Auntie may not be family, but she’s got your back in court
The ‘courtroom auntie’ offers emotional support and explains courtroom procedures to mothers in need
Tania van Heerden is known as “the courtroom aunty” at the Randburg magistrate’s court.
The 48-year-old mom from Parkmore, Johannesburg, spends between one and two full days at the court each week, helping mothers seeking maintenance payments to navigate the court system.
She offers emotional support and explains what processes must be followed in their quest to get the fathers of their children to pay up. She even stands in the queue when they need to feed their babies or take a bathroom break.
And after noticing how some women did not even have money to buy themselves a snack or drink from the vending machine, Van Heerden has begun handing out “aunty hampers”.These include a sandwich, fruit, a cold drink, a magazine, and a scarf. The hamper also contains a menstrual cup which she said would save women money on sanitary pads or tampons.
Each hamper costs Van Heerden R450, and she says she gets donations from her friends but has also spent about R10,000 of her own money on them.
One mother, who did not want to be named, said Van Heerden was a pillar of strength.
“If I don’t have money to travel from my home to court, she always jumps in to assist with the cash for taxi fare,” she said.
Van Heerden assists moms who come to court to apply for maintenance court orders, as well as mothers reporting defaulting dads. She has been helping out since February.
“Mothers are usually alone,” Van Heerden said. “They don’t have the support of family or friends and usually come here not knowing what to expect or how the court process will go.
“On the other hand, fathers usually come with their own private lawyers and at times that can be intimidating to the mothers.”She said her experience showed that most mothers gave up their fight to get financial support from their children’s fathers, because the court system was long, daunting and emotionally draining.
“If they call your name here and you not around, your matter is removed from the roll. You have to start the whole process again to get a new court date,” Van Heerden said.
Those visiting the maintenance court usually spend the entire day there. She said she once saw four mothers share one packet of chips as they were all hungry and some could not afford to buy from the vending machine.Van Heerden started giving out the hampers at the beginning of August, in celebration of women’s month, but said it was something she would like to continue with.
And now a second “courtroom auntie” has stepped up to assist Van Heerden.
Lizzie Khoza, 49, from Cosmos City, said when Van Heerden told her about her project, she loved it and saw that she could also contribute positively to lives of single mothers seeking justice at the court.
“I met Tania at a printing shop in Randburg. She told me about the project and I loved it, so I volunteered immediately.”
The two are now looking for more volunteers so they can offer support at other courts as well.