JOHANNESBURG – Most of the more than 1 000 foreigners who had made Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church their home – some for a decade – have since left after they were ordered to vacate the building by December 31.
The date coincided with the expiry of the term of their benefactor, Bishop Paul Verryn, as the church’s superintendent.
The squatters, mostly Zimbabweans, were ordered to leave so that the five-storey church, which has become dilapidated during their stay, could undergo much-needed refurbishment.
Most among those still remaining after the expiry of the deadline, estimated to be about 200, appear to have resigned themselves to leaving the building eventually.
Fredwin Makumpa (37), from Congo-Brazzaville, said the church had been his home for three years and he still had no idea where to go if the eviction order was enforced.
“I came here to look for work and thought I would not stay here for more than a year. Now it has been three years and I still have nowhere else to go,” he said.
He accepted, however, that he could not expect to live forever in the church which was supposed to offer only temporary accommodation.
Alex Mutena (33), a tailor from Gweru in Zimbabwe, who previously worked for that country’s military, runs a tailoring and sewing project at the church and worries what would become of it if he leaves.
He has been staying there for the past six months and uses income from the project to support his wife and two children back home.
The project teaches sewing and embroidery skills to people from as far as Diepsloot, Soweto and Benoni. He works with his half-brother Alous (33) and elder brother James Mutena (36).
James said he previously worked as a miner in Zimbabwe and came to seek work in South Africa in 2011, after losing his job. He eventually joined Alex in the sewing project.
“Before I came here, I did not know how to sew and learnt from Alex. I came to know the job so well that I now teach others.”
James said they could not meet the New Year’s Eve deadline to vacate the place because they did not have money for a new place.
“We sent all the money we had back home to our families in Zim, not expecting this (the order to leave). We are still looking for a place,” he said. He gets to see his wife and four children about twice a year.
The Sunday Independent found people sleeping on makeshift beds in the corridors around 9:30am on Saturday morning.
Reggae music blared from one section, which also had a strong smell of dagga. The church is in a state of disrepair and is a shadow of its former glory. Lifts do not work, window panes are broken and graffiti adorns the walls.
The occupants have been offered alternative accommodation at a community centre in Soweto, which Verryn has said was “much more friendly for children”.
However, some of the occupants have shunned the place, saying it is too far from the Jo’burg central business district.
— Sunday Independent