KZN DSD left red-faced

High Court rules in favour of children's home, 200 children must be returned

KZN social development left red-faced after High Court rules in favour of children's home

26 February 2019

The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development has been left red-faced after a High Court ruling forced it to return nearly 200 children to a child youth care centre which has homes in three towns in the province.

The department last week claimed there were widespread allegations of wrongdoing reported to be taking place at the government-funded Môrester Child and Youth Care Centre.

It claimed there was physical, verbal and emotional abuse and racism, forcing the removal of 197 children from three youth care centres affiliated to Môrester on Friday, February 15, and Saturday, February 16.

The KZN Christian Social Services (CSS), which oversees Môrester, took the matter to the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg, which ordered that the children be returned to the homes.

After the department ignored the High Court order, an urgent application for contempt of court was filed by the CSS last Friday. Due to logistical problems at the courthouse, proceedings only took place on Monday.

However, the department returned the children this past Friday and Saturday to the Môrester children's homes in Ladysmith and Newcastle, and Home Meah.

"Pressure from the second application, the media attention and community outcry worked," CSS CEO Gerhard Botha said.

He said just two children had not been returned because they had to be hospitalised due to stress-induced epilepsy.

"They are being monitored closely but doing well under the circumstances," said Botha.

He added that the children were being examined medically and were receiving trauma counselling after their ordeal.

Botha said the children ranged from babies to 18 years old. He said at the time of the children's removal, CSS was given no reasons despite verbal and written objections to the department.

He added that there was very little communication from the department from the onset. He said the children had been left traumatised.

"If there are indeed complaints, we are more than willing to give our full cooperation in a thorough investigation alongside the department and rectify any problems as guided by the department. But was it really necessary to traumatise 200 vulnerable children in such a cruel manner?"

He said some of the children were whisked away without their medication being packed, placing their health in jeopardy.

"Can you imagine the fear and uncertainty of these children when people unknown to them showed up, forced them out of their beds and into vehicles without them knowing where they are going or why?"

Department spokesperson Ncumisa Fandesi said the department would heed the advice of its legal team.

She did not comment further.