UMCOR Assists Survivors of Violence in South Africa
New York, NY, June 3, 2008—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) acted on June 2 to help meet a humanitarian crisis in South Africa caused by violence against foreign nationals, especially from Zimbabwe and Malawi.
An emergency grant of $10,000 was sent at the request of Bishop Ivan Abraham, head of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. UMCOR will also likely provide a staff member for three months to help the church deal with the crisis.
On May 14, violence broke out in Alexander, an area north of Johannesburg, against a refugee population. It spread to other townships and squatter camps in the area. Thousands of people were displaced, several dozen killed, and a larger number injured.
Various churches, including the autonomous Methodist Church of Southern Africa, are attempting to care for as many as 30,000 people.
"The church has gone far beyond its capacity in addressing this crisis and is reaching out for assistance," said Bishop Felton E. May, interim general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, of which UMCOR is a part.
"The Rev. Sam Dixon of UMCOR and I have both spoken to Bishop Abraham today and are glad that we can provide emergency help," said Bishop May. "The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is a strong mission partner, and we thank God that we can work together in responding to human needs."
South Africa has long been a haven for refugees from Zimbabwe and Malawi, and this population has increased as the economic situation in Zimbabwe has grown worse in recent months.
Action by Churches Together, an international relief coalition and UMCOR partner, is also active in meeting the new crisis in South Africa. A mid-May report indicated the need for baby food, portable latrines, foam mattresses, plastic basins for bathing, personal hygiene articles, and detergent for washing clothes.
The situation is so acute that Bishop Abraham asked UMCOR to consider seconding a staff member to his church for three months to help with the immediate disaster and to develop a preparedness strategy for future national crises.
Rev. Dixon said UMCOR would send a representative to assess the situation and make suggestions on the skills needed by any seconded staff.