“Every day I ask myself questions about what may have happened and why me,” said a distraught Lerato Mnguni, whose toddler was allegedly killed by his nanny a year ago.
On Tuesday, Mnguni took to the stand in the Benoni magistrate’s court and laid her emotions bare, explaining how the death of her son, Langelihle, had left her crushed.
The nanny, Mannana Celina Tsabane, sat in the dock as Mnguni testified.
Tsabane. who has pleaded not guilty to the toddler’s murder, said three men, including one of the family’s neighbours, had forced their way into the house, poisoned her and the child and tried to rape her.
She believed the attackers had fled with the child after they overpowered her. She said she had no idea they had put the child’s body in a storeroom, where he was found by a family member hours after the alleged attack.
This version was put to Mnguni by Tsabane’s lawyer Tebogo Maimela, who submitted that Tsabane intended to tell the court she loved the toddler she was accused of killing and would never have caused him any harm.
“The accused will tell the court that she is also a victim in this case. She will tell the court she loved Langelihle and would never do anything to hurt him. She said the family treated her well and she would never do anything to harm them,” Maimela told the court.
Mnguni replied that though she knew Tsabane had loved her son, she could not confirm that she would not harm him.
The distraught mother said she and her aunt had returned home in October last year to find Tsabane on the floor with her top off. She had small scrapes on her hands and alleged that she and the child had been attacked and forced to drink a poisonous substance which she alleged had made her weak and almost unconscious.
Tsabane’s version is that she had been trying to strap Langelihle on her back to protect him from the attackers when they snatched him from her.
She said the attack happened at around 5am, shortly after the child’s grandmother had left for work. She was only found after 4pm when they returned.
When paramedics and police were called to the house to attend to Tsabane, the toddler, who was 21 months old, was found in the family’s storeroom, unresponsive. He had dried foam around his mouth. The post mortem revealed he was suffocated and strangled.
Mnguni, who is testifying in Tsabane’s trial, said she had found an empty bottle of methylated spirits in the bathroom and what appeared to be pesticide, Blue Death, in the kitchen sink. She said she had believed these had been used in the alleged poisoning of Tsabane and Langelihle.
However, a postmortem revealed there was no poison in Langelihle’s system.
Mnguni testified that she was of a sober mind when she gave police her statement about her child’s death days later.
“The event was still fresh in my mind but my mind was not functioning properly,” Mnguni said.
“I had just lost my son. I didn’t know what had happened to him. Every day I ask myself questions about what may have happened and why me,” said Mnguni, whose testimony raised emotions in the courtroom.
Mnguni told the court there were many aspects of Langelihle’s murder that still did not make sense to her.
“When she saw [my neighbour] at 5am in the morning, why didn’t she ask him what he was doing there that early in the morning?” Mnguni said, adding she did not believe the neighbour was involved.
The neighbour, Mnguni said, was a lifelong family friend who had washed her car and worked in the garden.
He is expected to be called to the witness box during the trial.
Mnguni alleged that Tsabane claimed to have been weak but had managed to send WhatsApp messages to other people that day. Even then, she was not asking for help.
“She could have sent me a call back [if she was in trouble],” said Mnguni.
She battled through her testimony when she spoke about her aunt, Miriam Mnguni, discovering the child in the storeroom.
Paramedics had been called to the house and had asked the family to clean Tsabane, who had soiled herself, before they transported her to hospital. Miriam found the child’s body in the storeroom when she went looking for a washbasin. He had been placed on a blanket usually used by Tsabane to strap him on her back. A bandage was dangling around his neck.
“I heard my aunt say ‘here is Langa’. She was a few metres away from me and she screamed it out loud. When I tried to run to the room, I fell. I saw from a distance that Langa had been placed on a stretcher and paramedics were working on him,” said an emotional Mnguni.
“They said they were busy with him and I should move from there and go sit in my own room. I remember his father trying to resuscitate him. The accused was in the bathroom. The paramedics had ordered that she should be washed because she had defecated on herself,” Mnguni said.
“I could hear the accused crying and saying ‘my God, what have I done?’ I knelt and cried. The child’s father came to me crying and said ‘the child is no more’,” said Mnguni.
Neighbours had started to fill the yard. The neighbour who Tsabane had implicated in the killing arrived at the family home later.
He denied being around that morning or being involved. The police cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Mnguni said she was struggling to comprehend why Tsabane had killed her son. She said in the year Tsabane had worked for the family, she never showed signs of unhappiness. She was paid R2,000 a month, lived and ate at the house and was treated like a member of the family.
Mnguni’s cross-examination continues this week.