Orphanage children flee as department comes knocking

Msholozi - More than 20 children from Ma Esther's Safe Haven Orphanage in Mpumalanga are allegedly back on the streets after the Department of Social Development visited the unregistered home. 

“My heart is bleeding, I can’t explain how hurt I am. Ma Esther took me to this centre when I was just five years of age," said a teary 17-year old, who cannot be named. 

"Now we have to hide because we fear that they will take us away. We never complained about being at the centre. We are given food, shelter, love, care, and clothes, which is one thing the department failed to give us,” the boy said. 

Last Thursday, the department’s officials descended on the centre with police and social workers to forcefully remove the children.

Some of them ran away. The department claimed the centre, which trades as the Mpumalanga Christian Centre, is overcrowded and unhygienic. 

The children said it was better staying with Ma Ester than sleeping on the streets.

"Why didn’t the department offer to help and improve the situation?" the orphaned boy said.

"Esther is our mother. She sacrificed a lot for us and they must stop abusing her as she is doing something that the department failed to do."

The centre’s founder, Esther Nkosi, said children were encouraged to study hard and attend school.

"All those who were doing matric last year passed with flying colours and some of them are at the universities."

She was able to pay university fees for some.

When she tried to register the centre in 2005, with the guidance of social workers, the department rejected her application, she said.

Since founding the centre, it had been a home to over 80 people, from infants to children aged 18 and older. It is in Msholozi, on the outskirts of White River.

Provincial department spokesperson Ronnie Masilela said the centre was not registered with the department as a child and youth care centre.

"According to the environmental health practitioner’s report, which is a requirement for registration, the centre was not suitable to operate as a child and youth care facility," said Masilela.

"We are still saying we would like to assist the centre to comply. It only needs to co-operate with us while we are all moving towards the same direction."

They had told the centre about which standards it needed to meet, but that "there is a great sense of defiance which compromises the well-being of the children".

He said he was not aware of the missing children but would “get them back on track". 

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