Brownies & Downies, a coffee shop in Cape Town staffed by people with Down syndrome, may have to close its doors after home affairs banned its owner from SA.
Wendy Schultz, a Dutch social worker, started the restaurant-cum-social benefit organisation in Long Street more than two years ago and has since then been locked in a struggle with the department to get her visa renewed.
She left for the Netherlands in January to marry her South African fiancé, Wade, after being told she could not get married in SA due to the struggle to get her papers filed with the department.
Store manager Tauriq Hendricks said Schultz had been told that because she left SA with an expired visa, she would be banned from the country for five years.
Her husband returned alone to SA, and Hendricks said the future of six able-bodied Brownies & Downies staff and 25 students with disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to foetal alcohol syndrome now hung in the balance.
A post on the coffee shop’s Facebook page quoted Schultz explaining what had happened.
“I have battled in an appeals process spanning close on two years to sort out my paperwork with the Department of Home Affairs, but seem to hit one snag after the other,” she wrote.
“Apart from wishing to be reunited with my husband, Brownies & Downies needs me back in South Africa to continue the work that we have started.
“Essentially, Brownies & Downies runs a training programme where young people with special needs are taught culinary skills so that they are empowered, can have a sense of purpose, and can contribute meaningfully to society.”
Since opening Brownies & Downies, the post said, Schultz had been inundated with calls from special needs schools and families with special needs children. They all wanted to start similar initiatives in other parts of SA because of the success achieved in Cape Town.
“The impending closure of Brownies & Downies will not only impact the many young people who are benefiting from the programme, but trainers and other support staff face the prospect of losing their jobs too,” said the post.
The training programme, which sees young people with special needs taking orders and serving customers, has already integrated 12 people with intellectual disabilities in work environments. Another seven are awaiting Schultz’s return so they can be placed.
Hendricks claimed home affairs set up unnecessary bureaucratic barriers when it came to Schultz’s case.
“We even had inspections from home affairs, which is almost unheard of. I’ve been in the restaurant industry for a long time and home affairs never does any inspections on foreign nationals. Why on Wendy?” he said.
“It felt like a bit of victimisation, the way they came in. They specifically knew what they were looking for and they were very arrogant about the situation.
“The point of this is, Wendy is Brownies & Downies. This is her dream. She came to South Africa three years ago on a social work experiment and saw a need for something like Brownies & Downies.
“She made sure that she did everything by the book, but by doing everything by the book she’s probably shot herself in the foot.”
Home affairs did not respond to questions from TimesLIVE.