File picture

Pretoria - The legal representative of the eight parents of the Zimbabwean children who have been held by authorities told the North Gauteng High court on Monday that the Department of Social Development had acted unlawfully in its handling of the children's repatriation as it had failed to identify suitable family members to participate in the process.

"We know, from 12 November 2017 until today, the first respondent has not provided any evidence about who the parents of the children are and efforts they made to find them. They have not identified suitable family members to participate in the repatriation process.

"In fact, they have not conducted any investigation into the children whatsoever," said advocate Simba Chitambo.

The Department of Social Development wants to repatriate the children on March 6.

The children were travelling on November 12 last year, unaccompanied and without documents, from Zimbabwe, to apparently join their parents for Christmas.

Read more: Zimbabwe parents wants Social Development to release children

They have been held by the Department of Social Development for almost four months in Rustenburg without being granted access to their parents.

The parents want the court to stop the repatriation and release the children, aged between two and fourteen-years-old, into their custody.

The Department of Social Development has raised concerns about whether the parents are who they claim to be.

Chitando challenged the argument and said the parents didn't have to prove that they are the parents before bringing an application.

"My lord, the first respondent saw it fit to invite the applicants who they call the 'ostensible parents and alleged mothers' to Rustenburg on the eleventh of December 2017. I do not know what an ostensible parent is, a parent is a parent, ostensible or otherwise. That is my view,"  said Chitando.

Judge Bill Prinsloo, who is presiding over the matter, asked Chitando where the reference was for him saying the first respondent's offices invited the ostensible parents to Rustenburg in December 2017.

Chitando referred to an attendance register from the department. He said seven out of eight names appear on the register.

"My lord, this is important because we know the applicants were in SASSA buildings".

He said his clients had been unfairly treated by the department of social development.

"The first respondent sees it fit for the applicants to go to their offices and participate in the identification of the children and later says they have no place in meetings regarding the children, it defies logic".

Chitando also trashed a report compiled by the Office of the  Family Advocate and said it was compiled in haste.

He said the Office of the Family Advocate spoke to one child and the following day the parents had to prepare replying affidavits and the next thing his clients were accused of non-compliance.

"I find it very unfair....many of them don't speak English, they are poor, they are in Cape Town and told Office of the Family Advocate they wanted an interpreter, legal representation in the meeting".

According to police, the children were smuggled into the country which is what the department of social development is arguing. The driver has told police officers that he was paid R200 per child to transport them to South Africa.

The matter continues.

African News Agency/ANA