Moms up in arms

17 May 2019 | Justice

Throngs of desperate mothers claim they are being turned away daily from the Rehoboth Maintenance Court, despite the lofty service delivery goals set by the justice ministry under minister Sacky Shanghala.

The women also claim that the lax conduct of maintenance court officials has resulted in child support not being paid on time, or often not at all.

A Namibian Sun investigation found that mothers waited until just before 09:40 on Tuesday to be assisted by chief legal clerk Jennifer Steyn.

Some of the women told Namibian Sun they were returning for the third time, because they had not been previously assisted. Steyn told Namibian Sun she opens the office daily at 09:00 and closes it at 13:00. However, most of the mothers claimed she already leaves the office at 12:00.

Steyn also said she only assists 15 people per day.

One of the mothers, Angela de Klerk, claims Steyn told her that the court does not have the time to look for her father's child.

“But she sends the police every month to come and pick up my husband, who also had a child before our marriage; but my child's father is not treated the same way,” she said.

De Klerk also claimed that Steyn told her they are now very strict and issue warrants of arrests for fathers who are over

N$5 000 in default with maintenance payments.

“But my child's father is in arrears of N$10 800. When I asked her why he is not arrested, she said they cannot find him. So the police can go out of their way to find my husband, but they cannot find a man who works here in Rehoboth at a barbershop near the maintenance court?” De Klerk asked.

Anna de Koe, who is a single mother, said her child's father is also in arrears with more than N$5 000 and he still walks around with no care in the world.

“There are people who I know personally who owe more than N$9 000 in child support, but they walk around, and Steyn cannot explain why they are not arrested,” she said.

De Koe also said Steyn had told her that the court does not have time to look for absent fathers.

“I had to call the sheriff who is responsible for the town where my child's father is living, myself,” she said.

De Koe told Namibian Sun she went to the maintenance court last Tuesday and was told that Steyn was not in, as she was attending to official matters at the town council.

Last Thursday she went to the maintenance court again and was informed by the chief of administration, Jakobus Markus, that Steyn was not in.

“But one of the ladies stood in front of the door and saw that Steyn had locked herself in the office. We then demanded from Markus to come and call her to open the door. He then came and saw her and suddenly told us that she is not well and must go home,” said De Koe.

She added that Steyn allegedly told the women: “I will not help people now. You can go and report me. Call the ombudsman.”

Markus, who spoke on behalf of Steyn, confirmed that she had a personal problem last week.

He denied that she comes late on most days and insisted she is a diligent worker.

When asked to explain why people were only assisted at 09:40 on Tuesday, he said Steyn had several meetings with the prosecutor and other staff in their respective offices.

“The reason we only open the office for the public at 09:00 is because she must prepare charge sheets and court documents in the hour before that. Normally, if a complainant comes to see her then a court date is communicated to them on the same date,” Markus said.

He added the challenge remains that they have no control over summonses.

“But we do call the sheriffs of different towns to confirm with them and then we inform the complainants,” Markus said.

He also said he is not aware that Steyn closes the office at 13:00 every day.

“I have never had a complaint of this nature. My office is just down the way and I can see when she comes in and when she leaves; so I am not aware that she leaves early or comes late,” he said.

Office of the Judiciary spokesperson Ockert Jansen explained that maintenance courts have to schedule their services, depending on which days these services are more in demand.

He explained that they cannot respond to the allegations that Steyn arrives late at the office carrying shopping bags.

“That can probably be hearsay, as we cannot establish that. The issue reported about Thursday was certainly an isolated matter,” he said. Jansen, however, added that their staff are often overcommitted at times, because of the shortage of employees.

According to him Steyn herself has a lot on her plate and must deal with estate claims, liquor licences, the solemnising of marriages, as well as home affairs and reconciliation matters.

Namibian Sun reported in 2018 that nearly half of all active maintenance cases in Namibia's 33 magistrate courts are cases where parents, mostly fathers, have failed to honour court ordered child support payments.

A summary provided by the Office of the Judiciary to Namibian Sun showed that out of 31 104 active maintenance cases before 33 Namibian courts, 15 097 are default cases. Statistics reported show that of the 599 active maintenance cases in Rehoboth alone, 308 involve defaulters.

In Windhoek, 8 290 default cases are before the maintenance court out of a total of 11 479 active cases.

The Walvis Bay Magistrate's Court is dealing with 1 895 default cases out of a total of 2 432 active cases.

In Rundu, of the 1 954 cases,

1 409 involve maintenance defaulters.


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