Central Methodist Church evictees feel betrayed by society

At least 500 destitute foreigners were ordered to vacate the JHB church on NYE.

Hundreds of people packed their belongings as they vacated the Methodist church building in Johannesburg on 31 December 2014. Picture:Reinart Toerien/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Homeless immigrants being forced to leave Johannesburg's Central Methodist Church say society has turned its back on them.

Dozens of foreigners have called the place of worship their home over the past six years.

But at least 500 destitute people were ordered to vacate the premises on New Year's Eve after church officials gave them notice three months ago.

As the world watched with shock and dismay during the xenophobic attacks in 2008, the church opened its doors to thousands of displaced foreigners and has been housing them since.

But now, as Bishop Paul Verryn left the Johannesburg central leg of the church at the end of December, officials have decided his departure will also mark the end of the project.

Sixty-five-year-old Ambrose Chongo lives in fear; he doesn't know where his family is and he doesn't know what to do.

He says Verryn gave him R10 now and again and kept him alive at times.

"All these organisations assist refugees. They are under pressure not to assist me. Right now, I am going to somebody who's offered to give me lunch. Tomorrow, I don't know what's going to happen."

One of the church's now former residents says the move from the church has been humiliating for some.

"We're just like garbage. I feel very embarrassed."

While some have made peace with the decision and have already moved on, others are adamant they'll put up a fight, refusing to leave the building.

WATCH: Uncertain new year awaits Methodist church 'evictees'


There might however be some hope for the people evicted.

Verryn says they have arranged accommodation for some at a community centre in Soweto and he is already looking at the possibility of finding shelter for others in a building not far from the church.

Meanwhile, a Johannesburg human rights activist has vowed to fight the eviction and says he is planning to file an urgent interdict at the South Gauteng High Court to prevent them from happening.

Activist Walter Sefiri says the evictions are unconstitutional.