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09 Apr 2009 08:01
Two men were arrested on Wednesday night for threatening the life of Methodist bishop Paul Verryn.
“Two suspects were arrested for intimidation and blackmailing at the Central Methodist Church,” said Captain John Maluleke.
Verryn received the first death threat from the men, both South Africans aged 26 and 31, on Monday. Verryn then filed a complaint with the police.
Verryn said the men claimed to have been hired by the business owners around the church and that they were professional killers active in taxi violence.
“[The man] said he was being hired by the shop owners in the mall and they’ve been given a car and a gun,” said Verryn.
This was followed on Tuesday by a call from the two men claiming that the business owners had given them the first payment of R30 000.
It was because of this call that Verryn said he suspected the men were attempting to extort money from him.
“I think it is a blackmail attempt because they had said, ‘what are you prepared to do [to save your own life]’,” said Verryn.
Maluleke and Verryn said the men called again on Wednesday night at about 7.10pm. Maluleke said the two men indicated that they would not carry out the contract killing if they were paid money.
Maluleke said Verryn then told the men to come to his office in the church in downtown Johannesburg.
“[Verryn] said they should come, that he could not make a deal over the phone,” said Maluleke.
By the time the two men arrived, police were already waiting for them.
“Police were posing as church security guards and welcomed them, they even led them to [Verryn]. For them to be there was also to determine the threat,” said Maluleke.
The men were taken to Verryn only after being searched. The two were found to have no firearms in their possession. After leading the men to Verryn’s office they waited outside where Maluleke says “they heard everything”.
“They were telling him they were hired killers,” said Maluleke.
“[The police] have been incredible. They were here
immediately,” said Verryn.
Before they were arrested, one of the men told Verryn he was now safe.
“One said ‘you don’t have to worry about your life. I won’t take it’,” said Verryn.
Verryn has attracted both acclaim and criticism for using his church to provide accommodation to thousands of Zimbabwean migrants. Some in local government have accused him of creating a service crisis in downtown Johannesburg. Local businesses have complained and filed lawsuits against him. They say the presence of such large numbers of people have negatively effected their businesses.
The man who has been making death threats to Verryn, claims to have been hired by them. The first threat was on Monday at 11.33pm.
“He said he was being hired by the shop owners in the mall and they’ve been given a car and a gun,” said Verryn.
This was followed on Tuesday by information that the shopowners had given them the first payment of R30 000.
Though there is no love lost between Verryn and the shopowners, he does not believe it is true that they have hired a contract for his life.
“I think it would be too stupid for words,” said Verryn.
He believes the man is acting independently and is attempting to extort money.
“I think it is a blackmail attempt because they said, ‘what are you prepared to do [to save your own life]’,” said Verryn.
Should the threat not be carried out on Wednesday night, Verryn said he did not intend to take additional measures to protect himself.
“No, what can you do?” he asked.
Zim faces more sanctions
Meanwhile, the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe on Wednesday warned of new targeted sanctions against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and senior members of his party unless they show willingness to reform.
In an interview with journalists in Harare, ambassador James McGee said current US sanctions against Mugabe and senior members of his party would remain in place “until we see some positive movement”.
He was referring to the widely-held belief that Mugabe’s Zanu-PF is trying to stall attempts by the new unity government, of which longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is prime minister, to carry out democratic reforms.
“In fact you might see more individual sanctions,” McGee warned.
The United States and European Union first imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2003.
Mugabe has blamed his country’s economic downfall on the sanctions. Over half the population requires food aid.
The US and EU point out that the sanctions specifically target people and companies linked to the elderly leader and blame his misrule for the country’s demise.
The new government is looking for about $2-billion in short-term aid. Western donors have cited the ongoing invasions of white-owned land and detention of political prisoners are deterrents.
McGee said the US was debating an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report, which said Zimbabwe needed $200-million in emergency humanitarian relief.
“We want to get on board to assist Zimbabwe with that. We will not let the people of Zimbabwe starve,” he assured.
He was also upbeat about some positive signs recently on the economic front.
“We no longer see the uncontrolled printing of money. Inflation which had been running in quintillions of percentage points last month was negative 2,5%. This is movement in the right
direction,” he said. - Sapa, Sapa-DPA
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