June 18, 2008
Today, we’ve hit the ground running. Each one of us has been placed in groups ranging from three to eight people based on preference and topic availability. And after a few brainstorming sessions, groups have dispersed and the majority of the day has been used quite chaotically in order to plan strategies for coverage. The largest group of eight are now waiting for a ride outside of our dorm to take them to the train and bus station so that they may make the trek to the Zimbabwe border. Most will be riding the train and have specifically requested the cheapest, most dingy transport possible so that they might find Zimbabweans in the midst of their plight back home. The remainder are bording a bus which is believed to be even less accomidating. We’ve joked that they will be fighting for “seats” on the floor among chickens and farm animals.
I’ve been assigned to cover humanitarian efforts. I’m in a group of three — myself and Massi as photo/print journalists and Amber as a broadcaster. After exhausting a few efforts to visit refugee camps, we’ve gone straight for the source — the Joburg Central Methodist Church. Many of you may be familiar with the church, as it has made headline news after spearheading efforts to house scores of displaced foreigners and becoming a safehouse for those affected by xenophobic attacks. On our first trip to the church, we didn’t know what to expect. Massi and I decided to go in first. Upon entering the rundown facility, the stench of human waste and body odor was overwhelming. Displaced refugees lined the stairs and hallways, using insulation and cardboard as make-shift resting places. After being directed to the bishop’s office on the fourth floor, Massi and I spoke to a man named Mafika. I believe he was a director of sorts. He told us that we would first need to speak to Bishop Paul in order to gain access to “the community” of refugees. Soon after speaking with us, he was alerted that a robbery had taken place in the basement. A security guard, one of only 18 in charge of watching over the estimated 2,000 refugees, hurried him down the stairs to the basement. He invited Massi and I to come along as long as we agreed to leave our recorders and cameras in our bags. We were shuffled through a mass of people and personal belongings that consumed up the tight, dark hallways and stairs to the basement. When we finally made it all the way down to the basement, I was confronted with the depths of a poverty that I never knew existed. Cement walls enclosed a small room that I would estimate 50 people called home. Thin mats were strewn side-by-side, backed by piles of clothing, suitcases, pots and amenities. I almost tripped on an unattended baby when I walked into the room. We were directed into a utilities room in the back where Mafika pointed to a small water pump that was confiscated from a would-be thief. He estimated its worth at about 6,000R (about $800US). When asked what would happen to the criminal, he told me he’d direct him to the bishop who would probably ask him to repent for his sins and send him on his way. The police are not their friends, we’ve learned.
We left the church and spent about three hours attempting to contact Bishop John without success. We decided the best thing to do would be to go back and try our luck at finding another leader at the church. After speaking with Rev. Tenjiwe Mclacka-Clacka’s (sp?) assistant, we were informed there would be a service tonight at 7 p.m. That is where we’re going now. I’ve got to cut this short because my taxi is waiting outside, but I’m excited to see what the service has to offer.