Cape Town - Just nine days after 17 children were removed from a controversy-plagued Woodstock orphanage, the City of Cape Town has issued an eviction notice for the Melbourne Road property.
The notice was issued to the management of the Al-Noor Orphanage on Thursday - three years before its lease was due to expire. Staff from the orphanage were given until 5pm on Friday to vacate the premises.
Orphanage facility manager Nkululeko Mboniswa said he understood the land was to be used for social housing.
“Our lease is valid until 2022. This seems like a plot to get the land so it may be used for social housing,” he said.
The city said its Property Management Department would determine the future use of the property in due course.
The eviction notice comes in the wake of allegations of sexual assault of a number of children who were housed at the facility and removed, leading to the Department of Social Development suspending the orphanage’s registration earlier this month.
The department conducted a preliminary investigation into the situation at Al-Noor after being alerted by a child who had lived at the centre.
Orphanage manager Amina Okpara was arrested by the Hawks for fraud and corruption on June 14 - two days after the orphanage was shut down and 17 children removed. She now faces further charges, including that of sexual offences.
It’s alleged Okpara redirected donor funds meant for daily operations of the centre into her personal bank account. She was arrested during a sting operation by the Hawks’ Serious Corruption Investigation team.
At the time of the arrest, there were 35 children in the building for whom no records existed on the premises.
The City of Cape Town confirmed the eviction notice, saying it had received information from the provincial Department of Social Development that the orphanage had been de-registered.
“In light of this, as well as the controversy surrounding the orphanage, the city has terminated the lease agreement. According to the principal lease agreement, the property may only be used for the purpose of developing and operating an orphanage and related facilities,” said spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo.
“The department’s primary responsibility is the safety of the children, so it has suspended the registration of the centre pending the final outcome of our investigations into the matter. When it comes to any allegations of abuse or neglect against children, we cannot afford to take any chances,” Joshua Covenant Chigome, spokesperson for MEC of Social Development Sharna Fernandez, said.
In an attempt to save the embattled premises, Mboniswa had called for an urgent meeting with the mayor, but said it proved to be fruitless after the city said it would be sending security to enforce the eviction notice.
Mboniswa said that by 7.45pm on Friday, no security personnel had entered the premises to enforce the order and staff remained uncertain as to what would happen during the course of the evening.
Mboniswa said while they were in support of the investigation against Okpara, they did not like the manner in which things had been handled by the department. “We will co-operate, however, allegations remain allegations until proven otherwise. Anyone who is guilty of any of those allegations should feel the full might of the law,” he said.
Okpara will appear in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday for a bail application.