Social workers in the danger zoneComment on this story
Cape Town -
A Western Cape social worker had her life threatened by a crowd of angry residents, some armed, while picking up children for a court case.
Mellitta Davids, 37, who works for the Department of Social Development, told the Cape Argus she was in Manenberg earlier this month while assisting a colleague when the group, some carrying iron rods and sticks, demanded she leave the area immediately.
Davids had gone to collect two of three siblings involved in a foster care case after they had been removed from their home due to a history of neglect.
Davids said she was fearful going into the area: “Anything can happen with the gangsters there and I told my colleague I have a feeling something bad is going to happen.”
After arriving at the house, Davids remained in the car while her male colleague went to collect the two youngsters. But as she waited for the children, a male resident approached.
“He came to my side and was swearing at us, demanding to know what we were doing in his area and told us we don’t belong there and to get out. He kept fiddling in his back pocket and I didn’t know if it was a gun,” said Davids.
Suddenly, she said a group of residents, who appeared to have been mobilised by one man, started running towards the vehicle.
“My colleague came back to the car and told me to drive, but at that time I just couldn’t move, it’s like everything inside me just switched off. Only the third time when he shouted at me to ‘just drive’ did I go,” she said.
Left traumatised by the incident, Davids was sent home after she broke down in tears at her work.
She would like to see more safety measures implemented to protect social workers on duty: “Our caseloads are crazy and even when your life is put at risk you don’t want to stay out because of your workload.”
She said these incidents were common – last Monday, another of her colleagues was stabbed in his hand after five men attacked him outside Gugulethu police station.
Department spokeswoman Melany Kuhn acknowledged that social workers often had to enter “hostile” communities.
“Social workers are often threatened by angry residents, especially when it involves the removal of children from their homes. In other cases, they face the wrath of gangsters and criminals when collecting children who have been victims of crime to testify in court,” she said.
While they relied heavily on SAPS for protection, she said their assistance was not always “forthcoming” and Social Development MEC Albert Fritz has planned to liaise with the provincial police commissioner to request better co-operation in this regard.