A phone call to mom could crush granny’s custody bid
Murdered three-year-old’s grandmother stood to gain child custody, but she may have ruined her chances – and worse
As Baby Daniel’s mother, Maryke Cloete*, waits to hears if she will be released on bail pending her sentencing for child abuse and neglect, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has been called upon to protect her surviving children.
Cloete’s mother – the baby’s grandmother – had approached the family court to gain custody of two of the children, but an anti-child abuse organisation claims the woman is not fit to take them into her care. This after it was revealed she could be facing criminal charges of obstruction of justice.
Three-year-old Daniel’s corpse was found by paramedics at his Naturena home in June 2016, most of his body covered in burns he sustained in boiling bathwater.
Last month, Cloete and her boyfriend, Tim Naidoo*, were convicted for their roles in the death of the three-year-old at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
Naidoo was convicted on charges of child abuse and murder, as judge Collin Matshitse sided with a state forensic pathologist who believed Naidoo was likely to have held the child under the boiling bathwater as the final act in a series of abuse incidents.
Meanwhile, Cloete was found guilty on two counts of abuse and neglect for turning a blind eye to the ongoing attacks.
While she was on bail during the trial, the Johannesburg Family Court ordered that two of her children be placed in a children’s home for their protection. Her oldest child was placed in his paternal uncle’s custody.
Cloete’s mother has approached the courts to grant her custody of the two younger children, with a hearing set down for the middle of January.
However, during Cloete’s bail application at the high court on Thursday, it was revealed the grandmother had allegedly acted as a medium for the young mother to contact her children on the phone, breaking the strict ruling by the family court that she not be allowed contact with her children.
Investigating officer Stephen Joubert had written an affidavit claiming Cloete had repeatedly broken her bail conditions.
Cloete had failed to inform him she’d changed both her address and place of employment, directly flouting the restrictions initially set by the court. He said Cloete had also travelled to Port Elizabeth without his consent, despite being barred from leaving Gauteng without receiving express permission. He also revealed Cloete’s mother had taken the children out for a day visit in mid-December, and had made a video call during which Cloete was able to speak with them both. Because of this, he said he was planning to open a case of obstruction of justice against them both. While Cloete’s defence advocate, Ruan Hollamby, has denied the video call and claimed his client did reveal her trip to Port Elizabeth to the investigating officer, judge Matshitse will reveal if he was convinced by these arguments on Friday, with judgment in the application set down for Friday afternoon.
Luke Lamprecht, the advocacy manager for Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA), has said even before the hearing of the grandmother’s upcoming criminal charges, he had already approached the SAHRC to monitor the upcoming custody battle, as he did not believe it was in the children’s best interest to be placed with their grandmother and her boyfriend.
He said while the concept of family preservation was noble, there were many instances where it was no longer possible. He said many abusers themselves came from abusive families, and the idea of the “benign grandmother” needed to be more closely examined.
“When people choose to adopt, they are put through rigorous tests, psychological and medical. But this doesn’t apply when it comes to extended family such as grandparents,” said Lamprecht.
He said that WMACA was hoping to use the Baby Daniel case to ensure children were recognised as a “designated group”, such as women, certain race groups and LGBTQ people, by the SAHRC. This would mean they could be more easily represented by outside entities in such situations.
Regarding the grandmother’s possible criminal charges, Lamprecht said he believed that would bolster their call for the SAHRC to monitor Baby Daniel’s siblings’ case.
While the grandmother was approached for comment at the court proceedings on Thursday, she declined to speak.
* Not their real names. Their real identities are being withheld to protect the identities of the surviving children.