January 25, 2010


Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 10:30 am

This article appeared in The Star 2006, unfortunately, very little has changed on the way the media and the authorities have reported the plight of refugees, the poor and the working class in inner city Johannesburg. Are they trying to clean up the city of the poor ready for 2010 FIFA football World Cup?

Hassen 25.1.2010. I am no longer employed by the NGO Coalition.

The article “Place of worship now a den of inequity” (The Star, June 8 ) by Solly Maphumulo, with a picture of a once “posh church”, is hatchet job that should not be allowed to pass off as quality journalism. It is motivated by xenophobia.

“The church, in the heart of Johannesburg, is now home to 700 refugees and illegals, who have been given shelter there by the Bishop Paul Verryn.”

This is the closest the writer comes to acknowledging that indeed there are people seeking refuge from hunger, poverty and marginalisation in the economy.

This is, however, negated by the juxtaposing of the words refugees with “illegals” – thus fanning the flames of hatred.

The South African NGO Coalition (Sangoco) itself sought refuge from debtors and exorbitant rentals about a year ago, and moved into another church in Braamfontein.

It too is owned by the Methodist Church and under the leadership of the compassionate Paul Verryn.

There too, you find nearly 100 refugees and non-nationals, who sleep in the parking lot and wherever they can ding a place surrounding the church and our offices. The infrastructure, as you can imagine, truly takes pressure with the usual wear and tear.

The concerns of the congregations at Braamfontein and Central Methodist Church are legitimate – the heart and soul of the Methodist Church is more with the poor, the hungry and the refugees.

In all my life as an activist, I must say that I have found the most selflessness and compassion at this stage working with the Methodist Church.

When I go home at night, I see how other churches, temples and mosques are locked safely away from the poor, hungry and needy whom they preach about so loudly daily and especially on Fridays or Sundays.

Why is it that only one church within the Christian faith is helping these people? Where are the Catholics?

What of Zion Christian Church, whose worshippers come from far and wide in Africa?

Why are the other faiths so silent and not coming forward in the hour of need? Is it because those who are homeless are not of the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or other faiths?

Where too are the blue chip NGOs who speak of poverty and inequality from some high rise buildings in their posh offices?

Maphumulo does not even question why every day 10 to 15 people arrive at the bishop’s door asking for a place of refuge.

Where is the government when it comes to helping people in need, and not only for deporting? Did our own people not flee apartheid repression to go to neighbouring countries?

We expect unjustified attacks against the good and noble work of the church to continue, since this story deals with a mother breastfeeding in the “squalor” of the church, fights and murder as if this only happens where 700 people live.

One wonders what will it be next? Sex? Money?

Or will it be bribery and corruption?

Whatever comes next, one thing is clear. No amount of hate can find lasting solutions to complex problems engulfing our new democracy.

Openness and the willingness to admit that there is a problem, which is not of the church’s making, and commitment to work towards a just solution will help.

A start would be to discuss and find solutions with Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, about why women and children are fleeing their lovely homes and quality education to live with 700 others, in a church, which now “smells bad.”

We are grateful for the opportunity to address these complex challenges in our society and will work with the church for a just solution that is inclusive of the government, and civil society.

As I write this, it is getting dark and the church in Braamfontein is starting to fill up.

Outside, other people occupy the floor surrounding the church. They too are homeless. Not all are immigrants. A few are South Africans.

Not all are black Africans.

Hassen Lorgat, Communications manager, SA NGO Coalition, Johannesburg


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