Yesterday morning was quite enlightening as we continued our visits in the North End area. Our first visit was to the Magistrates’ Court, which we discovered covers the whole of the greater Port Elizabeth area. Having never been in a courtroom in my life before, I was astonished to see what an incredibly busy place it is. As a result, we found it difficult to speak to people, and established that access to people would be easier if one made an appointment. We did however manage to speak to someone in the domestic violence and maintenance sections, where we established a dire need for counselling.
Then it was on to Home Affairs, which was not actually an office as we would understand it, but in fact a designated refugee processing centre. Once again we were quite amazed to see the number of different nationalities of the people present – Zimbabweans, Kenyans, Pakistanis, and even Chinese. Since the centre only processes 50 applications per day, those who are no’s 51 onwards must come back the next day. Many people (both men and women) therefore end up sleeping in the street, so as to make the queue the next day. One man we spoke to from Zimbabwe is a Methodist from Bulawayo, who indicated that he had been waiting for a week to be able to get into the "top 50" for a particular day.
Corruption and exploitation appears to be rife – we saw a move by a security guard that appeared to be the soliciting of a bribe, possibly for asylum papers / a place in the queue. There was another interesting incident that I didn't notice at first - a white man in a bakkie slowed down, and was immediately surrounded by a number of the refugees. It appeared that he was looking for temporary workers (illegally), and according to my colleagues, he appeared shocked to see me (the only white face in the crowd) as he then drove off in quite a hurry.
There is also a pre-school in the area. However, the majority of children are not from the North End area itself, but from surrounding townships.
Some of the group visit a clinic, where they encountered a high incidence of HIV+ people. There was no support system (counselling), and the staff was not aware that there is a Methodist Church in North End. They indicted that the Church could help immensely by establishing VCT (voluntary HIV testing and counselling) support centres.
Needless to say, a VERY tired group of Phase Ones arrived back at North End just before lunch - and we still had evening services to prepare for...
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