Sunday, May 04, 2008

"We Mustn't Think as South Africans That We Have Won the Day": An interview with Paul Verryn

"We Mustn't Think as South Africans That We Have Won the Day": An interview with Paul Verryn

Inter Press Service

JOHANNESBURG, May 4, 2008 (IPS) - Bishop Paul Verryn, who directs the Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg, South Africa, has long been on the frontlines of the country's political struggles.

Born in 1952 in the capital city of Pretoria, Verryn came of age during the most contentious days of the fight against apartheid. After completing military training, he entered the ministry, working in the Eastern Cape Province for 11 years.

Verryn's experiences there as the chairman of the Detainees Parents' Support Committee -- which sought to aid the thousands of South Africans detained without trial at the time -- and the murder of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko while in police custody in August 1977 served as something of a political awakening for the young cleric.

Transferred to the sprawling black settlement of Soweto in Johannesburg in 1987, Verryn has continued to live there until this day.

His criticism of the powerful continued with the advent of democracy in South Africa; many recall his tearful testimony before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1997 regarding the involvement of Winnie Mandela, former wife of anti-apartheid hero and then South African president Nelson Mandela, in the kidnapping and murder of Stompie Moeketsi.

The 14-year-old anti-apartheid activist was seized from Verryn's Soweto mission by Mrs Mandela's bodyguards in 1988, and his battered body later found in a ditch. Winnie Mandela was eventually convicted of involvement in Moeketsi's kidnapping.

Today, as director of the Central Methodist Mission, Verryn has taken up another cause: the plight of immigrants to South Africa from Zimbabwe, a country that has been blighted by political violence and economic degeneration in recent years. Having thrown open the doors of his mission to these new arrivals, he saw the building raided in a controversial police action earlier this year, but has refused stop providing shelter and assistance to the Zimbabweans as they stream southward.

IPS correspondent Michael Deibert sat down with Verryn to hear his thoughts on how the mission was meeting this and other challenges.

Read the full article here.

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