Just days ago, Jenny Berger’s care home in Pinelands was filled with the cries and laughter of 11 babies for whom she provided a temporary home. But on Friday, as she handed over the last eight babies in her care, an unfamiliar quiet settled over the house.
On Tuesday, two of the babies died in their cots at the Building Blocks temporary foster home. Another was returned to her father on Friday.
The provincial Department of Social Development removed the eight remaining children – some toddlers, others babies not more than a few months old – late on Friday. They were taken to a place of safety in Langa, said Bruce Oom, spokesman for the acting MEC for Social Development, Bonginkosi Madikizela.
Tears streamed down Berger’s face as she handed over the babies, who were swathed in blankets. Among them was “Baby Miracle”, a child who was pulled alive from a manhole near Killarney Gardens by truck driver Desmond Mutengo last October. At the time, the infant was only days old.
Several of Berger’s friends and family turned up to support her, including Victoria Lockwood, former wife of Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer.
Police told media on Thursday that the two babies had died of natural causes, apparently just 45 minutes apart. But this was contradicted on Friday by Madikizela, who insisted the babies had died of “unnatural causes”.
This infuriated Berger, who said the pathologist who’d performed the autopsies had described the cause of death as “undetermined”. Further tests would have to be carried out.
Berger said that after receiving legal advice, she and London-based Building Blocks chairwoman Kim Killeen had decided to release the remaining eight babies from their care pending the outcome of these tests.
“Because they say they have a document indicating unnatural death, we have decided to advise Social Development to come and remove the children,” said Berger.
“It’s going to kill me; it’s going totally destroy me, but I have to do it in the light of all the stories they’re making up. Every hour there’s a different story.”
Social workers tried to remove the babies late on Thursday night, but were deterred by police.
In a statement on Friday, Madikizela said the babies were removed “as a precautionary measure pending finalisation of the police investigation”.
“The causes of the deaths are under investigation and will remain so until the post-mortem findings have been made by the pathologists,” she said.
“That said, the sudden and unexplained deaths of these infants necessitates that the department take precautionary steps in the best interests of the babies and young children in temporary safe care still at Building Blocks.”
She said an inquiry had been launched into the conduct of the police officers who thwarted social workers’ attempts to remove the babies on Thursday night.
The care home has been in operation for just over three years, with more than 80 babies passing through its doors.
Berger also has three foster children in her care, who have remained with her.
Meanwhile, the Manenberg Health Committee has responded to concerns raised by the community over two children who died after being vaccinated at the local Manenberg Clinic this week.
Community members were so angry after the deaths that a crowd gathered at the clinic and police had to be called.
In a statement, the committee said: “Due to a staff shortage at the clinic the staff is under pressure.
“Complaints about staff attitude and service are dealt with by the health committee and raised with the facility manager immediately. If the issue is not dealt with, we take it to higher level.
“However, the attitude of some community members towards the staff at the clinic cannot be excused.
“Staff are sworn at on a daily basis. African nurses are constantly being called the K-word. For this reason, nurses are reluctant to come and work at this clinic,” said the statement.