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Repatriation of smuggled children from SA shelved

By Mashudu Netsianda

The repatriation of eight undocumented Zimbabwean children who were last year smuggled into South Africa through Beitbridge Border Post, has been put on hold following a court application by their parents seeking to block their return.

Minister Bathabile Dlamini
Minister Bathabile Dlamini

The parents, through their lawyer, Advocate Simba Chitando filed an urgent chamber application at the Pretoria High Court seeking an order interdicting the South African Department of Social Development from repatriating their children.

The children were smuggled into the neighbouring country last November. They were travelling in a truck to join their parents in Cape Town for the Christmas holiday.

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The truck was intercepted at a service station in Rustenburg after police received a tip-off by people who suspected that the minors were victims of human trafficking.

The children have not seen their parents and are not allowed to speak to them.

The chilren’s parents filed the application after the Department of Social Development and Home Affairs announced plans to repatriate them back to Zimbabwe.

The eight minors, aged between two and 12 years, are detained at an undisclosed location.Zimbabwe’s Consular General, Mr Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro said plans to repatriate the children had been put on hold following the court application.

“The case is pending before the courts hence the children cannot be repatriated until the court makes a determination, ” he said.

Mr Mukonoweshuro said the children are being kept at a safe house managed by the Social Development Department in Rustenburg, North West province.

In papers before the court, Adv Chitando argued that the parents knew that their children were in the truck.

He said the parents were also aware that their children were being brought into South Africa and they have the children’s birth certificates.

“The court application has affidavits from all the parents and the birth certificates for seven of the eight children‚ to prove the parents’ identity and parental status,” he said.

In a statement last week, South Africa Social Development spokesperson Mr Bathembu Futshane, said they received confirmation from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare of its willingness to receive the eight minor children.

The Department of Social Development has a Memorandum of Understanding with its counterpart in Zimbabwe on matters related to unaccompanied and undocumented minors.

The Office of the Consular-General of Zimbabwe has been highly involved.

They conducted interviews, assessed and confirmed that the children were indeed Zimbabweans and they were issued with repatriation certificates.

Despite stiff fines imposed by the South African Home Affairs on omalayitsha caught smuggling undocumented travellers or those with expired passports or no valid visas, into South Africa, cases of smuggling such persons are on the increase.

Those caught smuggling undocumented persons are fined R15 000 per person.

Last December more than 100 children without requisite travelling documents were repatriated back to Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe-South Africa Cross-Border Coordination Committee for Unaccompanied and Separated Migrant Children has on many occasions raised concern over the rampant smuggling of minors into the neighbouring country.

The committee is made up of officials from the two countries’ social service departments, immigration, police, non-governmental organisations and human rights lawyers. The Chronicle