Arts | Politics | Economy | Education & Sciences29 Jul 2014
artikelfotoZimbabwe, South Africa
A Zimbabwean refugee camp in a downtown Jo'burg church
Politics, 24 Mar. 2009 - redactie Africaserver Magazine
Some of the few hundred kids who stay overnight (photo: Bob Meijs)

Three weeks ago I visited the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in downtown Johannesburg. Bishop Paul Verryn opened this church a few years ago to accommodate the thousands of Zimbabwean refugees who came to South Africa for work, food, aid and a descent life. During the night the church complex is packed with more than 1800 refugees, while over 1000 others have to sleep on the streets around the building.
 
Each day, still more Zimbabweans find their way to hope. At the same time I visited the church, a huge party was organized for Robert Mugabe's 85th birthday at which thousands and thousands bottles of champagne and whisky found their way to the gready mouthes of the well-to-do in Zimbabwe.
"Today we're expecting another 180 Zimbabwean refugees coming over from bordertown Messina" Methodist bishop Paul Verryn told us. A week later that number had risen to more than 1000. The packed complex of the church in downtown Johannesburg looks like a Red Cross refugee camp somewehere in Africa. People here have hardly any room, any privacy.


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Young families with small babies huddle together in an underground room with no windows. Four square meters for their belongings, and for a stove on which some food is prepared. In another similar room only women are allowed to stay. Here too, no windows, almost no ventilation - the temperature must be around 40 degrees. In yet another room kids flock together in front of a tiny television. Over 175 kids without parents have come to this safe haven in South Africa.

Bishop Paul Verryn and his church are doing an impossible job, taking care of so many Zimbabwean refugees who flee to South Africa. Although MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is now Zimbabwe's prime minister in a government with Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF, the economic situation in their home country has not improved so far.

And what support can Zimbabwean refugees expect from South African national and local government and other institutions?

The national government is closing down refugee camps in other parts of South Africa. Gauteng´s provincial minister of local government condemns what Paul Verryn is doing. However, her words are not followed by any action to bring relief to the refugees. On the other hand, the city of Johannesburg is fully aware of the situation and is seeking alternatives.

And what about support by other churches in South Africa?
Paul Verryn: `The Pentecostal Church offered to provide bible lessons to some hundred refugees. So, then I suggested that if they would take full care (housing, food, other support, etcetera) for these hundred refugees, I would not mind to have them giving bible lessons too. Unfortunately, my suggestion was not granted.´
 
Azim Koning
 
Azim Koning is editor at the Africaserver Magazine.
He is also chairman of the Afrovibes Foundation (click here for the Afrovibes website).

In the column to the right you will find some articles and other news on the situation in and around the church.

LATEST NEWS
After battling in court, Bishop Paul Verryn and the Methodist Church and Gauteng Minister Qedani Mahlangu have agreed on a solution for the approx. 4000 refugees in and around the church. The minister has stated yesterday that the Gauteng government found suitable accommodation to house the displaced refugees. Within two weeks, the refugees will be temporarily accommodated in four camps in and around Johannesburg.
Check the latest news links !!


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Sites for this article:
VPRO - Van Dis in Afrika (2008) - Vluchtelingen uit Zimbabwe
http://www.vpro.nl/programma/vandisinafrika/afleveringen/37684551/

Dion Forster - A documentary on Bishop Paul Verryn and the Methodist Church of SA's role in working against Apartheid
http://www.spirituality.org.za/2008/05/documentary-on-bishop-paul-verryn-and.html

Mail & Guardian - Where Zim's shifting flock comes to rest
http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-12-09-where-zims-shifting-flock-comes-to-rest

Mail & Guardian - 'Special deal on cards for Zim refugees in SA'
http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-03-10-special-deal-on-cards-for-zim-refugees-in-sa

Mail & Guardian - ‘Jo'burg church no place for Zim refugees’
http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-03-13-joburg-church-no-place-for-zim-refugees

Mail & Guardian - Refugees return to raided church amid legal wrangles
http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-02-06-refugees-return-to-raided-church-amid-legal-wrangles

SABCNews - MDC "shell shocked" by Gauteng MEC's attack on Methodist Bishop
http://www.sabcnews.com/portal/site/SABCNews/menuitem.5c4f8fe7ee929f602ea12ea1674daeb9/?vgnextoid=6984a3d3e5400210VgnVCM10000077d4ea9bRCRD&vgnextfmt=default&channelPath=home

Mail & Guardian - Bishop condemns raid on refugees
http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-01-31-bishop-condemns-raid-on-refugees

Mail & Guardian - Zim refugees wait for asylum on Jo'burg streets
http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-03-07-zim-refugees-wait-for-asylum-on-joburg-streets

City of Johannesburg - City plans to deal with refugees
http://www.joburg.org.za/content/view/3591/266/

Reliefweb - Zimbabwe: More refugees crowd into South African church
http://reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/EMAE-7ANR7G?OpenDocument

UMCOR / United Methodist Committee on Relief
http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/

Zimbabwe Times - Refugees to be moved from church
http://www.thezimbabwetimes.com/?p=13740

SABC News - Hope for Methodist Chruch refugees
http://www.sabcnews.com/portal/site/SABCNews/menuitem.5c4f8fe7ee929f602ea12ea1674daeb9/?vgnextoid=7c00367ebb920210VgnVCM10000077d4ea9bRCRD&vgnextfmt=default

Reliefweb - Zimbabwe: SA authorities offer temporary shelter for refugees
http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/KHII-7QF4RB?OpenDocument

Security.co.za - Church refugees to be housed, MEC promises
http://www.security.co.za/fullStory.asp?NewsId=12006

Paul Verryn: Refugee Ministries Centre has come a long way
http://www.refugeeministriescentre.org.za/bishop.htm

Paul Verryn: Refugee Ministries Centre has come a long way
http://www.refugeeministriescentre.org.za/bishop.htm

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