by Norest Musvaba
JOHANNESBURG - A South African civic group has opened a school in central Johannesburg for about 350 young Zimbabwean refugees and asylum seekers residing at the city's Central Methodist church, the organisation said on Tuesday.
The Solidarity Peace Trust (SPT) deputy director Selvan Chetty told ZimOnline that the non-governmental organisation opened the school in February, with the full support of the church's Bishop Paul Verryn who has been at the forefront in assisting Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa.
Albert School - a primary and secondary school facility - also spends more than R20 000 per week on food for the refugee students who would otherwise have been on the streets scrounging for food.
"Our idea is to empower these students and the only way to do that is to avoid giving charity and hand outs everyday but to provide love and education to them. That's why we have opened this school for them to access education," Chetty said.
Chetty said the majority of church residents faced difficulties in accessing local schools because they did not have temporary residence permits to allow them to enroll in South African schools.
"It is not easy for many of them to access local schools because they don't have funds and proper documentation."
SPT is a coalition of churches in Southern Africa and other organisations involved in campaigning for human rights, freedom and democracy in the region.
"I am really happy with this organisation. It has come to the rescue of many school loving Zimbabweans at the church," said sixteen-year-old Wilson Muradzikwa who left his Zimbabwean hometown of Kadoma for South Africa when he was doing Form Three after his uncle failed to pay his fees in foreign currency.
"Everyone is committed to schoolwork, yes we don't have any problem all our breakfast, lunch and supper we get it here. Our duty is to learn only," he added.
More than 3 000 migrants from Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa stay at the Johannesburg Central Methodist church.
In March a law firm occupying a building adjacent to the church has been pushing to have the refugees evicted alleging that they were making the firm lose business as a result of the filth at the church premises but Verryn has been fighting to keep the migrants at the church because it is the only shelter they have.
At least three million Zimbabweans are said to be living outside the country, the majority of them in South Africa, having fled political repression and poverty after a decade-long economic crisis blamed on President Robert Mugabe's controversial policies.
A unity government formed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe in February is yet to convince rich Western nations that the southern African country is firmly on the path to genuine reform for them give it much needed financial support to resuscitate its shattered economy.