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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More