/ 2 November 2009

SACC: Govt the villain in refugee saga

The primary villain in the Central Methodist Church (CMC) Zimbabwean refugee saga is not Bishop Paul Verryn, but government, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) said on Monday.

”These people moved into [the church] because it responded to a humanitarian crisis, to which few other people, including the local, provincial and national government responded,” the SACC said in a statement.

”The primary villain, first and foremost are such governments as Zimbabwe … Within South Africa the primary villain is government, and not the Central Methodist Church.”

The SACC was responding to a surprise visit to the church by the Gauteng portfolio committee on health and social development last Friday.

The committee thereafter expressed its outrage at the living conditions of about 3 000 refugees, called the church a ”ticking time bomb”, and threatened to close it down.

The SACC said their visit was ”understandable, yet rather late”, and the closure of the church would satisfy the interests of those who want the sight of poor and destitute people removed from the centre of ”their beloved city” — especially now that the 2010 Soccer World Cup was coming.

”It is the calling of the church to provide care and refuge to the destitute and the vulnerable.

”While it is easy to turn CMC into a villain in this scenario, the SACC warns against jumping to that conclusion.”

To conduct a visit without consulting the local and national leadership of the church, who had already established communication channels, and to bring police with them, gave the whole event the ”feel of a raid rather than a cordial oversight and investigative visit”, it said.

”Surely the province has known about the plight of the refugees for long — what concrete alternatives have they put forward that justify the moral outrage and sudden feelings of care for the people living in the church.

”A few hours’ visit at the CMC is not enough of an investigation for members of the committee to be issuing authoritative statements to the media already …

”Proper investigations produce proper formal reports and only thereafter media statements [should be issued].” — Sapa