HIDE AND SEEK

CRITICAL: Eddie Makue of the SACC says there is a lack of political policy about refugees. Pic. VATHISWA RUSELO.  09/12/2009. © Sowetan.
CRITICAL: Eddie Makue of the SACC says there is a lack of political policy about refugees. Pic. VATHISWA RUSELO. 09/12/2009. © Sowetan.

A hide-and-seek game is being played out between the Central Methodist Church and the government as children who were to be relocated on Monday disappeared.

A hide-and-seek game is being played out between the Central Methodist Church and the government as children who were to be relocated on Monday disappeared.

Officials from the Gauteng department of social development left empty-handed when they went to the Albert Street School, which teaches about 500 children who live in the church in central Johannesburg, to move them to shelters.

Principal Alpha Zhou said: "Though the school is on holiday, the children still get fed at the school. When government officials arrived they only found 13 children, who ran away."

At the church the officials again only found a handful of children, who also ran away. "Only one child agreed to come with us," department spokesperson Teddy Gomba said.

Gomba said that Monday's events happened despite public meetings, interviews with the children and numerous meetings with Bishop Paul Verryn, at which it was agreed that the unaccompanied children would be relocated.

Verryn said: "Most of the children decided that they did not want to leave.

"I believe that threats were made by government officials to raid the church as a result of (Monday's) events."

Sowetan yesterday spoke to some of the children, who said the social workers were rude and threatened to remove them by force if they refused.

They said they had heard that staff at the shelters were also xenophobic. They said they had found "alternative accommodation".

Church community chairperson Godfrey Charamba said it was not right for the children to be moved by force, especially considering that many had experienced violence in Zimbabwe.

"The children have lost a lot and have found a sense of community here," Charamba said.

Zimbabwe consulate-general Chris Mapanga said he was "not too familiar with the situation at the church".

"There are no Zimbabwean refugees since the situation in Zimbabwe is stable. But obviously it cannot be 100percent in a short period of time," Mapanga said.

Meanwhile South African Council of Church's general secretary Eddie Makue criticised the government, saying "there was a lack of political will and policy" on how to deal with Zimbabwe and refugees in general.

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