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Cablegate: Zimbabweans Crowd Into Johannesburg Church

VZCZCXRO4897
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHSA #2800 2201550
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 081550Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1142
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1261
RUEHTN/AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN 4681
RUEHJO/AMCONSUL JOHANNESBURG 7201
RUEHDU/AMCONSUL DURBAN 9052
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS PRETORIA 002800

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AF/S S. HILL, R. MARBURG, PRM/AFR M. LANGE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PREF PHUM SF ZI
SUBJECT: ZIMBABWEANS CROWD INTO JOHANNESBURG CHURCH

REF: A. PRETORIA 2646
B. HARARE 157
C. TRENKLE-LANGE EMAIL OF 8/1/07

This Cable is Sensitive but Unclassified. Not for Internet
distribution.

1. (U) Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg has
become a haven for Zimbabweans fleeing the economic and
political crisis in Zimbabwe. PolOff visited the church
August 1 and met with Bishop Paul Verynn, pastor of the
church. Verynn said that more than 1,000 people are staying
in the church each night. The crowded and dirty rooms of the
large church facility are packed with bags, suitcases,
mattresses, and blankets. Verynn says that Zimbabwean
migrants are sleeping in the stairwells and every corner of
the church, so many that you literally cannot even enter the
doorway of church at night.

2. (U) As many as 20-30 new Zimbabweans arrive every day,
part of an increasing migration of Zimbabweans fleeing to
South Africa (ref A). Verynn believes the church had a moral
obligation to take in the migrants, although the visibly
exhausted bishop noted that the church is bursting at the
seams and will no longer be able to accept new "guests."

3. (U) The church has become a virtual mini-city, with a
clinic in a former office (a volunteer doctor visits twice a
week) and a private school for students ranging from 6 to 60
years old. There are separate rooms for women and families,
although the overwhelming majority of the church residents
are young men (estimated ages 16-30) sent by their families
to make money to send back home. A grassroots Zimbabwean
exile organization, Southern African Women's Institute for
Migration Affairs (SAWIMA), has started a soup kitchen at the
shelter three days a week, feeding 450 people per day.
SAWIMA would like to expand the soup kitchen to feed all
those in need five or six days a week, but currently does not
have resources.

4. (SBU) PolOff spoke with a sampling of the Zimbabweans
living at the church, who recounted tales of economic
hardship and desperation. Several had arrived in the last
few weeks, following the GOZ's freeze on prices and resulting
commodity shortage. A group of young men, who would not give
their names, said they were former soldiers who were fed up
with the low pay; one claimed there were 38 former soldiers
staying at the church. Another former soldier said he had
come to South Africa because he feared for his life after he
refused to beat up opposition leaders.

5. (SBU) The overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans staying at
the church do not have the legal right to live in South
Africa. They are considered by the South African Government
as illegal economic migrants. The SAG continues to deport
hundreds of Zimbabweans each day to Beitbridge, Zimbabwe (ref
B), many of whom cross into South Africa illegally again.
The lack of legal status for the Zimbabweans makes it
difficult for the church to seek SAG assistance for the
migrants. Recent press coverage of the church has led to
some private donations from South Africans.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: The overcrowded Central Methodist Church
is the most visible manifestation of an expanding Zimbabwean
refugee/migration crisis in South Africa. We suspect that a
very large number of Zimbabweans are staying with family
members or friends, or are crowding into shared apartments.
While the total number of Zimbabweans living in South Africa
is impossible to estimate with any accuracy, we believe the
number crossing into South Africa is growing and that the
rate will only increase as the economic crisis in Zimbabwe
deepens. Post looks forward to the planned PRM visit in
September (ref C) and will continue to look for appropriate
ways for the U.S. to assist.
Bost

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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