‘Give us back our children'

2017-06-04 06:01
Meis Breezke lost her two children to Wild Wild Guardians, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) in Springs. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

Meis Breezke lost her two children to Wild Wild Guardians, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) in Springs. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

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1 in 3 SA children experience abuse - social development department

2017-05-30 13:55

The Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, launched the annual Child Protection Week campaign on May 26, 2017. WATCH

The Hawks are investigating at least 140 cases of children that were allegedly snatched from their parents on the pretext that the parents, who are poor, are drug users who pose a danger to their children.

An alleged “child trafficking ring” is operating in the town of Springs on Gauteng’s East Rand.

Over the past two years, Henry Harber – who runs a charity organisation called Wild Wild Guardians in Springs, 50km east of Johannesburg – has allegedly taken about 140 children away from their parents to “places of safety” – seemingly without parental consent.

The organisation is, according to the Gauteng department of social development, not registered as a child-protection organisation and not “allowed to move children”.

Though Harber claims that he has been “saving the children from their drug-addicted parents”, some Springs residents and parents accuse him of allegedly getting as many children as he can in order “to rake in foster-care grants and public and private sector donations”.

Some residents have called for intervention by the police and the media in a bid to help women such as Meis Breezke, 40, who lost her two children without a proper court process.

The Hawks in Gauteng have confirmed to City Press that they are investigating human trafficking allegations against Harber, but no one has been arrested yet.

“The investigation team will be submitting the registered enquiry to the National Prosecution Authority for a decision,” said Gauteng Hawks spokesperson, Captain Ndivhuwo Mulamu.

Activists claim that Harber is trafficking children to sustain his “wealthy” lifestyle.

However, Harber rubbished the criticism, saying he had obtained a gagging order against those “talking ill” of him in the media, including some parents bemoaning the loss of their children.

Harber said: “Everything is done through the court. There’s a court interdict against these people to keep their mouths shut ... they’re drug addicts. I don’t know what they’re trying to do.

“They’re a bad crowd. Actually, [this matter has] got nothing to do with [the media].

“The court documents of these children are private documents. You know what? I’m gatvol of this. Every week I must explain the same f*kken story. I’m getting f*kken tired. They are drug addicts, abusing their kids.”

Harber denied he was making any money from his place of safety.

“A place of safety [gets] R17 per day per child. I don’t get any money from Sassa [SA Social Security Agency], even though I’m allowed to get that money. What do you do for a child with R17 per day?”

Gauteng social development spokesperson Mbangwa Xaba said the department was working with the Hawks in their investigation to ensure a successful prosecution.

“We are in contact with the department of justice in the area about allegations of the involvement of one of their presiding officers [magistrate] as an accomplice.

"We can’t divulge details about any child taken away from parents outside the provisions of the law,” he said.

“We can, however, confirm that it is not a registered child-protection organisation and therefore wouldn’t have been allowed to move children.

"The department does not have any direct relationship with it.”

Xaba, however, admitted that the department had, through the court, and in compliance with the Children’s Act, placed three children in the care of Harber and his wife.

“Those children are monitored. The reports by social workers confirm that the conditions under which the children are living are conducive.

"The last report is dated the May 4 2017, where the order of one child was extended,” he said.

'They took away my only joy'

Dirk van Eeden, 36, was visiting a friend in Geduld with his baby and its mother, Thalita Louw, 24, on October 8 2016. It turned out he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Harber’s Wild Wild Guardians allegedly arrived looking for another child, but turned their attention on Van Eeden’s infant son.

Van Eeden claims that he and his now ex-partner were never taken to the Springs Magistrates’ Court.

Wild Wild Guardians allegedly took their son and left.

“My girlfriend and I were questioned and I admitted to using cannabis, while my girlfriend admitted to using other drugs,” Van Eeden said.

The couple was also not employed at the time. Van Eeden said no drug tests were conducted. They have not seen their child since.

None of their relatives, he said, was contacted to ascertain if they could help.

“They did not offer us any rehabilitation.”

According to Van Eeden, his child was placed in the custody of a questionable family – the “mother of a drug dealer’s wife”.

He said the removal of their child led to the breakdown of his relationship with Louw and they separated.

“They took away my joy. I have been robbed of the opportunity to love my son”, Van Eeden said, crying.

'I smoke dagga, but don't abuse it'

Wild Wild Guardians swooped Sandra Bester’s house, accompanied by two social workers and two police officers, and took away her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter on November 11 2015.

Bester, 36, said that she had allegedly been seen begging for money at a children’s park in Geduld suburb in Springs. She admits that she smoked dagga, but did not abuse it.

“When they came to my house, it had not been cleaned yet and they found marijuana. However, no charge was laid against me for that,” she said, holding back the tears.

“I was accused of begging at the park when I was, in fact, taking my child out to play,” Bester said. The process to remove her child, she said, took less than an hour.

Bester said she saw no reason her baby had to be taken away, even though she is unemployed.

“I tried to get her back. A magistrate said I could only get my child on two conditions: getting my own apartment and testing negative for cannabis,” Bester said.

“But, to date, no drug tests have been done to see whether I am clean or not – which I am and have been since I lost my baby girl,” she said.

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Read more on:    sassa  |  hawks  |  youth

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