SA repatriates 8 smuggled Zim minors
Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
SOUTH Africa yesterday repatriated eight undocumented Zimbabwean children who were in the hands of that country’s Department of Social Development for three months since they were smuggled through Beitbridge Border Post last year.
The children, aged between two and 12 years, were not allowed to see or speak to their parents while in the neighbouring country since November last year.
The eight were brought into the country through Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport aboard a South African Airways plane yesterday.
The latest development comes a day after a Pretoria-based North Gauteng High Court Judge Bill Prinsloo dismissed an urgent chamber application by the minors’ parents. Judge Prinsloo made his ruling after the parents of the children through their lawyer, Advocate Simba Chitando, filed an urgent chamber application trying to interdict the Department of Social Development from repatriating the minors.
The parents wanted their children to be released into their custody.
South Africa Social Development spokesperson Ms Lumka Oliphant yesterday confirmed the latest development.
“I can confirm that the eight Zimbabwean children were repatriated today (yesterday) aboard a South African Airways plane under the escort of South African police and officials from the departments of Social Development, Home Affairs and International Relations and Co-operation. They were handed over to officials from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare,” she said.
The children were smuggled into the neighbouring country last year in November.
They were travelling in a truck to join their parents in Cape Town for the Christmas holiday. The truck was intercepted at a service station in Rustenburg after police received a tip-off from people who suspected that the minors were victims of human trafficking.
The children were kept at a safe house in Rustenburg.
“The alleged parents demanded that the children be released into their care but could not provide proof that they are indeed the children’s parents or primary caregivers,” said Ms Oliphant. “In terms of section 290 of the Children’s Act, there is a need to ascertain where the children will be released to. In this instance, the children will be released into the care and safety of the Government of Zimbabwe.” Ms Oliphant said the driver of the truck they were travelling in was in possession of 15 passports — none of which belonged to the minors in transit. Judge Prinsloo ruled that he could not fathom how parents could allow their children to travel with strangers, in a truck, from Beitbridge to Cape Town, saying he doubted that the parents acted in the best interests of the children.
In a statement, South Africa’s Minister of Social Development Ms Susan Shabangu welcomed the decision to repatriate the children to Zimbabwe.
“We believe that the South African Government, through the Department of Social Development, always acts in the best interest of the child. We want to thank the South African Police Service, the social workers, the office of the Family Advocate and all other officials who worked tirelessly to make sure that the children are protected,” she said.
The Office of the Consular-General of Zimbabwe has been highly involved. They conducted interviews, assessed and confirmed that the children were indeed of Zimbabwean nationality and they were issued with repatriation certificates. The Department of Social Development has a Memorandum of Understanding with Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare on matters related to unaccompanied and undocumented minors. Despite stiff fines imposed by the South African Home Affairs stipulating that omalayitsha caught smuggling undocumented travellers or those with expired passports or no valid visas, into South Africa, are required fork out a fine of R15 000 per person, the smuggling of undocumented persons continues unabated.
Last year in December, more than 100 children without requisite travelling documents were repatriated back to Zimbabwe from South Africa after being smuggled by cross border drivers (omalayitsha) during the holiday. The Zimbabwe-South Africa Cross-Border Co-ordination Committee for Unaccompanied and Separated Migrant Children has on many occasions raised concern over the rampant smuggling of minors between the two countries’ borders. The committee is made up of officials from the two countries’ social service departments, immigration, police, and non-governmental organisations and human rights lawyers.