Chil­dren left by so­cial work­ers

Saturday Star - - FRONT PAGE - SHEREE BEGA

THEY put pad­locks on the gates and mounds of burn­ing tyres and stones around the en­trances. That way, any­one who was in­side would be locked in, un­able to get out – for four days.

When Gaut­eng So­cial De­vel­op­ment Depart­ment MEC Nandi May­athula-Khoza and se­nior of­fi­cials ar­rived at the Ga-Rankuwa Rear­a­bilwe child and youth care cen­tre yes­ter­day, they found fright­ened and hun­gry chil­dren – some as young as 3-years-old – “aban­doned” by strik­ing so­cial work­ers.

“The three case­work­ers who had been bar­ri­caded in­side cried when they saw us,” she told the Satur­day Star, at a me­dia brief­ing.

“They haven’t gone home since Mon­day. I wanted to cry my­self. The chil­dren were so fright­ened and hadn’t eaten for days.

“They are HIV-pos­i­tive chil­dren who need to take their med­i­ca­tion, which they didn’t have. These are or­phaned and aban­doned chil­dren, and from back­grounds of abuse.”

May­athula-Khoza vis­ited four places of safety and child and youth care cen­tres in Ga-Rankuwa and Soshanguve t hat were “ne g at ive l y im­pacted” by the the coun­try­wide so­cial work­ers strike, or­gan­ised by the Na­tional Health Ed­u­ca­tion and Al­lied Work­ers Union (Ne­hawu).

“We re­ceived dis­turb­ing calls that the strik­ing work­ers have bar­ri­caded en­trances, bar­ring es­sen­tial sup­plies such as food.

“There was no food com­ing in, cater­ers not al­lowed in, there was no med­i­ca­tion com­ing in and laun­dry has not been done. We saw piles and piles of dirty laun­dry.

“These chil­dren have not changed their clothes since Mon­day. There’s a child at Ga-Rankuwa Rear­a­bilwe, who is HIV-pos­i­tive, who could not get his an­tiretro­vi­ral medicine. There were three chil­dren who suf­fered from diar- rhoea. The staff had to use home reme­dies. We are glad there have not been fa­tal­i­ties.”

“Hor­ri­fied” by what she saw, she launched an ap­peal to “all com­mu­nity mem­bers”, par­tic­u­larly those with so­cial work skills, to help “in the so­cial de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tu­tions and cen­tres around their neigh­bour­hoods”.

So­cial work­ers are de­mand­ing an in­crease in salaries and other ben­e­fits. Ne­hawu main­tains its strike is peace­ful, and the depart­ment failed to heed its de­mands tabled on Fe­bru­ary 10.

In Gaut­eng, about 600 so­cial work­ers are now strik­ing. On Thurs­day, the depart­ment was granted a court in­ter­dict against Ne­hawu, which yes­ter­day de­scribed this as “bul­ly­ing tac­tics”.

“We sym­pa­thise with the work­ers,” said May­athula-Khoza. “What we wish is for them to go back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble to find so­lu­tions.

“It’s one thing to protest to de­mand one’s rights but an­other to place the lives of the vul­ner­a­ble in harm’s way.”

Five chil­dren housed at the Wal­ter Sisulu child and youth care cen­tre had “es­caped”.

She had re­ceived “hourly up­dates’ since Mon­day, she said, on the grow­ing cri­sis at the in­sti­tu­tions. “By Thurs­day night, we were send­ing mes­sages at mid­night. I couldn’t sleep, I was so wor­ried.

“We an­tic­i­pated the strike was go­ing to be one day and not pro­tracted and had plans in place,” said Te­bogo Itume­leng, who heads wel­fare ser­vices and in­sti­tu­tions.

“Un­for­tu­nately, it’s now in­def­i­nite. We’re putting a more re­fined plan in place to en­sure our chil­dren’s ba­sic needs are pro­vided for and that staff not on strike can go back to work.”

At the Don Mat­tera Child and Youth Care Cen­tre, Mpho Zulu told how only three staffers had re­mained to care for over 70 chil­dren.

* For re­fer­rals for in­sti­tu­tions in your lo­cal­ity, call Busi Kh­eswa at 083 870 1762 or at 082 611 0141.

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