Orphanage speaks out on abuse claims

2019-06-25 06:00
Al-Noor Orphanage Centre in Woodstock has been suspended from keeping children on the premises.PHOTO: THABANG KUAHO

Al-Noor Orphanage Centre in Woodstock has been suspended from keeping children on the premises.PHOTO: THABANG KUAHO

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The Al-Noor Orphanage Centre in Woodstock confirmed that a senior employee of the home was arrested by the Hawks during a joint sting operation with the Department of Social Development (DSD) on Friday 14 June.

The 49-year-old suspect was arrested for fraud and corruption. According to the Hawk’s spokesperson Captain Philani Nkwalase the employee allegedly redirected donor funds meant for daily operations of the Centre into her personal bank account and were used for personal gain.

Speaking on behalf of the orphanage Nkululeko Mboniswa said the arrest had nothing to do with the physical and sexual abuse allegations levelled against the centre in the past two weeks. A total of 17 children were removed from the building after Hawks received allegations of sexual abuse, which are currently under investigation.

“The arrest was on allegations of fraud and money laundering. However, our position as an organisation; we find those allegations baseless because she has not been actively involved with the orphanage for the past two years,” Mboniswa said. He added that the accused had no signing powers on the home’s accounts. He also dismissed claims that she received donations “directly into her personal account”.

“So I do not know where those allegations surface from,” he said.

Mboniswa said the suspect stopped being “actively involved” in the running of the home after an illness.

“Even if she was actively involved in the home, she would not have access to the accounts because we have a board and treasurer to approve funds, so I do not know how the money could have been deposited into her account. However, we have an ongoing investigation,” he said.

In a statement, the Hawks said that during the arrest, 35 children who were undocumented in the records of the home were found and reunited with their families.

Mboniswa rubbished the allegations of undocumented children. He said all children who stayed at the premises were sent to them by the courts.

“Every child we had in these premises was recorded, we do not go around and get kids from anywhere. They come through a system of a Children’s Court, with a court order and form 36 from the DSD.

“These kids were recorded, even the kids that are part of our outreach programme are also documented, because we have signed indemnity forms from their parents.”

Mboniswa said the board cannot suspend anyone without having any proof. He said: “The board cannot act on hearsay, they are conducting their own investigation. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, so we will wait for the processes and investigations of the DSD to conclude and we will act on that.”

However, the orphanage was in full support of the department’s investigations. “In fact, if there is any substance in these accusations, we encourage them to allow the law to take its course and let the perpetrator(s) face the full might of the law,” said Mboniswa.

Although the orphanage supports the investigations, he said the manner in which the department handled the situation was not well received. “We did not agree with the way the matter was handled, it was traumatising for the kids and there was no explanation to them (the children) of the processes that were being followed.”

Joshua Chigome, spokesperson for social development minister Sharna Fernandez, said the department conducted a preliminary investigation after being alerted by one of the children at the centre. “Since being removed, the children have been placed in other child and youth care centres, and are receiving the necessary social support, including assessment and counselling,” Chigome said.

Mboniswa said the centre still runs its other projects such as the soup kitchen. “We do not take up any projects that deal with children until investigations have been concluded,” he said.

The accused is expected to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court today (25 June) for bail application.

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