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Pretoria - The justice minister and the National Prosecuting Authority must stand in for the maintenance an Mpumalanga mother had lost, the High Court in Pretoria ruled on Tuesday.
Acting Judge Jan Hiemstra granted the order to Annah Ouma Mtimunye. The minister, the NPA and her former husband Michael Matlala must pay her R24 500 plus interest.
Mtimunye lost maintenance because of the negligent and unlawful conduct of maintenance officials at the Mdutjana Magistrate's Court.
Mtimunye, a hawker of KwaNdebele in Mpumalanga, obtained a court order after her divorce in 1990 that Matlala pays maintenance for their two children.
She alleged maintenance officers at the Mdutjana Magistrate's Court in Siyabuswa had negligently and unlawfully failed to take appropriate steps in terms of the Maintenance Act to enforce the payment of arrears in maintenance accumulated over a period of three years.
Her husband, a former primary school teacher, had failed to pay regular maintenance from the start. He resigned from his job in 2006 and promptly stopped paying after she obtained garnishee orders against his salary to ensure regular payments.
She reported the arrears to a maintenance inspector and asked the senior magistrate at the court to instruct the officer handling her case to ensure that her ex-husband's pension payout was attached because she feared he would squander his money.
She was wrongly advised that the Maintenance Court had no authority to attach her former husband's pension benefits.
A maintenance enquiry was initiated but dropped when criminal proceedings were instituted against Matlala. The case was withdrawn against him because he had paid some of the arrears and was still waiting for his pension monies.
Mtimunye repeatedly reminded the maintenance officer of the pension payout, but he left it to Matlala to pay the arrears maintenance.
The officer admitted in court that he had not given much attention to Mtimunye's file.
Although Matlala paid some of the arrears maintenance after receiving his pension of R237 000 in 2006, he soon fell into arrears again and steadily withdrew the money so that he ended up with an overdraft.
All of the withdrawals were made at an ATM at the Carousel Sun casino.
The criminal case was reinstated in 2009 against Matlala, but he was given a suspended sentence and the magistrate “wrote off” the arrears of R24 500 without giving any reasons. There is no provision in the Act for such an order.
Hiemstra said there were ample provisions in the Act for the effective enforcement of maintenance orders, but the legal remedies were simply disregarded.
“The failure to take effective and available steps speaks of gross incompetence and dereliction of duties.
“As a result the plaintiff cannot recover the arrears maintenance,” he said.