The founder of the controversial Al Noor Orphanage in Woodstock made her first appearance in the Cape Town magistrates court on Tuesday, on charges of fraud and corruption. Amani Fonguh Okpara (49), known as ‘Amina Madien’ is accused of using funds donated to the institution and redirecting it to a personal account for her own gain. The case was postponed to 25 June for bail information. She is being held in custody at an undisclosed location.
Madien was arrested by the Hawks at the orphanage’s premises in Melbourne Street on Friday afternoon.
“She was arrested during a sting operation by the Hawks’ Serious Corruption Investigation team together with the Department of Social Development (DSD). At the time of the arrest, there were 35 children in the building none of whom any record existed on the premises. The DSD played a vital role in reuniting the children with their immediate families,” said Hawks spokesperson Capt Philane Nkwalase.
The orphanage is currently under investigation by the Department of Social Development over allegations of sexual and physical abuse of minors. 17 children were removed from the orphanage by social services officials last week and moved to temporary places of safety. The children, boys and girls, are between the ages of 7 and 16.
The arrest came hours after Madien conducted an interview on VOC, in which she was interrogated over the allegations against the centre. Madien denied any knowledge of abuse at the institution, urging those who have laid the charges “to prove it.”
Madien argued that the children were forcefully removed from the orphanage and the way the removal took place was traumatic.
The Department of Social Development has confirmed that orphanage’s registration has been revoked. A department official said because they are now deregistered, they are not allowed to care for children. If they continue to operate, they would be doing so illegally. The children will then be either placed back with their families or in other places of safety.
The Al Noor Orphanage is no stranger to controversy and has been beset by allegations of abuse, drug pedalling and fraud in the past. In 2006, the social development department closed the facility following allegations that poor township children were recruited by the centre, forced to wear Islamic clothing and given Muslim names. In 2006, the Cape Argus reported that the orphanage was involved in an alleged social grants scam, involving the Western Cape Youth Commission.
In 2010, an English donor exposed Madien for doctoring photos showing some of their children at a soccer match. Carl Stevens, a 54-year-old Englishman living in Australia, donated money to Al Noor to give the youngsters an opportunity to watch a World Cup match. However, when asked for photos, Madien stalled for a week, eventually sending him pictures which had been badly photoshopped. Madien then apologised to the donor, saying the money was used for an excursion for the kids.
Members of the public have expressed anger over the latest accusations, with many questioning how the centre was allowed to operate for so long.