Date: 19 May 2018 By: Anton van Zyl
The Tshitandani Child Care Centre is still considering its future options and it may re-open and function as a training centre for child-care workers. The centre was forced to close down a month ago after the Department of Social Development (DSD) did not renew its registration certificate.
The closing of the child-care centre situated in Tshikota came as a shock to local communities. The centre had been operating since 2009, catering for street children. The centre was supported by the majority of church groups in the region and boasted several success stories. Last year, Tshitandani took care of 43 boys, which included six matriculants. The matriculants all passed their end-of-year exams, five with university exemption. One boy even obtained two distinctions.
In 2018, the child-care centre started off with 22 children. (Some of the remaining children returned to Zimbabwe as the political and economic situation in the neighbouring country started to improve.)
Early in April this year, the DSD’s regional committee informed the centre that a registration permit had still not been issued, effectively meaning that Tshitandani was acting outside the prescriptions of the law. The centre’s board, after discussing the matter and trying to resolve the bureaucratic red tape, came to the conclusion that it had no other option than to cease its activities. The DSD was informed and a few days later the children were moved to a shelter in Musina.
The DSD was subjected to a lot of criticism, following the closure of the centre. Many residents compared it to the Life Esidimeni scandal in Gauteng, where patients were indiscriminately moved at the whim of government officials. Many of these patients died as a result of the forced move. In the case of Tshitandani’s children, they were moved to an overcrowded facility in Musina. Out of the 19 children moved, four absconded and one was apparently reunited with his mother.
The DSD’s official spokesperson, Mr Madidimalo Joel Seabi, responded last week to questions sent to the department. “According to Section 199(3) of the Children’s Act no. 38 of 2005, the application for renewal of registration must be made at least 90 days before the registration certificate is due to expire. The registration certificate for the centre expired on 31 December 2017,” he said.
Seabi mentioned that a date had been set for early December 2017, during which the registration panel would have visited the centre and considered the renewal. According to the information Seabi received, the 11 December meeting was cancelled because the centre failed to submit the necessary documents. This version of events is vehemently denied by the Tshitandani board, who say that the DSD’s representatives simply had not pitched up for the meeting.
Another date, 17 January, was then set to meet and consider the application. Seabi stated that during this meeting it was found that they (the centre) had not improved on the recommendations for the previous conditional registrations as stipulated on the expired certificates. “There were outstanding documents which they were to submit in order for them to be complying with the norms and standards,” he said.
According to a board member of Tshitandani, Mr Andries Smal, this is a blatant lie. He offered to make documents available that indicate that the DSD representatives were satisfied that all regulations had been adhered to and that all documents were in order. During this meeting, two DSD representatives agreed that there was no clear reason why the centre should not qualify for a five-year registration certificate.
The DSD informed Tshitandani early in April that all funding to the institution would be stopped, because the centre did not have a valid registration certificate. A meeting was held on 13 April where representatives of Tshitandani’s board and the DSD were present. This meeting ended in an impasse, with the board members indicating that the matter would be discussed further and a decision made regarding the future.
“The management board (then) wrote a letter to the department, indicating that they are closing the centre with immediate effect. The children were removed immediately as the letter from the centre indicated that they will no longer accept any responsibility for injuries, harm, abscondment or any other form of abuse from that date forth,” Seabi said.
Seabi stated that 19 boys were transferred to the CWM centre in Musina on 18 April. He said the Musina centre has a valid registration certificate, allowing it to accommodate 61 children (36 boys and 26 girls). “Four children were reported to have absconded from the centre and one was reunified with his mother,” he added.
Seabi’s figures were questioned this week by some of the Tshitandani board members. They argue that the Musina shelter is overcrowded and prior to the Tshitandani boys’ being moved there, the official figures indicate that CWM was already catering for 32 boys. At most they could have accepted another four boys.
According to Smal, the needs of the children should have been the priority of all parties concerned at all times. “To move children who were doing extremely well from a facility just because of bureaucratic red tape, is not in the best interest of the children,” he said.
Smal mentioned that Tshitandani had no other option than to start with a retrenchment process. Eight staff members were affected by the past month’s happenings.
As for the future, one of the options Tshitandani is considering is to use the facilities to train child-care workers. The workers trained at the centre can then care for up to six children at homes in various villages. “But we have not given up on the children that we had cared for,” said Smal. He said they were still pursuing all avenues to see if they could find a solution to either get the children back or to ensure that they were properly cared for.
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror for over 27 years. He graduated at the the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.