Joznia Mabelane, who runs the Boikhutsong Child Care creche in Marabastad, says vulnerable children will be left without a place to go if development is allowed on an adjacent property. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
FOR the past 17 years young indigent children have been cared for at a crèche in Marabastad, enjoying some basic playground equipment during break times.

But now the future of the facility is in the balance as the owner of an adjacent property wants to build on the property being used as a playground.

A legal dispute over the crèche has found its way to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria and, after standing down last year, it is finally due to be heard on Friday.

Striving Mind Trading 960, a close corporation owned by Yusuf Hussein, said in papers before court that he had acquired the vacant property, known as erf 347 Asiatic Bazaar, a few years ago and he wanted to build on it.

His problem is that his neighbour, Joznia Mabelane, who runs a crèche from property 348, has been using the vacant stand as the children’s playground. This stand has been empty for the past 17 years and the crèche took it over because its own property was too small for the playground. It even fenced it off, with the crèche, for the safety of the children.

Hussein said after acquiring the land, he had plans to develop it and he already had building plans on hold, and had paid a building contractor R300000 to start.

But, he cannot get access to his property as the crèche is refusing him access, and not even the police would assist.

He is asking the court to order that the crèche may no longer use the property that belongs to him and that they remove their equipment and give him access.

Mabelane, assisted by Lawyers for Human Rights, opposed his application, saying if the order was granted, the 20 or so children who attend the crèche would be destitute.

The crèche is run by the non-profit organisation Boikhutsong Child Care Centre, established in 1998 to provide care for children in Marabastad, she said. The children at the crèche are all under the age of 6 and the offspring of the homeless in the area and those who make a living doing odd jobs.

Mabelane said there was a dire need to take care of these pre-school children during the day so they did not end up on the streets.

Mabelane said she did not mind moving the crèche elsewhere but the City of Tshwane would have to make alternative accommodation in Marabastad available to her.

She said the Social Development MEC should have been joined as a party to the proceedings, as one had to take the circumstances of the children into consideration too.

As the courts are the upper guardians of all children in the country, Mabelane has called on the judge to consider what would be in the best interests of the children attending the crèche now, and all the others in their position in the years to come.

The order her neighbour was seeking would, in effect, mean the crèche had to shut down, she argued in court papers.

She has been trying for years to register the crèche, but it was monitored by social welfare and health inspections had been conducted there, she said.

The fence around the crèche and the playground area had to be erected as she had to adhere to the prescribed safety measures for the children, she said.

The crèche is the only safe place these children knew during the day and it was their home, she said. If it had to close its doors, these children will end up on the streets.

She is supported by the founder of the Biikhutsong Child Care Centre, Josina Mabelane.

“What is going to happen to all these children should we lose. Are we saying the children should go back on the streets, don’t we care about their future?” she asked.

All the hard work done by the centre to create a safe environment for these poor children in an area known for its crime would be “down the drain” if the crèche had to close, she added.

“All I ever did was to care for the poor and create and safe environment,” she said.

Mabelane and her sister established Boikhutsong assist the homeless and destitute of Marabastad since 1998.

“My sister and I used to work at a filling station near Marabastad and whenever we worked night shift we would see the sad life people lived.

“We would see children roaming around while their mothers prostituted themselves in order to make money to feed them, Mabelane said.

Their work took a turn when the City relocated the people from Marabastad to Mamelodi in 2001, leaving the organisation catering for only the little ones of those trying to eke out a living on the streets.

“We took it upon ourselves to create a normal environment for these children because no child should be exposed to such.

"For the past 20 years we have done so very well with these children that we have become a family. They get an education, are taken care of and are well fed.”

She claimed the city council had assured them they could stay on the land, although they do not have papers to prove it.

They were shocked to discover that the city told the province the land was vacant and sold it.

“Should we loose this case, it means these children will be back on the streets; and we all know how dangerous Marabastad is.”

She too said she would not mind moving but someone had to help them with a site.