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Protest at place of safety


For many years,the children have had to do without lights, wash in cold water and tolerate a bad sewage smell that permeates the building

THE UNUSED showers in the girls bathrooms at the Lerato Place of Safety. Picture: Soraya Crowie

FRUSTRATIONS over appalling living conditions and a lack of basic necessities at Lerato Place of Safety in Galeshewe reached boiling point yesterday with the children staying at the centre and care workers launching a protest.

It was announced at the beginning of April that the facility, which cares for vulnerable, orphaned and children displaying behavioural problems, would undergo a R13.2 million revamp.

For many years,the children have had to do without lights, wash in cold water and tolerate a bad sewage smell that permeates the building.

Protesting children and child and youth care workers said yesterday that despite the public announcement, work had not started on the renovations and their dismal living conditions remained unchanged.

“The department stated in April in the media that the facility would undergo a more than R13 million revamp and the children would be moved to alternative accommodation while renovations were ongoing. The then MEC for Social Development, Gift van Staden, acknowledged the dilapidated state of the facility as there is no hot water for the children and the lights do not work. These promises have, however, not been met and the children are still living under the same conditions that they have been for many years already,” one of the care workers said.

Another care worker said that the department had still not informed them on the progress of the relocation process.

“The children were supposed to be moved two weeks ago. According to representatives from the department, who only came after we had protested, the children will not be moved yet – even though they announced that a contractor had already been appointed to start with the renovation.”

One staff member pointed out that the children were taking out their frustrations on the care workers. “There are no lights in some parts of the building, including in the passages and in the boys’ dining hall, which means that these children are forced to eat in the dark. We have to use our cellphones for light when we walk in the passages.”

Care workers said that the children were also exposed to diseases as the toilets and drains were blocked. “There is overflowing raw sewage as the drains are not working. The showers are also blocked and there is no hot water.”

Another employee pointed out that the children had to use the hand basins to wash themselves in. “They cannot take showers and have to use plastic basins to wash. This place also does not have ceilings and is freezing in the winter.

“The children are supposed to be provided with a safe environment yet they are being exposed to illnesses and dangers. The department is taking children out of their homes, where their living conditions might be better, and exposing them to these dismal conditions. The rights of the children are being violated but it appears that the officials in the department are not concerned.”

The staff said that they were facing disciplinary action and had been accused of using the children to fight their battles.

“We are always being threatened that we will be charged when we voice our concerns. We were even accused of exposing the children to secondary abuse when we raised these matters. We are responsible daily for these children and have to answer to them on why certain things are lacking. Their rights are being violated and the department keeps telling us to ‘manage’ the situation. We cannot just leave the children to live in these conditions.”

Department spokesperson Gamiem Abrahams confirmed yesterday that a tender had been awarded for the repairs and renovations at Lerato Place of Safety.

“The children housed at Lerato Place of Safety and staff are adequately informed about the process. The search and subsequent refurbishment of the alternative temporary accommodation will be finalised in the course of the week and the children and affected staff will then be moved. Due to safety issues the new location cannot be disclosed,” said Abrahams.

“At this point we need to point out that as a department we are concerned that the children are being fed misleading information and used to advance the agendas of certain individuals. Our internal processes will address these.

“The department remains focused on providing quality services to the children in our care and the safety and comfort of the children will not be compromised in any way.”

Van Staden announced in April that a 16-month contract had been signed with a local contractor, Alpha Industrial Services, following a transparent bidding process.

The centre, which opened its doors in 1991, currently cares for 29 boys and girls between the ages of nine and 17 years.

According to Van Staden at the time, the drainage system at the centre was old and presented daily challenges that were placing both staff and children at risk. “Over the past 28 years the institution has been a safe haven for thousands of children across the Province and this has taken its toll on the infrastructure. The toilet system is constantly blocked and there are times when the toilets are out of order.”

Van Staden said the contractor would be commissioned to repair the sewerage system and drains.

“Children have taken out their anger and frustration on the building when things did not go their way and in the process extensive damage was caused to the ceilings, floors, doors, windows, water pipes and electricity fittings.”

He confirmed also that due to malfunctioning geysers the children had to wash with cold water during winter. “The drainage and water supply problems were at times out of our control and were as a result of bulk infrastructure challenges.”

Van Staden said the site would be monitored on a regular basis to check on progress.

“The contract includes, amongst other work, improving the dormitories and bathrooms, the living area of the children and the offices of child and youth care workers. The Department of Social Development, with the support of the Department of Public Works, will ensure that the contractor sticks to the agreed timeline and that work of outstanding quality be delivered. Penalties will be instituted if there are any delays.”