SANCTUARY OF EXILE
Award winning photographer
Desperate people fleeing war-ravaged countries, violence and economic hardship across Africa has resulted in people finding refuge in South Africa. Estimates put the number of illegal immigrants in the country between two to eight million. The political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe has reached a critical point. This chaos is now spilling over into neighbouring South Africa. Statistics put the number of Zimbabweans entering South Africa at forty - nine thousand every year.
The Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg has become a sanctuary for Zimbabwean Refugees. For the past four years the Church has opened its doors allowing hundreds of people to settle in its halls, corridors and stairwells. Although the church has provided a safe haven for refugees, it is struggling to cope with the enormity of the circumstances.
In March 2008 during the first Zimbabwean election period, I spent time with the church inhabitants as they waited in anticipation for the election results to be announced. Most of the people I spoke to had no interest in returning to Zimbabwe to vote even though they wanted to see an immediate end to Mugabe’s long and traumatic reign. It became apparent that a lot of the people feared for their lives. In some cases the refugees did not want to be clearly identified or make their names known for fear of reprisals against their families back in Zimbabwe.
The growing incursion of illegal immigrants contributes to unlawful squatting in South Africa. Most arrive destitute, jobless and homeless. This results in the large majority finding their way to squatter areas. It is estimated that 80% of illegal immigrants inhabit informal housing settlements and squatter camps. This body of work reflects the ongoing struggle of a people standing together against one man’s ideals.