NEWS | NORTH WEST 

Zimbabwean children held for three months by South African government

Kids aged between two and 12 taken into custody, no contact with parents

Photo of a Zimbabwean passport
Delays in getting Zimbabwean passports and their cost are frustrating legal immigration. Photo: Brent Meersman
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Eight Zimbabwean children aged between two and 12 years old have been held by the Department of Social Development for three months without their parents.

The children were taken into custody after a truck stopped by the roadside at Rustenberg on 12 November 2017. One parent said the driver told her that one of the youngest children was heard crying by passers-by. People in the parking area opened the truck to find the children and some adults being smuggled into the country. A crowd gathered before the truck driver returned with the food for the children. There was an altercation and the police were called.

The children were travelling to Cape Town to be with their parents. They are from eight families. One of the mothers is a minor herself. The two truck drivers accompanying the children were arrested for trafficking in persons and contravening the Immigration Act.

The parents say the children are being held at a facility in Brits. A spokesperson for the Department of Social Development would not confirm this.

One mother told GroundUp they are no longer even allowed to speak to their children. Her last contact was via the mobile phone of a social worker on 7 January. During that call her child was sobbing on the phone. “We are mixed with scary children,” her child said. “One of the children hit me saying, you kwere kwere [derogatory slang for foreigners] are finishing our food. Go back to your country.”

Her child said they all had to sleep in one big room and the food they were given was inedible.

“We have tried everything in our power to have our children back. I trusted the Malaicha [the truck driver]. He always brings in children with no hassles. Lately, it has become costly and difficult to obtain a Zimbabwean passport [for the children], that is why I took a shortcut.

“My daughter passed her grade seven with distinction. I wanted to put her in the best school I could find here in South Africa, but now everything is ruined,” said the mother.

She said in the week following the arrest all the parents travelled to Rustenburg where they met a social worker, police and a Zimbabwean Embassy official from Pretoria. The Zimbabwean Embassy issued travelling documents for the children and said they would have to be repatriated and this would take two weeks. The parents returned to Cape Town. Three months later, the children are still in the custody of the Department of Social Development.

An official of the Zimbabwean Embassy in Pretoria told GroundUp the embassy had done its part by issuing travelling documents to the children. The breakdown appears to be between the South African departments of Social Development and Home Affairs and the Zimbabwean department of social services.

Captain Tlangelani Rikhotso, a spokesperson for the Hawks, North West Province, said their jurisdiction was limited to the criminal investigation. “It is the Department of Social Development’s duty to place children in a place of safety and ensure that the children are reunited with their families.”

Rikhotso said, “The case is still under investigation. The two truck drivers made a first appearance on 14 November 2017 at Rustenburg Magistrates Court and were released on R2,000 bail [each].”

Their next appearance will be on 19 March 2018.

Lumka Oliphant, spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, said it had “an international obligation to keep all the children found in South Africa safe. When the department got involved in the matter, they found out that the children were distressed, they are minors, unaccompanied and without support.”

“The parents were negligent. They broke the law, contravened immigration law, hence are deemed unfit to be given the children.

“The minors can only be released to the Zimbabwean government but only if the government is able to give a guarantee that the children will be safe and protected when repatriated.”

She said the department had written to the Zimbabwean Department of Social Services. “But there was no response,” said Oliphant.

Letters

Dear Editor

I am shocked to read that children are kept from their parents who were desperate to have children with them. Yes, the incorrect procedure was followed by the parents (out of desperation) but to let the children suffer is not acceptable.

Three children will be traumatised for the rest of their lives. Please reunite the children with their parents

Dear Editor

I think the police were supposed to keep the driver in prison not the kids, because from ages 2-12 years they are experiencing jail life already.

How can Lumka Olifant say kids are supposed to be returned to Zim but their parents are here in S.A? And how can she say parents are unfit to be given the kids yet they put an effort to be with their kids.

After keeping these kids for such a long time like this rather send the kids to their real parents to Cape Town. Let us be optimistic about this situation.

Return the kids to Cape Town to the love they need.

Dear Editor

The Department of Social Development should consult qualified professionals who know about child psychology to advise them. As a teacher, I know it is cruel and extremely harmful to a child's social and emotional development to be removed from its parents & placed in unfamiliar surroundings.

The children should not be made to suffer for their parents breaking the law.

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