Picture: SOWETAN
Picture: SOWETAN

Eight children from Zimbabwe held by authorities in SA for three months face being repatriated despite being claimed by their Cape Town-based parents.

The department of social development wants to repatriate the children who are in the country illegally.

They have been held since they were found travelling from Zimbabwe on November 11 to join their parents for Christmas. They were unaccompanied and without documents.

They were intercepted at a Rustenburg garage after observers assumed they were victims of human trafficking.

They have been held by the department of social development for three months in Rustenburg without being granted access to their parents‚ some of whom have tried to visit.

On Wednesday‚ three parents arrived at a Rustenburg safe house and were denied access to their children. The parents later learnt that the children had been moved to an undisclosed location.

The department of social development has refused to reveal their location.

"They don’t want to tell us where they put our children. … Please help us get our children," said one father of a six-year-old child. Authorities moved his child to a new location on Wednesday but would not tell him where.

"Now the children are the slave," he said, meaning that children kept at an undisclosed location were more like human trafficking victims than those travelling to their parents in Cape Town.

Department Of Social Development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the children were in their care. "The department has received confirmation from the Zimbabwean government of their preparedness to receive the children at the Robert Mugabe International airport next month. The department is now awaiting a waiver from the SA Department of Home Affairs."

Immigration practitioner Leon Isaacson‚ who is involved in the legal battle to free the children‚ contacted senior officials in the social development department who would not disclose the children’s location.

He said sending the children to Zimbabwe rather than releasing them into their parents’ care would be in breach of the Immigration Act.

It was a case of undocumented migrants and not human trafficking‚ as the department suspected, said Isaacson.

He said the parents had come forward and confirmed that their children were on the truck. They were expecting them to be delivered by a driver in Cape Town.

The parents have asked the Pretoria High Court for an interdict allowing for the children to be released. The department of social development’s lawyers did not appear in court and gave no reasons why.

The Pretoria High Court ordered the office of the family advocate to prepare an urgent legal report on the matter. However‚ the family advocate became aware of the case only after being contacted by attorneys.

Family lawyer Simba Chitando confirmed on Thursday that the family advocate was on the case and could produce a report.