We condemn what Verryn is doing – Mahlangu
Note on articles: The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, Joe Slovo residents and residents of Symphony Way were accomodated by the Central Methodist Church when we travelled up to Joburg for Joe Slovo’s Constitutional Court case last year. The church is an important resource for poor people everywhere including poor South Africans, foreign nationals and all other vulnerable peoples.
14 March 2009, 14:28
By Sheree Bega
Central Methodist Church Bishop Paul Verryn has decried as “absurd” a
statement by Gauteng’s local government MEC that he is endangering the
lives of thousands of Zimbabwean refugees seeking sanctuary at his
“I don’t think that in the midst of this gigantic crisis, where in
fact people have got to work together, that we can point fingers and
try to abdicate responsibility. I think it’s an absurdity,” Verryn
told the Saturday Star.
He was reacting to a comment by Local Government MEC Qedani Dorothy
Mahlangu on Friday that Zimbabwean refugees should no longer be
permitted to stay in the inner-city church.
“I think Methodist Bishop Paul Verryn is exposing them to more
danger,” said Mahlangu. “We’re not condoning what he’s doing. We
condemn it… Any church, any community hall is not meant to be
inhabited by people.”
Her department called for a “social partnership” in addressing the
humanitarian crisis and is appealing to NGOs and fellow churches to
help relieve the pressure on the church’s infrastructure and ablution
Streams of refugees have been flocking to the church and its surrounds
following the recent death in a car crash of the wife of Movement for
Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the closure of the
refugee reception camp in Musina. Verryn said an estimated 2 000
people are sleeping inside the church while more than 2 000 are
sleeping on streets outside.
Mahlangu said the church and the City of Johannesburg were in
agreement about finding temporary accommodation for the refugees.
But the issue is “nuanced”, said Verryn. “We’re not sitting with 2 000
boxes in this place, which ultimately will be moved to another box.
Some of these people are so vulnerable and fractured, it’s very
alarming. We have mothers in our building who have crossed the Limpopo
River, where groups of criminals have taken their babies off their
backs and thrown them into the river. The children drown.
“Rape was part of breakfast at the camp in Musina. I don’t know
whether people have any conception of what this does to the human
spirit. We’re not sitting over here with people necessarily that are
robust or able to stand and mediate and drift into the atmosphere and
“We can interpret this as a curse and a nuisance, but in essence we’re
dealing with humanity. We’re not dealing with imbeciles and filth
mongers. The refugees are not criminals, but it suits South Africans
to think that,” he said.
On Friday, Mahlangu sought to deflect blame from the government. “We
also have to understand that this is neither the city’s problem nor
the problem of the provincial government, but it is a countrywide
problem and somewhat complicated,” she said.
Alpha Zhou, principal of the church’s Albert Street School for refugee
children, said the refugees were anxious about being relocated to
“Remember what happened to the (xenophobia) camps – the government
just destroyed the camps and left people stranded. Such a thing can
happen again to us.”
* This article was originally published on page 5 of The Star on
March 14, 2009
Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change in South Africa
is “shell-shocked” at Gauteng local government MEC Dorothy Mahlangu’s
verbal attack on Central Methodist Church Bishop Paul Verryn.
“For Mahlangu to accuse a man of God, Bishop Paul Verryn of exposing
Zimbabweans to danger when he is in actually providing us shelter is
very regrettable,” said MDC spokesman Sibanengi Dube.
“At least thousands of our people have somewhere to lay their heads
where no rain can soak. We now have a roof over our heads, isn’t
[that] better than sleeping in the streets?” he asked.
On Friday, Mahlangu said that Zimbabwean refugees should not be
allowed to stay at Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church and that
she thought Bishop Paul Verryn was exposing them to more danger.
“I don’t think its helpful for the Bishop to continue to do what he’s
doing under the guise that he’s simply helping vulnerable people,”
“We are not condoning what he is doing. We condemn it,” she said.
Verryn responded by saying Mahlangu’s comments were out of place.
“It is most unfortunate at this time for us to enter a mudslinging
match. There’s plenty of mud lying around,” said Verryn.
“[Mahlangu] hasn’t had the decency to pick up the phone and call me.”
Dube said: “We appeal to South Africa’s senior government officials to
desist from the habit of making inflammatory statements which could
trigger a second round of xenophobic attacks.
“We expected the provincial government which Mahlangu is serving to
complement and not complicate the efforts being made by Verryn,” Dube
“Mahlangu should know that when ANC cadres fled to Zimbabwe under the
heavy pursuit of apartheid operatives, we did not close our doors in
front of them, but took them in our houses. We don’t expect a senior
ANC member of Mahlangu’s stature to exhibit clear insensitivity to the
plight of Zimbabweans.” – Sapa