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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs