HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: An open letter to Social Development on Nkitha Jacobs
Dear Department of Social Justice,
Three-year-old Nkitha Jacobs has been without his mother for more than three weeks. For over 21 days, he has not seen his mother nor she him. After several attempts to rectify the situation, all that was issued to the Western Cape Children's Commissioner was, I am sorry to say, a rather half-assed report whereby you reported a dodgy one-sided reflection of the events that took place upon the removal of the child without the mother present.
The report, which I have seen but cannot share for confidentiality reasons, failed to mention the names of those responsible and was completely absent of any mention of the mother, her comments or any reflection or communication made to her after inquiring about the situation. After a lengthy and completely un-objective “essay”, you decided that the case was closed. You may as well have just sent Andiswa Jacobs, the mother in question, a massive banner screaming, "Passing the buck, we’re not interested." Except you can’t do that. Because a mother with a missing child knocking on your door and reaching out to whomever she can for help is not a Jehova’s Witness dishing out cheap pamphlets on your doorstep. Yet, it seems, this is the way you have chosen to treat it.
I don’t know what to do. She doesn’t know what to do. The community does not know what to do anymore.
Perhaps during these times of the pandemic you are saturated with work, stressed, too busy, overworked, consumed by more important and pressing issues. But I am hesitant to believe any of this and jump to these conclusions, especially when it concerns the City of Cape Town and their abrasive disregard for its unhoused and impoverished residents. After all, what is more important than reuniting a child with his mother? I wish I could excuse you with a justifiable reason that vindicates your lack of care in the matter. But I can’t. And frankly, it is not society’s job to take a minute and reflect on your lack of constructive action, it is yours. Have you done this? What have you discovered? Your report is evidence that your introspection and investigation into the matter came from nothing but incompetence and carelessness. Thus, even though it is not my job, let me assist and reflect properly for you.
Imagine that you are Andiswa. Imagine that you resided in the same place since the birth of your child. Imagine that you cared for him and loved him and clothed him and fed him. Imagine he was in excellent shape and at the peak of his health and a doctor verified this. Imagine he was loved and cared for and surrounded by a community who looked out for him and who offered him security and the utmost happiness. They let him bathe in the sunshine and offered him shelter from the storms. Now, imagine that one morning, while you were out getting supplies for your child, he was taken without his shirt on in the winter cold and without explanation. Someone else decided what was best for him. They also decided that he should be taken so far away that it would be impossible for you to see him but they would offer you an hour in his presence. Imagine that as much as you wanted to see him you had to refuse this opportunity because it would break your toddler’s heart knowing he could see you but not come home with you. Imagine if you were a mother who had to sit in a two-hour car ride on the way home thinking about your sad son whom you left behind. Can you imagine that? If not, how can you even imagine doing this to someone else? Another parent? Yet, here you are, doing it anyway, that day and every day since.
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 on 31 May 2021. Picture: Haji Mohamed Dawjee
No child enters the system because of something they themselves have done. No child enters the system without something a parent has done, yet you have taken it upon yourselves to believe a police officer over the parent themselves and reported evidence that the child would be better suited and better protected if separated from their caregiver without reason. No child has the capacity to understand this. And in this specific circumstance, nor does the mother.
To deal with life’s circumstances is hard enough. It is impossible to relate to the challenges both the mother and child have dealt with every day and deal with still. There is no way you can walk a day in their shoes because your high seats of power will not allow you to tread the ground they walk on, except to rush in and exercise that power without control. What’s not hard to relate to, however, is the expectation of love, care and protection the child deserves. This is what the child in question has always received from his mother until you stole it from him. If you were his parent – a role I assume you think you take when you absorb a child into the system – you would not deny this child love. You would not subject them to removal and disposal like a recyclable piece of cardboard.
You cannot wear and tear a heart. Are you listening? Can you listen? Or are you too embarrassed by your own lack of care and presence? I can only hope that you are because perhaps a sense of guilt will shock you into doing the right thing.
As social workers and custodians of social development, you have taken an oath to society to care for them, to listen and to keep all these promises. But every day, Nkitha is away from his mother is another day that these promises are empty. Then again, in your case, you have made no promises at all regarding this matter. Not even empty ones. Aren’t you ashamed?
There is no one better for a child than their own parent. There is no care and consideration more effective and more necessary than a parent's. Sure parents, like Nkitha's mother, dedicates every day to doing these two things and chooses it at every moment. You do not compare. You could, but you don’t.
Not every parent shows up. It’s in these cases that you take on the role of guardianship. But Nkitha’s mother has shown up. She has always shown up. Isn’t it time you did the same?
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.