WASHINGTON, DC —
The Central United Methodist Church in Johannesburg, which has been home for thousands of refugees, many from Zimbabwe, is shutting its doors to refugees, on New Year’s eve, leaving an estimated 500 residents, in a panic.
Bishop Paul Verryn, who has facilitated the flood of refugees to the church, says he’s saddened by the news, and has issued pleas to whoever can assist, to help those who will be left homeless, following the closure on Wednesday.
“If there are any people in the city of Johannesburg who can open a space, it’d be highly, highly appreciated.” That failing, says Bishop Verryn, “If anyone in positions of influence can find a building in the inner city that we can begin to use, that’d be highly appreciated.”
Long an advocate for the destitute, Bishop Verryn, has come under heavy criticism over the years, from the church leadership and members of the community, which in 2010, suspended him from the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, for alleged violation of the Church’s constitution.
Asked why the church doors where closing, Bishop Verryn responded the church leaders decided it was time for the refugees to vacate the church, but various reports allude to the lack of funds and internal conflict within the church over the accommodation of refugees. More than 30-thousand refugees have reportedly taken up shelter at the Church over the years.
Among the thousands who’ve sought refuge from the Methodist Church is Zimbabwean political refugee, Noel Muguti, who’s been living at the church, since he fled Zimbabwe in 2008.
Muguti says many like him are depressed, at the news of the church’s closure, and not sure where they’ll live. He says now everyone has to vouch for themselves.
“It’s a dog eat dog situation…what will happen tomorrow is everyone’s worry because there isn’t anyone who has an alternative [place] to go.”