A 12-year-old girl who ran away from home on Friday evening, apparently because she did not feel safe at home, ended up accidentally being dropped off by police at a place that was potentially even more dangerous, just hours later.
Johannesburg is facing a serious shortage of centres for vulnerable women and children since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and crime-ridden areas such as Florida and Bosmont have been especially affected. This has led to buildings being hijacked, as in the case of 14 Moepel Street in Bosmont, operating under the guise of being a women’s shelter.
The building was briefly named Village 2.0 Women’s Shelter, until it was shut down in August, when the Department of Social Development (DSD) confirmed that they were operating the shelter illegally.
The shelter was apparently reopened since then.
The girl was picked up by community policing forum officials on the street last Friday, and at midnight she was taken to Village 2.0, as the officers were apparently unaware of their legal status. According to information, she spent four days in the hijacked building with several grown men and women.
One of the men was also apparently tasked with looking after her.
In videos provided to The Citizen, the girl can be seen walking with a 36-year old man known as Jerome, who has since admitted to being a squatter in the building, after having moved in about a month ago.
Child exposed to drug use
Chairperson of the Bosmont Community Policing Forum (BCPF) Gus Malgas says he tried to warn BCPF members not to take the girl to the bogus shelter, but Florida SAPS officials dropped her off there anyway.
The girl was allegedly exposed to open drug use while she was there.
“The police was there and they accepted the girl there, but then she became hysterical. I don’t know what happened or what was wrong with her. On Sunday, she was getting worse and she witnessed how these people were taking drugs and doing funny things there, and she just wanted to get out,” explains Malgas.
On Tuesday, Sophiatown police were alerted of the situation and according to officers who spoke to The Citizen, Florida Police Station was called to deal with the case, and the girl has since been moved to a place of safety.
“Sophiatown police got involved. They took the girl away yesterday and it became a very ugly thing, and of course Francis (the brains behind the centre/squatting) overdosed. To cut a long story short, because I am part of the police, the station commander called to ask me if I have proof that the place was closed down,” says Malgas.
The Citizen has seen messages in which officers attempted to find proof that the shelter had previously been shut down from a resident.
The DSD could not be reached for comment, after numerous attempts at the time of publishing.
NPO scam masterminds?
Members of the Bosmont Methodist Church of Southern Africa, which owns the building, say the church was scammed into giving shelter founder Francis van Heerden a lease.
Now the church is desperate to get rid of the remaining occupants in the building, which include van Heerden, her fiance Bryan Maiden, and at least three other men and a woman.
Van Heerden apparently approached the church under false pretenses and began bringing women from as far as Krugersdorp, and children as young children 6 months old, to live at the centre, despite not being registered with the Department of Social Development (DSD).
Since the shelter was shut down, community and church members say the place has become a ‘drug den’ under van Heerden and her fiance Byron Maiden, who have been squatting at the building, refusing to vacate, and are allegedly involved in illegal activity.
A new NPO, Hero Life has since been registered, with a Facebook page that places the new NPO at the same address as Village 2.0. Maiden denies he and van Heerden have opened a new NPO since being shut down in August.
Maiden has refused to comment any further on the issue, save for expressing his concern for van Heerden who has apparently taken a drug overdose and was admitted to Helen Joseph Hospital on Tuesday. This incident apparently happened after police took the little girl from her care.
Deleted posts from the Hero Life Facebook page show van Heerden attempting to raise donations ostensibly to help the little girl.
Another resident, Jason Behrens and his partner Cheree Briceland, allege that the church asked them to stay in the building to keep an eye on any illegal activities they see and to report them. A church leader who spoke to The Citizen, however, denies this and insists that the couple are also squatting and refusing to leave.
The bogus shelter appears to have caused in-fighting in the church as well, as some members of the church leadership are being blamed for allowing van Heerden and Maiden to scam them.
The Citizen was asked not to mention any names of the church members, and the church wants to distance itself from the events unfolding in its own building.
“The lady that came here was brought in by a friend of theirs who is a member of the church. But we the leadership of the church did not know about it, she did it undercover,” says one of the church leaders.
“The result of that is now it’s a drug den. They are doing drugs and they are keeping young girls. Yesterday we removed a 12-year-old girl from this place. As for the lady, I don’t know if it’s the way she manipulates people, but she took an overdose, so we don’t know where she is.”
She says when DSD shut down the shelter, officials offered van Heerden, who swore in August that she’s been ‘clean’ for a year, a place to stay but she refused.
“The law is that is that you can’t evict someone if they don’t have alternative accommodation. She is refusing the alternative accommodation. She has to be out. She is living there illegally.
“They are doing everything illegally on our premises. Its a bad name for the church.”