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Born with an extra finger and toe on each hand and foot, baby June* didn’t stand a chance. Deciding that she was possessed, her mother starved and neglected her.
Her twin brother Ned* and older brother Bobby* didn’t fare much better - until Sharon Aurets, a foster mother from Merrivale, intervened.
Now Aurets, who is currently caring for seven children, will appear in the Howick Children’s Court on Friday to defend an application by social workers who want to remove Ned and Bobby and place them with the extended family in Matatiele. But Aurets fears they will be returned to the mother.
Aurets, manager of Bridges of Hope in Merrivale near Howick, first rescued June’s older brother Bobby, then 16 months, in early 2010 after a volunteer community worker alerted her to the abuse.
She found him lying on a filthy bed in a shack, in darkness, screaming. He was covered in boils with a large suppurating ulcer on his hand.
“He was filthy and had a packet tied on as a nappy that was soiled. He was covered in pus and excrement.”
Three older siblings were also removed and put in places of safety by social workers.
The mother then gave birth to twins, June and Ned, in Lidgetton in October 2010.
Aurets said she pleaded with social workers from the social development office in Howick to intervene because of the previous abuse. The Sunday Tribune was shown a letter sent by Aurets to social workers in October 2010 urging them to investigate the well-being of the twins as they were in “grave danger”.
The mother then approached Aurets on December 24, saying she was unable to care for the twins any longer, asking her to intervene. Her one child was already in the care of Aurets.
“I went with her to the shack to take the babies home and was horrified by what I saw. Both were starving. Their skin was wrinkled and hanging. They had severe worm infestation with foot-long roundworms coming out of their noses, mouths and exploding in balls in their nappies.
“Ned weighed 3kg and June less than 2kg - well below the normal weight of a four-month-old.”
June died a few days later; her emaciated body unable to absorb food. Bobby, now four and Ned, nearly two, are healthy and happy and being fostered by the Aurets.
“Their mother told me repeatedly that when the court rules in her favour, she will fetch the kids to live with her so she can receive the foster grants.
“I am not optimistic about the outcome of the court case, but will take the matter on and appeal to the high court if I have to,” she said, conceding there were those in the community who believed black children should not be raised by white people.
Aurets was unable to secure foster grants because she didn’t have the necessary paperwork such as birth certificates and clinic cards.
Ward councillor Desmond Nkuna said Aurets was doing good work in the community, caring for destitute children.
He helped her to get back-payments for the children last year. “I’ve heard that the department (of social development) has taken her to court.
“Although I commended her for her work, she can be over-ambitious. She crosses the line by not reuniting children to their extended families. She is also at loggerheads with social workers. There were problems when I came into office, but I met the department and we now have a good working relationship. Why can’t she?”
Nkuna admitted there were many abused and neglected children in the community.
“There is a lot of unemployment and alcohol abuse with illegal shebeens springing up.”
He said cases of abuse were not taken seriously by police even after a mother left her three children aged between three and seven unattended for days, resulting in the seven-year-old being raped.
“The mother was arrested but released by police who said she had done nothing wrong.”
Department spokesman Vukani Mbele said there had been allegations about the Howick office and a meeting was held on April 30 with foster parents to deal with issues.
“Sharon was at the meeting and didn’t raise any problems, so I am surprised she is raising issues in the media. She can contact us at any time. We have not received any applications from her for adoptions.”
Mbele declined to comment about Bobby and Ned as the matter is before court.
When the Sunday Tribune visited the home of Aurets this week,
we found seven children aged between one and 16 living with her in a modest three-bedroom house. The younger children clamoured for Aurets’s attention, calling her “mama”.
“The children love me and the family we’ve created. I’ve tried to adopt them but have been stalled at every turn.
“I know I can’t keep every child. I have looked after at least 70 children in the last two years and most were placed with extended family who want them,” she said.
She has two care givers during the day, who help with the free crèche she runs on the premises. She has since separated from her husband because of the strain fostering has put on their marriage. She has two sons. The youngest lives with her and helps her run her second-hand clothing store.
“I have given up everything to love and care for these children and have no regrets.”
The community recognises her for the work she does as almost all the children are brought to her by their parents or relatives.
Aurets said she informs social workers when a child is brought to her, completing the necessary forms. The matter then goes to court for a detention order allowing temporary safe care between 21 and 90 days, pending an investigation by social workers.
A decision on the child’s welfare is then made.
“All my children have been with me for more than 90 days, on temporary safe care. I want to adopt them so that they have a sense of permanency, but the department of social development in Howick is in a mess and not willing to help.
“I cannot stop helping the children. They need me.”
* Names changed to protect the children. - Tribune