S.Africa: Fears For Zimbabwe Refugees As Church Struggles To Pay Bills

Johannesburg| There are fears that Central Methodist Church building in Johannesburg where many destitute foreigners including Zimbabweans have sought refugee is now set to completely shut down refugee services in November, as it struggles to pay for services, it has emerged.

The church is reportedly to have accumulated over R6 million in unpaid water and electricity bills.


Refugees store their belongings in a room of Central Methodist Mission in downtown Johannesburg, A UMNS file photo by Emily Fisher.

A worker at the  church told ZimEye that the church is set to clear off refugees from its premises by November.

The Central Methodist Church building is a well known place where more than 1500 Zimbabweans and other foreign nationals are living as refugees.

Many Zimbabweans who fled the country in 2008 live in the church building and many more are still arriving at the church.

A worker told ZimEye that electricity and water supplies are cut off all day until 6 pm. ‘Right now there is no electricity or water until 6 pm. Workers have not been paid. The problem is abuse of funds,’ said one of the workers at the centre.

A staff member told ZimEye that  the Rev Paul Verryn who runs the place briefed the staff about the decision to close down the place.

Verryn is also said to have instructed the staff to start locking out certain sections of the building including rooms currently being used by the refugees.

However, speaking to ZimEye, Rev Paul Verryn dismissed the claims that the place is closing down, but confirmed that there are large amounts of money outstanding for water and electricity bills and said he is currently engaged in negotiations with respective service providers.

He dismissed any claims of abuse of funds saying the church is a well audited organisation that complies with all the regulations in place.

Rev Verryn said the centre is still receiving Zimbabwean refuges everyday sometimes up to six refugees a day.

“Am not 100 % on what the church is going to be doing, but I would be moving at the end of year and we are in discussions at the present on alternatives, whether they will stay there and who my successor would be and all that sorts of staff. We do have unpaid electricity bill, we are trying to negotiate that water and electricity are not cut off at all, ” said Rev Verryn withouting disclosing how much is actual owed.

Verryn told ZimEye that he would be leaving  at the end of year and hopes that refugees services at the church would still be available.

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