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A furious row has erupted between Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and the Justice Department over the government’s refusal to provide information on “deadbeat” dads who don’t pay maintenance for their children.
Both sides have claimed responsibility for the Western Cape’s maintenance defaulter campaign which ultimately names and shames defaulters.
Earlier this year, the provincial government locked horns with the department over the drunk-driving name-and-shame campaign.
Zille brought up the issue during last week’s heated debate on the women in the province, accusing the ANC of undermining the provincial government’s work by blocking successful provincial initiatives.
But the Justice Department, which has a statutory duty to deal with child maintenance, said that as far back as 2005 it launched an initiative – called Operation Isondlo – to improve South Africa’s maintenance system and bring maintenance defaulters to book.
Last week, the premier told the legislature that when the DA came into office it realised single women often struggled to manage when fathers refused to pay maintenance.
“It is a very, very serious problem for many thousands of women,” said Zille. A campaign was launched with the police and the Department of Justice to track down defaulters, which had some “fantastic successes”.
“In a two-week period we found 71 defaulters resulting in 59 arrests. We traced 210 women who had not collected maintenance money that was owed to them, some for many years.”
But after the fortnight, the national government decided not to give the province any further lists of defaulters or beneficiaries, saying it was going to continue the project nationally.
Zille said: “What has happened since then? Precisely nothing… And that is a complete disgrace.”
Western Cape Head of Justice Hishaam Mohamed said the Justice Department and the police had been running the project since 2005.
Mohamed declined to comment on Zille’s remarks in the legislature except to say that the issue should not be politicised as it involved minor children.
Mohamed refuted Zille’s claims that “nothing” had been happening. A joint task team of police and justice officials met weekly to plan search operations.
In the past fortnight, justice officials and a team of 600 police members had swooped on unsuspecting defaulters as part of the Women’s Month campaign.
“In the year from June last year up until July we’ve had 295 new warrants of arrest while 454 warrants were successfully executed against alleged maintenance defaulters.”
Of those, 25 matters were struck off the roll, seven defaulters were released on bail, 99 others were released on a warning, 18 remained in custody and 22 matters had been converted into inquiries.
And at the end of last month, the department handed over cheques to the value of R28 000 to maintenance beneficiaries in Mitchells Plain.
“Any local government, provincial government department or civil society is welcome to join us in our campaign to ensure defaulters are brought to book,” said Mohamed. “We’ve been tracing people since 2005 and continue to do so. We have been most successful in 2011 up until now.”