The parents of eight Zimbabwean children who have been detained by the Department of Social Development for three months do not know where they are.
Grace ** arrived in Rustenburg to see her six-year-old boy on Wednesday, but was first told by social workers at the centre where he had stayed that she was not permitted to see him.
“They told me to speak to the policeman and he didn’t answer the phone,” Grace said.
“I really miss him. It is terrible. I don’t know if he is dead. It has been a long time waiting, waiting. He is supposed to go school.”
Then on Wednesday afternoon she learned the children including her son had been moved to an unknown destination.
Eight children, aged two to 12, were being kept against their parents’ wishes at a youth house in Rustenburg, after the truck they were travelling in from Zimbabwe to their parents in Cape Town was intercepted in November
I really miss him. It is terrible. I don’t know if he is dead.
The children were coming to visit their parents who are illegally in the country and do not have visas. Many of the children do not have legal documents, were not travelling with their parents and are considered unaccompanied, according to the parents’ advocate Simba Chitando.
The truck stopped at a garage and the police were called by observers, who believed the children in the truck were being human-trafficked. The children have been held in a place of safety by the Department of Social Development and denied access to speak to their parents over the telephone, according to the parents and Chitando.
The driver has been charged with human trafficking and granted bail of R2,000, said Global Migration director Leon Isaacson. Isaacson intervened to release a mother and child from the truck who were detained for 34 days.
Last week desperate parents, living in Cape Town, approached the Pretoria High Court to ask for an urgent interdict that kids be placed back in their care.
Each parent provided an affidavit to the court arguing the children were being held against their wishes.
It read: “My name is Bridget —- The reunification with my child is a matter of extreme urgency. The continued separation and detention of my child from the family unit is severely traumatising for the family and child.
“I humbly submit that it is in the interests of justice that my child is returned to me forthwith.””
It is Catch-22. Home Affairs is refusing kids born here documentation and then authorities find them undocumented and say they are being trafficked.
Chitando, acting for the families, said Social Development lawyers did not turn up to court or provide legal arguments.
The court ordered the family advocate, who is employed by the Department of Justice, to intervene urgently and provide a report to the court.
The Department of Social Development did not respond to questions from Times Select about why they didn’t attend the court or where the children were. Department of Social Development Spokesman Lumka Oliphant said: “All that will be provided in a report to the court”.
Chitando said the “Social Development Department has no legal right to hold the children. They do not have permission from the parents and there is no legislation that allows them to detain the children.”
He said what was happening was unlawful.
One boy’s father in Cape Town explained on the phone he has not had any information about his child since November.
“A child must be with their parents. It is not supposed to be with strangers.”
He said he paid for the six-year-old to join himself and his wife because the child’s granny was ill. He maintains he didn’t know the man transporting the children would use a truck.
Sarah Vengesayi, an adult who was on the truck with her daughter, was held in a different safe house to the eight children in Rustenburg.
She said she travelled on the truck because it was only R1,500 and travelling by bus without documents costs R2,500.
She cannot get travel documents for her child because she was born in South Africa and Zimbabwe won’t provide her child with a passport.
It is not known where the eight children are.
Isaacson says the constitution does not allow families to be separated.
He said this was not a case of trafficking as the children’s transport was paid for by their parents and they were being brought to their parents.
Isaacson said: “The constitution section 28 does not allow the separation of family members under any circumstances. You cannot split a family even if they are illegal.”
He said hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans couldn’t get papers for themselves or children.
“It is Catch-22. Home Affairs is refusing kids born here documentation and then authorities find them undocumented and say they are being trafficked. It is an absurd situation.”
It is believed the children may have been repatriated to Zimbabwe.
This, said Isaacson, would be illegal because they are not being handed into their parents’ care.