Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church, which houses over 3 000 Zimbabwean refugees, could face closure after a visit by the Gauteng legislature’s health and social development portfolio committee early on Friday morning.
”We will make a recommendation to close the church after witnessing the horror that we saw this morning,” said committee chairperson Molebatsi Bopape.
”If I could have it my way, I would close it down today.”
She said conditions at the church were a disaster and a health hazard.
”If another infectious disease has to break out in that church, it would be a disaster … it’s a ticking time bomb.”
The committee was also concerned about youth and women who lived in the church, situated in Pritchard Street, Central Johannesburg.
”I wonder if the bishop [Paul Verryn] realises what he is exposing these people to … can you imagine what goes on at night on the fifth floor where young 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds sleep?
”Children are being exposed to abuse, babies are sleeping on the floor, the place is so filthy that we couldn’t even breath,” Bopape said.
She said Verryn, along with his management team, would attend a meeting on Friday next week, where the committee, NGO’s and not-for-profit organisations (NPO’s) along with the provincial minister would try to establish a way forward.
Democratic Alliance Gauteng spokesperson on health Jack Bloom said: ”It’s good that the committee visited, but the solution lies with a coordinated approach by the local, provincial and national spheres of government.
”Primarily, it is a foreign policy problem concerning internal conditions in Zimbabwe that has led to desperate people seeking shelter at this church.
”The option of a properly-run refugee camp for Zimbabweans should be considered seriously,” Bloom said.
Bopape also said Verryn was turning down offers of help by other organisations.
”He must give answers on why he is turning down these offers by NGO’s and NPO’s,” she said.
Verryn has denied these allegations, which surfaced last month.
He has said any offers of accommodation received by the church were announced to the refugees, who themselves decided whether to take it up.
He was quoted as saying: ”The place isn’t a prison. You can see that. The doors are open all the time. We encourage people to move so the church isn’t overcrowded.”
Verryn was not immediately available for comment. – Sapa