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Johannesburg - An Alexandra man who kept his children imprisoned for years in their tiny room was allegedly driven by fear that his family might kidnap or even kill them.
The man allegedly left his home of Msinga, KwaZulu-Natal, after a bitter feud with his family about 20 years ago and came to Joburg.
He never returned.
When the children were freed, he allegedly claimed that the family members with whom he had a row were capable of kidnapping or killing his children to hurt him, hence he kept them locked in their tiny room at Nobuhle hostel.
The children, aged 18, 11 and 9, were never enrolled at school or allowed to play outside. The eldest, who is 25 years old, was allegedly removed from school in Grade 7.
The couple never socialised with other people. Whenever neighbours would go past the room, they saw the children staring out of the window through the burglar bars.
Neighbours, who wished not to be identified, said they had called social workers to intervene in 2007. The head of the hostel, Ernest Langa, confirmed this.
“The social workers came and said they would take the children from the man and his wife if they didn’t enrol them in school. They said they would be back in two weeks, but they never returned,” a neighbour said.
The hostel residents freed the children on May 23. When they got inside the room, they allegedly found it cluttered.
The children appeared scared of strangers and the 25-year-old was found crouching with his ankles and wrists chained.
Local residents were so enraged that they wanted to assault the father.
There were also allegations that the the eldest child was at some point in an incestuous relationship with his sister and impregnated her. This claim came after she was seen pregnant when she accompanied her mother to church on a rare occasion she was spotted outside.
It was not known what happened to the child. Neighbours said that on the day they were freed, the 25-year-old claimed his father took the baby. But the mother denied her daughter was ever pregnant.
Hostel resident Siphiwe Langa took in the children and their mother for a few days after they were freed. They then asked the mother where the baby was. “She said her daughter was never pregnant.”
Langa said the children were fine but the problem was they did everything together.
“When they go outside, they all go together. You can also see that they are not used to playing, only to sitting and watching TV. When I gave them a ball to go and play with outside, they quickly returned,” she said.
Spokesman for the Gauteng Department of Social Development Dr Sello Mokoena said the department would have to investigate the claims that social workers went to the family several years ago and did nothing.
“We can’t act without details, I need to know the names of the people,” he said.
Despite police spokeswoman Captain Kym Cloete earlier being quoted as saying the children were in a place of safety, neighbours said they were back home with their mother.
“We are not happy about that. These children should be removed from here,” one neighbour said.
The father was charged with child neglect and is in custody.