News / Africa

    Refugees in South Africa Hopeful at Christmas

    A woman collecting plastic bags carries her cart through the streets of Johannesburg's Alexandra township, December 12, 2012.
    A woman collecting plastic bags carries her cart through the streets of Johannesburg's Alexandra township, December 12, 2012.
    In South Africa, the Christmas Eve Mass was the occasion for refugees from all parts of Africa to get together and express their belief in a better life, despite the difficulties many face in finding their place in South Africa.

    The benches of the little Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg are a patchwork of nationalities. The worshippers come from various countries: mostly Zimbabwe, but also Malawi, DRC, Mozambique, Nigeria... It is the most cosmopolitan church in the country, and one which has a long tradition of hosting migrants and refugees.

    Bishop Paul Verryn, who has been preaching in the church for 15 years, says having a congregation made mostly of refugees and migrants is special in that most of them experience deep suffering, and his sermons aim to tackle just such problems.

    "Many of them face issues of identity. Many of them face issues of legitimacy. Many of them face issues of esteem. They come from a place where they've been humiliated, and they try to recover," Verryn explained. "And so it's to a natural fact, speak a word to that kind of situation that's not flippant, and that's not quick and easy answer but that enables to recognize the validity of some of those feeling."

    As the Mass finishes, dozens of people lay down in the corridor outside the chapel. Men, families, couples of all ages will sleep there yet again overnight, among some 800 people who will spend the night in the church.

    The Central Methodist Church has long had an open policy towards immigrants. Just a couple of years ago, there were thousands - mostly from Zimbabwe - streaming into the church for refuge. Some people have spent 10 years there because they have nowhere else to go.

    Nkosana has been sleeping in the church for two years. He came from Malawi to look for his father, who left home to emigrate to South Africa, but has not been heard from since.  Nkosana does not have a stable job and says the church is his only option, but he is getting tired of struggling.

    "Now, I can say things are hard to me, that's why I'm living here because I don't have money to pay rent. Last year I was thinking that maybe I should go back to Malawi to my country, because here I'm suffering," said Nkosana.

    A land of immigration, South Africa also has the reputation of having a tough policy regarding immigrants and the protection of its borders. Five years ago, a wave of violent attacks across the country targeting immigrants left over 60 people dead. A fragile peace remains, but the situation is always tense as 52 percent of South Africans live below the poverty rate.

    Tendai Mtukwa comes from Zimbabwe and has migrated to South Africa to finish her studies. She says people like her from Zimbabwe suffer prejudices, but that this is not unique to South Africa. "I think generally, any country would be hostile to foreigners. But I think for Zimbabweans, it is particularly hostile. It's a label, it's a very hostile label, sometimes I myself have to try to blend in like a local," she explained.

    And Mtukwa also believes the relationship between South Africans and immigrants is getting better. "It's better, because there is no violence at the moment, so the relationship has improved," she said.

    Despite the challenges, immigrants still see South Africa as a land of opportunity. According to the last census, over 2 million foreigners live in the country - number that has doubled in the last 10 years.

    You May Like

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    Carry-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society, so here's the deal with pizza, Chinese food and what racism has to do with taking food to go

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora