Over the weekend I was at a small tent city, just outside Johannesburg, in Midrand. There were some 300 gleaming white United Nations nylon camping tents that housed up to about 1,000 refugees from the recent xenophobic riots. The riots claimed the lives of over 60 and displaced anywhere from 19,000 to over 200,000 foreigners mainly from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia.
Some of those foreigners have returned to their homelands. Some have been housed in South African community centers and police stations, and many of those are now being moved to tent cities. In the Midrand tent city, the tents are neatly lined up in rows, with a large tent in the middle for cooking and distributing food.
Food this has loomed increasingly large during my travels. I've begun to see that it is the way the church has become a eucharistic presence, offering bread that gives life and spurs thanksgiving.
Food shortages were a problem before the recent riots. Employment is as high as 60 percent in some impoverished settlements. Some official reports put the figure at 24 percent, but on-the-ground ministries insist the official numbers don't represent reality; the official statistics only reflect people who are actively looking for jobs, and don't count those who have abandoned that search, and often along with it, hope.
These stats wouldn't count, for example, Fhatawani Lvehengo, a man who lives in Cosmo City and is trying to start a church. His family could certainly use the income, but he has felt a call from God to start a church, and his wife insisted he follow that call. So he has no intention of finding employment. In the meantime, his wife works as a maid, living at her employer's home Monday through Friday. Her parents take care ...