In a quiet and leafy corner of Lekerwater, sitting beside overpopulated Masiphumelele and Ocean View, there is a blue gate with a sign just behind it that says “Kindness Lives Here”.
This is the Jones Safe House. Opened in 2008, it offers care, support and a “safe place” for women and their children who have suffered both drug and sexual abuse as well as gender related violence.
Mrs Bernadette Jones and her husband Donovan gave up a small but lucrative industrial business when Mrs Jones was approached by the Catholic Church to run the safe house in 2008. The house is now home to 21 people, with 14 children and 7 mothers living there full-time and free of charge.
Most of the mothers in the house are recovering drug addicts who come to the safe house of their own accord. The main incentive is that they want to be free of drugs and abuse and have a real family, something that most of them have previously been denied in the outside world.
Because of their drug addictions, many of those that come to the Jones’s have lost custody of their children and look to Mrs Jones, or Auntie Bernie as most of them call her, to help them clean themselves up, and to get their children back. As Jones herself says, when it comes to reuniting a family, she “will not take no for an answer”.
And this method seems to have served her fairly well. Carla Borchards, 28, lost custody of both her small children due to her drug habits. Pregnant with her third child and still using drugs, Borchards worried for her unborn baby’s health and became increasingly desperate to be with her children again. She came to the Safe House in November 2011, where Mrs Jones took her in “just as (she) was”. “From that day, my life was saved” she says. Jones fought tirelessly to get Borchard’s children back until the courts relented and Borchard’s middle daughter Phoenix came to live with her in the safe house, where her new baby Bree was later born.
Maurentia September, 21, came to the safe house just a few months before she was due to give birth to her first child. September was using an array of different drugs, particularly Tik, and also suffered from a long history of physical and sexual abuse. As a teenager she was gang raped by men from her neighbourhood and was also raped twice by her next door neighbour before she began to suffer physical and mental abuse at the hands of her baby’s father, himself a gang member and drug user.
September eventually left Ocean View and her baby’s father in secret and came to the safe house for help, without even shoes on her feet. September, now free of drugs for nine months, says that the safe house is her “home”. “You will have to give me an eviction letter to make me leave here,” she says. She refers to Jones as her “mother” and says that there is “nothing that this woman can’t do . . . she does everything”.
All the women under Jones’ care have similar feelings as to the work she does, her powers extending far beyond the custody battles in the courtroom. If there are disagreements in the house, Jones acts as mediator; if the women need advice or counselling it is provided by Jones; if any of the women or children are sick, it is Jones who treats them; Jones also takes care of the meticulously-kept records, accounts and so on. Most of the women in the house estimate that she rarely sleeps before 5am and is always up at the latest by 9am.
What is impressive about all this is that Jones has no formal training in any of the work that she undertakes. Everything she learns is self-taught from online research and, perhaps above all else, what she calls a “motherly instinct”.
And what makes this all the more commendable is that, although five of the mothers and their daughters receive living grants from the municipality, most of what the Joneses do is funded entirely from their own pocket. Whilst currently renting the property, one day they hope to have enough money to buy it outright and build cluster homes for the mothers and their children so that they can have their own independent space without having to leave the sense of security that they feel under Jones’ care.
It is quickly apparent then that the Jones Safe House is very much a labour of love, one strongly motivated by the fact that both the Joneses grew up in Ocean View themselves and, having succeeded in life, saw no other option than to give something back. In turn, much of the respect that the women have for the Joneses comes from the awareness that they share a similar background, understand where the women are coming from and even know many of the their families.
Yet for all this, Jones is reluctant to take the praise that is so readily lavished on her by others. “I don’t like the limelight,” she says, “I love what I’m doing and it’s as simple as that.”
If you would like to support the Jones Safe House, please go to www.thejonessafehouse.co.za or call 021 785 6710