The central Methodist church has sheltered homeless Zimbabwean immigrants since 2008
The fate of hundreds of migrants who had been living at Johannesburg’s central Methodist church remains uncertain after members of the church’s board ordered them to vacate the property by December 31.
“I have nowhere to go,” Noel Muguti, a 38-year-old migrant from Zimbabwe, told The Anadolu Agency.
Muguti says he fled his native Zimbabwe after contesting parliamentary elections on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party’s ticket.
“I was tortured on numerous occasions in Zimbabwe by activists of the ruling Zanu-PF,” he alleged.
Muguti also claimed his campaign manager had been killed after March 2008 elections.
“My wife was also kidnapped; I haven’t seen her,” said a frail-looking Muguti, who now volunteers for the church’s home-based care services while doubling as head of security.
Bishop Paul Verryn, who will be transferred from the church at the end of this month, had opened the church’s doors to hundreds of migrants who had been victims of xenophobic attacks six years ago.
In 2008, mobs of marauding South Africans had attacked African migrants living in townships, accusing them of stealing job opportunities and monopolizing social services.
The central Methodist church had also welcomed homeless Zimbabweans fleeing the election violence and economic turmoil in their home country.
The church’s management board has reportedly decided that the migrants should vacate the five-story church building once Bishop Verryn is transferred to another diocese.
“We are trying to look for alterative accommodation for the people still remaining in the building,” Bishop Verryn told AA by phone from Potchefstroom.
At the beginning of the year, he said, there were over 1,000 people living in the building, but on Christmas Eve, the number dropped to just over 400.
A man guiding an AA correspondent through the building said there were more than 100 children and several women staying on the property.
In one of the large rooms, there were over 20 women with children living inside.
One woman was boiling water, while a child was screaming.
“I am scared,” 33-year-old Maria Hasariregu, a mother of two, told AA, as she clutched her youngest son.
“I don’t know where I will go. I have no money,” she cried, sitting on her single bed in the crowded, smelly room.
Like the majority of residents of the building, Hasariregu is also from Zimbabwe.
“I am here because of the political situation in my country,” she said.
“I came here in 2007 after being raped and beaten by security operatives from the ruling Zanu-PF,” Hasariregu claimed.
She expressed gratitude to Bishop Verryn for offering them accommodation.
“I sell ice juice on the streets to get money to feed my kids,” she said. “Now I’m stressed just thinking what will happen to us.”
The mother of two does not contemplate going back to Zimbabwe any time soon.
“It is not safe yet for me to return home,” Hasariregu insisted. “I have to continue struggling here.”
However, for 63-year-old Getrude Mandeya, it was the economic situation in Zimbabwe that forced her to leave her homeland and seek greener pastures in South Africa.
“I work here as a nurse helping the sick, who reside at the church with home-based care,” Mandeya, who looks much younger than her actual age, told AA in a room housing HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis sufferers.
She appealed to the church’s board to give them more time before having to leave.
“They should give us more days so we can find other accommodations,” Mandeya told AA.
Attempts to obtain comment on the issue from the church’s board were unsuccessful.