The Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum (ZSF) in South Africa joins the civic society and solidarity movements across the world, in condemning the latest raid on the Central Methodist Church and the subsequent arrest of more than 300 homeless migrants, mainly from Zimbabwe.
Close to 300 destitute migrants staying at the Central Methodist Church in the Johannesburg inner city were arrested on charges of loitering, public indecency and sleeping on the pavements. This was clearly a politically motivated move that followed a series of harassments that have taken place over the last few weeks. In a crack, joint operation by the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) on Friday, shortly after midnight, the police forces have exposed their callous disregard for human suffering.
The ZSF is appalled by reports of harassment, threats and violent assault of immigrants, in the wake of a long documented history of corruption and extortion against a vulnerable community. These sorts of dehumanizing behavior by law-enforcement agents against foreign nationals promote the kind of xenophobic violence witnessed in 2008 that focused the worlds spotlight on South Africa.
Disturbing reports indicate that several juveniles and heavily pregnant women were amongst those arrested, while many migrants were severely beaten as they were manhandled by the police after being threatened with electric stun guns.
We strongly condemn the police’s heavy-handed approach as there were no cases of foreigners resisting or escaping arrest, considering they were facing charges of infringing a minor municipal bylaw.
It is important to remind the authorities that most of the “church dwellers” are asylum seekers and refugees who have fled persecution and retribution from different regimes across the continent and beyond, and are therefore entitled to protection by the South African government under international law.
The release of those arrested has revealed the frivolous and unwarranted nature of the charges against them. We demand the dropping of all charges against the homeless and vulnerable foreign nationals and an undertaking from the authorities not to embark on such actions in the future. The role of the state should be to provide shelter, support and protection.
We call on the diplomatic community, progressive media houses and civil society to speak out forcefully against such detentions and condemn the bully-boy military antics displayed by the JMPD and their erstwhile counterparts, the SAPS during the arrest.
The Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum calls on all stakeholders, especially the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng Provincial Government to fulfill their pledge to provide basic shelter to the people seeking refuge at the Central Methodist Church without any further delay or victimization.
We pledge our utmost support to all those who were arrested and victimized and undertake to work tirelessly in our quest to ensure freedom for all citizens within South Africa’s borders.