Child care centre wrangle

2012-07-24 00:00

The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development is at loggerheads with the trustees of the Ubombo Children’s Care Village near Jozini, which is allegedly operating illegally.

The dispute came before a Pietermaritzburg high court judge yesterday when the MEC brought an urgent application seeking to remove the remaining 10 children from the village, effectively closing down the centre, which has been in existence since 2008.

The case was adjourned until Friday to enable the trustees of the UCCV to file opposing papers.

The department’s move follows hot on the heels of a bid by the trustees of the UCCV to obtain a high court order at the end of May instructing Social Development in KZN to return four children. The four were removed from the village — allegedly without any consultation, warning or court order — by social workers. The UCCV is uncertain what became of the children, according to the papers.

A seven-year-old orphaned girl, who was allegedly taken from her school without warning by social workers, was said to love pretty clothes and pink was her favourite colour.

A joint trustee of the UCCV, Patricia Irons, said in an affidavit filed at the time: “Every night she goes to bed cuddling her pink teddy bear … This teddy bear provides a sense of security to her and I dread to think what this poor child must be going through at present having been removed from the only home she knows.

“This child is now gone and no-one knows where she is.”

High court Judge Themba Sishi ruled that the application was not sufficiently urgent and the case was adjourned indefinitely.

While the UCCV maintains that all the children living at the village are in need of care and a “safe haven”, the department says the centre is operating illegally because it is not registered in terms of the Children’s Act.

Patricia Ndlovu, the Social Development service office manager at Ubombo, said in court papers she believed it was in the best interests of the children that they be returned to their families or extended families whom the department had traced.

According to Irons’s affidavit, the village was established because a dire need was identified in the area for abandoned or sick children who could not be taken care of at home, or who needed temporary shelter while their families were traced.

All the children there were abandoned. Many were HIV-positive and some were disabled.

Irons said that despite the “good work” done by the UCCV, the organisation was not registered because the provincial head of Social Development “neglects or refuses to process the application”.

Irons said she was “unofficially informed” that the department did not wish to register the UCCV because it perceived it to be run, managed and financed by non-South Africans.

She said the UCCV was established on a property bought for the purpose by a leading German charity. The village is funded by many corporate SA companies, overseas Rotary clubs, business organisations, church groups and private individuals. Irons said the trustees and donor organisations did not receive any financial benefit for their work. The government had not given “a cent” to UCCV.

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