HUNDREDS of immigrants who have lived for years at a church in
Johannesburg have been arrested after a dawn raid by armed riot
police, after weeks of violent protests against illegal immigration
across South Africa.
For years, Johannesburg Central Methodist Church has hosted as
many as 1000 foreigners, often Zimbabweans who have fled President
Robert Mugabe's regime. But the families sheltering there were
woken at 4 a.m. after police stormed the building as part of
Operation Fiyela (which means "sweep out the dirt"). Several other
places in central Johannesburg which sheltered immigrants were also
Last month, the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo
Makgoba, demanded an end to a wave of attacks on foreigners, and
urged Christians to take to the streets to call for peace and
oppose xenophobia (News,
The Government has deployed the army in some areas to prevent
further attacks, but has been accused of "institutionalising
xenophobia" after the raid on the church.
The church's former pastor, Bishop Paul Verryn, said: "Our
government, and in some instances the police, are
institutionalising xenophobia. It's beyond despicable, because you
are dealing with, in some cases, profoundly traumatised people. We
are supposed to be in a country that safeguards people's humanity
in all cases, and it just doesn't."
Some of the migrants swept up in the raid have accused police
officers of swearing at them, beating them, and using the
derogatory term kwerekwere to refer to the foreigners.
This was denied by a spokesman for the Home Affairs department, who
said that the government was tackling both illegal immigration and
violence against foreigners.
Some 300 migrants arrested in the raids have had their
deportation halted for two weeks by the High Court of South Africa,
to allow the migrants to consult lawyers.