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Cape Town - Five years ago, a day before his birthday, a Somerset West father stood waiting in the arrivals hall at Cape Town International airport, eager to see his children, who were set to return from a holiday in France.
But they didn’t arrive – it later emerged that his ex-wife had taken them from South Africa to live with her. “I couldn’t believe somebody could be that cruel,” he said on Sunday.
But now, after being in France for just over five years, his son, 9, and daughter, 10, returned to SA on Saturday and their father was finally able to believe they would come home.
It has been a long journey for the father, who has not been named to protect the identity of his children. He has been trapped in an extended legal battle to be with his children.
He was initially prevented from seeing his children at all, and was only granted visitation rights earlier this year when French authorities intervened – even then this was limited to short 10-day periods in which he was allowed to spend time with his children.
He described the last time he saw them, which was in April, when he was joined by his children from a previous marriage to visit the pair in France.
“We went bowling and had a lot of fun,” he said. “We managed to work a bit on the bond between us, but it’s difficult because they haven’t seen us for so many years.”
Megan Harrington-Johnson, an associate from Schindler’s Attorneys, which represents the father, said their mother had failed to keep the children’s English functional.
“She even changed the boy’s name,” she said. “(The father’s) own children, from a previous marriage, were also prevented from keeping contact with their siblings. The whole family was torn apart.”
Harrington-Johnson said the children were picked up by French authorities from their school in France last Friday, and taken to a hotel where their father was waiting for them.
“I never wanted to cause any trauma to the kids, so I made sure everything was done properly,” said the father.
He said the children were sad to be leaving their mother, but he would be worried if they weren’t.
“I make sure they phone their mother everyday. My aim isn’t to keep the kids away from their mother, she is an important part of their lives. They have a father, mother and extended family that love them and shouldn’t be stopped from seeing any of them.”
But the matter hasn’t been resolved yet, and the father still has to go to court to secure interim custody.
“The easiest solution would be for their mom to come back to South Africa,” he said. “The answer doesn’t sit in the courts.”
Now that the reunited family has returned to SA, the Cape Town father is looking to develop a relationship with his children. “When we are back we are going to go to beaches, restaurants, movies - all the things that happy families do,” he said.
Cadet News Agency