SA: Child cancer hoax leaves mother facing fraud charges

De Master Yoda

From: The Times.
In a shameful bid to exploit the goodwill of others, a Johannesburg woman embarked on an elaborate money-making scheme which portrayed her three-year-old daughter as a dying cancer sufferer who needed “chemotherapy, aggressive surgery or a liver transplantâ€.

HELP ME: The picture of Zenéy Venter that tugged at donors’ heart strings.:mad:

Juanita Venter allegedly began by shaving her youngest daughter’s head and taking pictures of the smiling little girl for a pamphlet pleading for donations. It stated that “she is a brave sick girl†who undergoes expensive chemotherapy.

The unemployed 32-year-old said in the pamphlet her husband had been retrenched and that they were battling to cover the medical cost of their daughter’s treatment.

Scores of sympathetic donors pulled in over a period of several months paid cash, cheques and, in one case, a single donation of R11 000 into a bank account number provided in the pamphlet.

This week, Venter, who lives in Alberton, south of Johannesburg, appeared in the Alberton Magistrate’s Court in connection with fraud charges. She was not asked to plead and was released on bail of R2000. Attempts to speak to her were unsuccessful.

At Venter’s home on Thursday, her mother, Hester Pretorius, said her daughter was “afraid†to speak to the media. Pretorius said the child had been sick since birth and denied that they had gone out asking for money.

The little girl, Zenéy, now sporting a boy’s cut hairdo, was spotted standing in the door.

Captain Jos van Rensburg of the Germiston commercial branch said police have not been able to find a patient record of Zenéy at the hospital where her mother claimed she had been treated.

He said the police would check with other hospitals and take medical advice on the matter.

The Sunday Times has established that police are investigating the extent of Venter’s scheme after a community newspaper, which had published an article about Zenéy’s plight, became suspicious and warned its readers when Venter failed to produce proper medical records for her daughter’s condition.

Among the documents found to date was one purportedly from Zenéy’s medical team.

The author of the undated letter stated that Zenéy was a patient for 11 months and that her body was “starting to battle to keep up with her needsâ€. It said Zenéy was “getting ill (sic) by the day†and that her feet were swollen so badly that she could no longer wear shoes.

“As her oncologists and medical team, we don’t know how much long (sic) her body can keep up with the cancer and that we might not be able to cure her 100% without surgery.â€

The letter said Zenéy was suffering from hepatocellular carcinoma — a cancer of the liver more commonly found in men over 50.

“If the cancer cannot be completely removed, the diseases (sic) is usually deadly within three to six months.â€

The letter also said Zenéy had an operation on May 12 as the stress on her body had caused her liver and kidneys to fail.

Magrieta van der Merwe, who owns a butchery down the road from Venter, was one of the alleged victims. She said she was “disgusted†when she discovered they had been duped.

The butchery, called Mr Meat Treat, organised a wors-roll sale to raise funds for Zenéy just a few days after reading about the girl’s plight. “ I can’t believe that a mother can use her child that way, but I’ve calmed down now. What we did, we did out of the goodness of our hearts,†Van der Merwe said.

She had also raised money from other donors and said she handed this over to the Venters. “That afternoon, we decided to give the family everything. The grandmother said ‘thank you’ with tears in her eyes,†said Van der Merwe.

She said although Zeney’s hair had been shaved off on the day, she later “realised how stupid we were because she still had eyelashes, eyebrows and rosy cheeksâ€.

Venter allegedly also distributed a flyer urging schools to have a “civvies day†whereby children could each pay R5 to help raise more money for Zenéy.

The contact person listed on the flyer is “Juanitaâ€.

Bianca Ferreira of the Alberton Child Welfare Society said she was working with the family, but was not able to provide any details.

Carol Bews, assistant director of the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society, said if the case was true, it would amount to child abuse if it could be proven that the little girl was not sick.

# Police have urged anyone with further information about this case to contact Captain Jos van Rensburg at 011 871 5000 or at 082 457 7323.