Wednesday, November 04, 2009

SACC Media Statement on the situation at Central Methodist Church

I support the SACC, in standing with Central Methodist Mission, in Johannesburg. The statement is clear in stating the role of the church. It reads as follows:

The Central Methodist Church (CMC) in the Johannesburg city centre received an unexpected and unannounced visit last Friday, not the first of this kind. Members of the Portfolio Committee on Health and Social Development from the Gauteng Legislature expressed moral outrage – understandable, yet rather late – at the living conditions of the refugees seeking shelter in the church.

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) wishes to add the following observations to a matter that has long been brewing and not been taken up satisfactorily by the structures responsible:

It is well known that the living conditions of the refugees at the CMC are poor and often appalling. No one wants to live in an over-crowded situation where there is no privacy, few sanitation facilities, etc. People are not living in these conditions out of choice. They are not living there because Bishop Paul Verryn and the staff at CMC have invited and encouraged them to live there. Nor is this the reason for Medicins Sans Frontier (MSF) camping at the CMC. The people have moved into CMC because it responded to a humanitarian crisis – to which few other people, including the local, provincial and national government responded. 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, SACC warns against jumping to that conclusion. The primary villain, if there is one, first and foremost are such governments as that of Zimbabwe and of those African countries whose nationals live at the church. Within South Africa the primary villain is government; and not the Central Methodist Church.

SACC acknowledges, that it is within the rights and competence of the health and social development portfolio committees, as part of their oversight functions, to engage in so-called oversight visits in order to carry out certain investigations. It needs to be noted that the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) at its recent conference held in Pietermaritzburg, admitted in a statement that allegations relating to the abuse of women and children had been brought to its leadership. To this end the church constituted a Public Concern Committee which has been interacting quite voluntarily and openly with relevant government departments. Neither the MCSA, the CMC nor the SACC will condone the alleged abuse of women and children at the CMC – which is why the church has been cooperating with government departments and with the NPA.

SACC is concerned that:

* to conduct such a visit without consulting the local (and national) leadership of the church, given the already established communication channels.
* to bring a substantial number of police and visiting at the time that they did, gave the whole event the feel of a raid rather than a cordial oversight and investigative visit.
* 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?
* some of the statements already attributed to members of the committee appear to prejudge the matter, threatening to turn the visit into a pretext for predetermined, premeditated and unilateral decisions. 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.
* the ‘closure of the CMC’ as threatened may 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 FIFA 2010 World Cup is coming. But unless a lasting and humanitarian solution is found, all that will happen is that the inhabitants of the CMC will be poured into the streets of Johannesburg to fend for themselves by any means necessary, day and night.
* The Department of Home Affairs fails to develop policies and processes dealing with the influx of refugees in a humane manner.

As SACC we do not see the need for the Portfolio Committee to resort to strong arm tactics. We do not see the need to criminalise the CMC. This church has tried to do what government should have done, what every South African should do, what every other church should do, i.e. welcome the destitute, provide care for the sick, provide shelter to the homeless, tend to the souls of the battered and the suffering. That is the calling of every Christian. That is the calling of every religious person. We do not see the need to issue a legal summons to the CMC and its leadership to appear before any court or committee. The leadership of the CMC are not on the run, they are not about to flee the country.

Instead, SACC calls for the Gauteng legislature to engage the national and local leadership of the MCSA. Above all, we call on the Portfolio Committee to put the interest of the destitute living at the CMC above political point scoring. We urge the committee to exercise its oversight role with diligence, courtesy and with compassion.

For further information please contact
Prof Tinyiko Maluleke, SACC President 082 925 5232
Mr Eddie Makue, SACC General Secretary 082 853 8781
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