buy food for the children’s school lunch

Witbank resident George Mabaso, another parent, said the MEC’s report “doesn’t sit well with me and has left me with more questions than before”. 

“I am still not happy because I have a feeling that the department of education might be hiding something serious… Someone must be held accountable for feeding our children poison. Families have lost kids due to this negligence. Our children are not safe”.       

The MEC said Nelson Ngubeni Primary School would intensify hygiene measures in the kitchen and added that the police were investigating the snacks sold at tuck shops in the area.

The school is on high alert for learners presenting with similar signs and symptoms and environmental health practitioners are continuing to support and monitor the schools regarding safe food measures. 

The department is offering psychological services to learners and teachers and has directed the School Governing Body to ask parents to advise their children against buying food on the street; and where possible prepare healthy lunch boxes for their children. – Health-e News

About the author

Cynthia Maseko

Cynthia Maseko joined OurHealth in 2013 as a citizen journalist working in Mpumalanga. She is passionate about women’s health issues and joined Treatment Action Campaign branch as a volunteer after completing her matric. As an activist she has been involved with Equal Treatment, Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and also with Marie Stopes Clinic’s project Blue Star dealing with the promotion of safe abortions and HIV education.