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Abused mom decries ‘deplorable conditions’ of a Mitchells Plain shelter

Zulpha Morris of Heaven’s Shelter House said they began charging people after falling on hard times. Picture: Tracey Adams/ African News Agency/ANA

Zulpha Morris of Heaven’s Shelter House said they began charging people after falling on hard times. Picture: Tracey Adams/ African News Agency/ANA

Published May 1, 2022


A Mitchells Plain mother of two who fled from her abusive partner said she was further tormented when a shelter where she sought refuge charged her R500 for a place without electricity or guaranteed safety.

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The 26-year-old woman alleges that the owner of Heaven’s Shelter House in Woodlands told her to take out a loan so she and her children could stay there.

She said she was among a group of 100 women and children, some of whom were forced to sleep on the floor in dark corridors.

The woman who chose to remain anonymous out of fear of being victimised said she approached the shelter after the couple who she was living with informed her that they would be moving.

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“I’ve been moving around with my daughters for the past three months after I made the decision to leave my partner who abused me. He supported us financially, so that kept me there but I made the decision (to leave) for the sake of my daughters,” she said.

The woman said she reached out to Zulpha Morris, who runs the shelter.

“She said I would need to pay R500 to stay. She said to take a loan and repay it with my child’s grant because I told her I did not have money. I was desperate and wanted to make sure my daughters had a place to sleep, so I agreed.”

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The mother said the R500 did not cover food or a bed to sleep in.

“There were around 100 women in the hall-like setup. Some slept on the floor with their children. When it became dark we were told that there’s no electricity and we had to use torches for light.

“This scared me, especially for my children’s safety, and I started calling around again to get another place to stay.”

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The woman left and decided to speak out to warn other desperate mothers.

Morris invited Weekend Argus to the shelter, which was dark, dingy and dilapidated. She admitted that they were struggling financially.

“We get one unit for R100’s electricity, so we decided to use gas instead.” They do not offer meals.

Morris said she explained this to the woman who was supposed to stay in a separate room next to the main house. The shelter is run from a large building which has Wendy houses on the property.

“I was lenient. She could pay at the end of the month, that’s how we work. We help you but you need to help yourself. People end up not looking for jobs if everything is spoon-fed to them.”

Morris added that she had been operating the shelter since 1998 and they had fallen on hard times.

“I don’t see this as an allegation because it’s the truth. I started this shelter because it was a calling from God. The shelter does not receive any funding. (This) is a passion and calling.

“Maybe this could even help us get exposure to get help and donations.”

Department of Social Development spokesperson Esther Lewis said while the department funded 26 shelters in the province, none of them were in Mitchells Plain.

She added that the department was not mandated to ensure shelters met minimum standards.

“Shelters funded by the department receive a unit cost per bed, that assists with the cost to provide safe accommodation, meals, and basic necessities for victims; therefore clients should not be charged a fee to access services at funded shelters,” she said.

She said R67.6 million had been budgeted to support shelters during the current financial year.

Lewis said those in need of shelters could approach the department’s offices for an assessment and referral by social workers. NPOs, the police, the courts or the Department of Health were also empowered to make referrals.

The waiting period on such referrals is unclear.

Patrick Solomons from Molo Songololo said the shelter’s owner should have been completely honest with the mother. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency/ANA

Children’s rights organisation Molo Songololo director Patrick Solomons urged the young mother to lay a complaint with the department.

“There are some shelters who provide accommodation but charge a basic living fee. This is according to their protocols. They should have made it very clear with this woman, as to what is expected and what will be given,” he said.

“It is not right to demand money from people who do not have it, but maybe this is also a silver lining for this shelter as well.

“This way they can reach out to the community to let them know what they need, because you know many times you try to sweep your shortcomings under the carpet