29 January 2010

For Paul Verryn, Against Xenophobia

SAMWU Press Statement, 29 January 2010

Supporting Paul Verryn and Struggle Against Xenophobia

SAMWU has carefully noted the suspension of Paul Verryn, until recently a Methodist Bishop and the manager of the Methodist Community Centre in Johannesburg. It also notes the charges that have been laid against him by some of his seniors in the Methodist Church.

We wholeheartedly condemn the scurrilous way the mass media has allowed itself to repeat old and discredited slurs from the past in an attempt to further besmirch the name and actions of this man of the cloth. Early reports of the involvement of the security services in this episode are very alarming, and must be investigated.

We share the view of the Legal Resources Centre and others, that the two ‘charges’ against him are without substance, and should be immediately withdrawn and apologies offered.

Anyone who has spent even a short time in the company of Paul Verryn will know that he is an intelligent, passionate and yet profoundly humble human being. He does not seek headlines or conflict of any type. He does however want to see change. In fact, throughout all of his working life he has tried to make life bearable for those who have been without hope.

This Union believes that Paul Verryn is being victimised because his example is a threat to the complacency  and the absence of compassion in both church and civil authorities. They should be ashamed of their actions.

The presence of large numbers of Zimbabwean refugees in the centre of Johannesburg cannot be spirited away into nothingness by injunctions from those who feel that their businesses are being hampered . Nor can the City of Joburg, with the help of expensive and completely unnecessary police raids, intimidate the refugees into thin air.

What is needed now is a reality check by the church and civil authorities.

The reality is that South Africa now hosts thousands of destitute refugees because our Government under President Mbeki doggedly pursued an ineffective policy in relation to the brutality of the Mugabe regime. Many Zimbabweans were left with no choice but to walk to safety and try and find another place where they might  care for their families. To make matters worse, refugees continue to be mercilessly exploited by employers and landlords, and have been maliciously treated by certain xenophobic sections of the police and community.

It has been easy for the Joburg City Council and others to criticise the conditions at the Methodist Church Centre. It is overcrowded, it has at times probably presented a serious health risk, and the everyday happenings on our streets of violence and anti-social behaviour have no doubt had their reflection inside the Centre from time to time.

Rather than persecuting Paul Verryn, why are the civil and church authorities not addressing this issue? Why are they not seeking a way forward based on humane and lasting solutions? This is not a time for blaming others, but acknowledging that the migration of labour in our globalised and exploited continent is a harsh and undeniable fact of life. Simply raising barbed wire fences will not work. We are all refugees to some degree. Each of us is where we are today because someone in our families searched for a better life. 

The selfless activity of Paul Verryn is a reminder that we can create a better world, and one free of greed and despair. We must stand up and reject the simplistic solutions of the so-called free market, the xenophobes and those who cannot see further than their own noses.

We call upon the Joburg City Council, Home Affairs and the leadership of the Methodist Church to create the conditions for a real and creative dialogue on how best we can ensure that everyone in this city, and indeed South Africa, whether a refugee or a longer term resident, is able to live decently.  Paul Verryn should be placed at the centre of these discussions, and not be marginalised or castigated because he will not accept the status quo.

This Union congratulates Paul Verryn for his dedicated work with the refugee community, and looks forward to welcoming him back into the broader community of  those prepared to fight for change.

For further comment contact the SAMWU International Officer Stephen Faulkner on 011-331 0333 or 082 817 5455.


Tahir Sema.
South African Municipal Workers' Union of COSATU
National Media and Publicity officer
Office: 011 331 0333
Cell: 082 940 3403