HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: How W Cape authorities are failing 3-year-old Nkitha Jacobs
Last week on Tramway Road in Sea Point, close to where we live, I noticed police cars painting over a sign that was on the road. The big, white letters on the worn-out tarmac read: “Help needed. My son was kidnapped here on Monday. It’s day 7. He needs medication. We need help. The police cannot help.”
Andiswa Jacobs was handed a fine of R1,500, her son still missing, the 5 litre cans of white paint being confiscated by the same officers who offered no assistance weeks before when one of the sergeants appeared with a social worker, who didn’t introduce himself, to remove her son Nkitha in her absence while he was still being dressed. They took him in the winter cold with only his bottoms on. His chest bare.
“I left my son with Rasta (a friend) and other adults on the morning of May 31st 2021 while I went to buy nappies and Pectrolyte for his as he had a runny stomach,” Jacobs told us in a statement that we typed up and sent to Christina Nomdu, Western Cape Commissioner of Children, after making contact with her just a few days after Nkitha went missing.
Jacobs told me that the three-year-old boy was being dressed by his other caregivers when a police officer by the name of Sergeant Bali from the Sea Point SAPS arrived with a second unmarked vehicle and an unknown man who jumped out. He didn’t introduce himself at the time and produced no paperwork or identification. There was no investigation, court order or any other official notice or explanation given as to why the child was taken.
“At the time, my friend Rasta was dressing Nkitha after his morning bath. Sergeant Bali called Rasta outside the tent and demanded to know where Nkitha’s parents were. Rasta explained that the mother was at the shops and the father not there,” Jacobs says.
“The man in the second car – who has subsequently been identified to me as social worker Zola Ngesi – approached the tent and announced his intention to take Nkitha away. Rasta begged him to wait for me, the mother, to return but was ignored. Sergeant Bali restrained Rasta while Nkitha was taken and put in Ngesi’s car,” she continues while distraught.
Andiswa Jacobs with the sign she painted on Tramway Road in Sea Point after her three-year-old son was removed by police and a social worker in her absence. Picture: Haji Mohamed Dawjee
We’ve lived close-by to the area for a couple of years. Andiswa, Rasta, Nkitha and the rest of their community are well known to us. We have a warm relationship and they are lovely neighbours.
There is no rule in South Africa that says a child needs four walls and a dining room table to be able to stay with his mother. Of course, it would be lovely if all children in the world had these things. But the Children’s Act clearly states that all a child needs is a safe place, a parent or parents or responsible care-givers in certain conditions who have been granted the right to care for them and unconditional love - All the things that are visibly provided to Nkitha on a daily basis.
Jacobs is well versed in the Constitution and the Child Care Act as well as her rights as a mother to her little boy.
“I have previously dealt with social worker Elma Etsebeth, who is based at ACVV Cape Town,” she tells me.
She says the social worker mentioned above understood her situation and in May 2018, Jacobs was provided with an official letter that addressed law enforcement. “It stated that my child should not be removed,” she says.
Jacobs was accused of using her child as a pawn at traffic lights in the area to beg for money. She states that this is absolutely untrue. I have to second this. The only place outside of her residence that I have ever seen her, or her son – if not happily playing on his scooter or walking around with his Paw Patrol backpack - is at the local Spar or Woolworths just across the road. As someone who basically only lives her life in Sea Point, I have never seen them begging at a traffic light. Not whilst living close by to them and not in all my accumulative years of living in the area.
More than this, Jacobs tells me that just recently the district surgeon in Wynberg acknowledged that her son was well taken care of and in excellent health. He weighs what he is supposed to weigh. He is clean. He is warm. He is cared for.
She recalls her horror on her return from the shops to learn that her son had been taken without her consent or knowledge.
“Nkitha was very distressed and started screaming and banging on the windows of the car. At the time he was naked from the waist down as he was still busy being dressed.” She says neither Sergeant Bali nor the social worker who has been identified as Ngesi, “…ascertained who Nkitha’s mother was before taking him. They did not produce any paperwork to explain why he was being removed and did not provide any verbal reasons,” she continues.
Jacobs tells me that the whole situation doesn’t make sense. She spends her time in tears, traumatised at the thought of her son sitting lonely somewhere in Atlantis. Atlantis? If any child is removed, legally, they have to reside in close proximity to the mother and preferably in the same district. Atlantis is almost an hour away from Sea Point. When Jacobs enquired as to why he was taken so far away, again, she received no answer.
On 31 May, as soon as she was told her son had been taken away, Jacobs spent the entire day on the phone to the local SAPS - the same station where the officers worked. Jacobs says they provided no help.
The following Wednesday she waited at the court until 11 am hoping to sort the situation out and get her son back. She didn’t get any help. “I then walked to Ngesi’s office at 61 Caledon Street. I was eventually told it was not necessary to go to court,” she wrote in her statement to the commissioner. When she arrived at Ngesi’s office, he said to her: “If you are not afraid, then I could drive you to Atlantis”.
Jacobs says she found this statement quite disturbing. “Was he suggesting that I should be afraid of him?” she asks rhetorically.
She understandably rejected the chance to see her son for half an hour, “as I knew it would be too traumatising for Nkitha, who would think that I had come to pick him up,” she says. Ten days later, Jacobs said Ngesi asked her to bring medication and clothing from the boy. “It is now Wednesday (the 9th of June) and I have heard nothing further from social services.”
My partner and I got hold of the Western Cape government soon after 31 May, they issued me with a case number over email, but I have heard nothing further after following up. A week later, we sent Jacobs’ statement to the Children’s Commissioner. I followed up a couple of days later after Jacobs told me that they had not contacted her and was told that they would only be in communication with the mother.
On Sunday 13 June, I stopped to speak to Jacobs again. She says she still had not heard from social services or the commissioner. I gave her Christina Nomdu's number and said she could contact her directly.
Today, it is exactly three weeks since Jacobs has seen the young boy or had any contact with him. She spends her time writing out placards in colourful chalk and signposting them on streetlamps. Since her cry for help has been rubbed out by officers who refused to help and fined her instead, the placards have become floppy and worn from the Cape Town rain and ocean mist.
I can only imagine that her heart feels the same, as does that of her lonely, confused 3-year-old son.
Editor's Note: As this column was being published, a social worker from the office of the Children’s Commissioner called and spoke to Andiswa Jacobs. She has been informed that they are investigating the situation.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.