2020 03 02 CapeTalk Interview: Alan Storey talks to John Maytham of CapeTalk Radio.
Herewith link to the full Judgement of the High Court dated 17th February for your information.
Though the judgement refers to “the streets, sidewalks and sections of the Greenmarket Square in the around the church” and that “no order is sought against the respondents inside the church” (point 16, page 10) the order granted by Judge Thulare to the City of Cape Town does include significant clarity into the situation that we have been dealing with within the Church with since 30th October 2019.
We have witnessed and experienced that all attempts at negotiations with the refugees have failed, including the multitudes of times they have agreed to, but failed to vacate the church sanctuary. As the Judge writes: “The respondents were aware that their demand for resettlement to another country other than repatriation to their country of origin, if they opted to leave the country would not be met. Anyone who expressed themselves on the respondent’s unrealistic demand and sought to influence a realistic solution was declared an enemy and was either threatened or attacked by the respondents.” (point 22 page 12).
The Judge continues: “The respondents have all intents and purposes established a self-governing territory within the City of Cape Town. No single individual, or group of persons, should be allowed to be a law unto themselves.” (point 23 page 12).
The Judge singles out the refugee leadership as deceptive and opportunistic (see points 44-46). The Judge states: “In my view Balus and Sukami misused the other respondents’ vulnerability, inability and humility.” (point 44 page 28). The Judge further states that: “The protest is ungovernable. It is used to pursue unachievable goals and in my view amounts to abuse of the right to protest, which is a sacrosanct method to raise and to pursue legitimate concerns.” (point 46 page 29).
My hope is that this Judgement will draw all those involved in this protest closer to the truth of their own situation and move them to vacate the area and the church as soon as possible. Furthermore, I hope that everyone, including those inside the church will use the opportunity afforded to them by the Judgement to seek assistance should they need, as the order by Judge Thulare allows (point 4.4. page 37).
In a week’s time during our Ash Wednesday service we will have ash smeared on our foreheads and will hear the humbling words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. This shocking smear of death on our face is meant to bring us bolt upright to the precious briefness of our life. Followed by the graceful invitation: “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. The word “repent” has a scary reputation because of how it has been misused by so many as a threat, but it is a most hopeful word, inviting us to change and thereby believing that we can change. To “believe in the Gospel” is to give our heart to the way of life Jesus calls us to follow – a way of life that chooses life – even though it may mean dying.
The first step to choose life is to choose to do no harm. This sounds simpler than it is, because we are all part of systems that we depend on for our survival that are in fact killing creation and others as well as ourselves. This is even true in relation to the refugee situation. We are complicit in creating a world (or in the very least complicit for not challenging a world) that causes situations that lead to there being refugees. This realisation that we are somehow complicit in the deathliness of the world invites us to repent – to turn around – to change. This acknowledgement that we are complicit rather than “innocent” is at the root of all confession. As Church we are called to be a confessional community. A community that tells the truth about our living. For this reason, confession is part of our weekly liturgy that takes place in response to the grace spoken from the Voice who calls us Beloved.
It is easy from the position of a false sense of innocence, to ask ourselves what good we can do. Doing good can feel good. Sadly, it often only addresses the symptoms in the form of charitable acts. Asking where we are doing harm, on the other hand moves us to see where we ourselves are the problem. This is uncomfortable but it may lead us to doing greater good. This approach is also more likely to address the systemic root of the problem that only doing justice can root out. So, ask not what good you can do, but rather what harm you can stop doing. May this be our fast for Lent: To fast from doing harm.
On Tuesday the High Court reserved judgement until the 17th February in the matter of the City of Cape Town and Refugees.
So we all continue to wait. Please refer to my previous update on how we are called to wait – with eyes and hearts open.
The situation remains desperate. There is a precarious mix of vulnerability and violence.
On Wednesday 29th January in the evening, stun grenades were once again used to separate the two factions of refugees who were fighting. This volatility makes interventions potentially problematic.
As a Church we continue to consult and explore our options to find a peaceful way forward.
Thank you for your love and concern.
At the moment there is not much by way of an update regarding the refugee situation in and around the Church. Please refer to my previous update on the 10th January below if you have not seen it, because everything I wrote then still applies.
In this age of social media there is heightened pressure to put out constant updates. I feel this pressure. Yet I have decided only to speak to the media or write an update when I am at least sure that what I say will be helpful to the situation (and particularly the most vulnerable within the situation) and if I am not sure it will be helpful then in the very least I need to be sure that what I say will not cause any harm. This is my overriding responsibility and that of the Church. It was however good to meet last Saturday and Sunday at Observatory Methodist Church where I could give a less time constrained update with those of you who were present.
The issues of health and safety within the sanctuary remain and therefore so does the Church’s request for people to vacate. The fact that people continue to stay is due to a mixture of different reasons. I am aware of some of the reasons but almost certainly not all of them. It will not be helpful for me to discuss the reasons that I am aware of on this forum, but just to say that one size does not fit all.
Please be aware that this situation is fertile ground for rumours. Hold what you believe the truth to be lightly until you are 100% sure. Please be cautious not to jump to any fixed conclusions. Some people spread rumours unknowingly and out of ignorance while others use them deliberately to take advantage of the situation for their own ends.
It has been disturbing to witness the revolving door of ‘promise and blame’ throughout this situation. False promises are made and when they are not realised then someone or something is made to be the scapegoat to carry the blame. The scapegoat is cast away and then the cycle begins again. Promise waters hope and blame deals with disappointment. The revolving door keeps turning.
One rumour I have had to address this week is that the Church information cards that include the Church contact details on one side and the words: “You are Born in Love, by Love, for Love” on the other side, is an NGO membership card. The rumour is that this supposed NGO is able to help the refugees. Yet no such NGO exists at all. It is understandable as much as it is sad, that desperate people will grasp onto the smallest sign of hope and hold onto it for dear life.
It goes without saying that with each day the desperation of the refugees increases. The conditions they are enduring are terrible. Their struggles as well as that of the traders and businesses around the Church increases daily. And I am sure we ourselves have felt many mixed feelings over this time as well as a growing concern over the conundrum of care.
There are many layers of concern in this situation to consider, and there are also many moving parts that all need to be in sync with each other if a peaceful way forward is to be secured. By moving parts I mean the different Government departments as well as International and Local Organisations. Everyone is also waiting for the High Court to hear the City of Cape Town and the Refugee matter on the 28th January.
So, with everyone we wait, and while we wait, we hold onto the dignity of everyone in our hearts. This demands we keep our eyes and hearts open. This is our work. Our inner work. Our true work. This is eye work and heart work. It is the work of keeping the dignity of all in focus and held in love. To keep our eyes and hearts open is not easy. Fear and prejudice blind our eyes and fear, anger, resentment and indifference close our hearts. This is the blindness of the sighted and there are none so blind as those of us who think we see. This is the blindness Jesus came to heal and the hearts of stone Jesus came to roll away.
With different words but with the same intention, this is the exact work we committed ourselves to as a community during last week’s Covenant Service. I remind you of our covenant:
Beloved in Christ, let us once again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take upon us the yoke of Christ.
To take Jesus’ yoke upon us means that we are content for him to appoint us our place and work, and himself to be our reward.
Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.
Therefore, let us make this Covenant of God our own. Let us give ourselves to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace.
Lord God, Holy Lord, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious Covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience and, for the love of you, engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.
We are no longer our own but yours. I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing,
put me to suffering*; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty;
let me have all things, let me have nothing; I fully and freely yield all
things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
*Please note: The traditional words, “Put me to doing, put me to suffering,” do not mean that we ask God to make us suffer. Rather, they express our desire to live faithfully regardless of whether there is suffering involved or not.
On Sunday the 29th December there was conflict among the refugees – effectively a fallout between the refugee leadership resulting in a split among the refugees into two hostile groups (leaving one group inside the church and the other outside). For about five hours we tried to get the two sides to end the standoff without success. Violence erupted between these two groups in the late afternoon. The police intervened to restore order and to keep the two groups apart. The police remained at the entrance of the Church for nearly a week. It was due to this violence and the continued threat of violence that we decided to cancel the worship service at Central Methodist Mission (CMM) on the 5th January 2020.
And it is due to this violence and continued hostility between groups of refugees that there cannot be a worship service at CMM this Sunday. Therefore, until further notice CMM’s Sunday services will be held at the Observatory Methodist Church at 10am. [Corner: Wesley and Milton Street, Observatory].
The ongoing health and safety risks that exist within the over-crowed sanctuary are exacerbated by the day. As I have repeatedly warned, the sanctuary is no longer a safe space and therefore, asked the people present to vacate. Now on top of these health and safety risks is the unpredictable volatility of the present hostile situation.
This has been a very difficult time and as a church we have struggled to find the balance between providing sanctuary to the refugees while they engage with international bodies and local authorities and take steps to prevent fire hazard and the spread of disease and basically keep people safe. You will know that we have asked the refugees to vacate the sanctuary numerous times. They have not done so. Sometimes simply reneging on their word and at other times due to circumstances beyond their control, like the tragic drowning of the four teenagers in Sea Point.
As the Church we have taken the long road of listening deeply and graciously. However, on the 29th December things changed. The sanctuary was turned into a battle ground by some and our welcoming space into a blockaded fortress. Hospitality was replaced with hostility. As a church we cannot provide sanctuary to violent groups, nor are we equipped to deal with them. It is within this context that as a church we will now pursue other avenues to address this situation.
This matter is not simple. There are layers within layers being played out. We must be able to hold more than one truth at a time and resist the temptation to simplify the situation to a soundbite. We have every right to feel angry and saddened and yet we must guard against our feelings having the final say of how we respond. When our desire for things to “return to normal” becomes greater than our desire for the wellbeing of people – especially the very vulnerable (there are between 50-100 children in the sanctuary) then we need to stop and check ourselves and hold each other accountable to another way, truth and life. A way that attempts to be faithful to Jesus’ call on our living.
As difficult and stressful as all this is I continue to invite you to seek out the gospel-ness of this moment. We must be especially mindful of what moves us: fear or love? May we be alert to complacency and cynicism. At all times let us resist the limiting binary of condoning and condemning and instead seek to honour compassion. Compassion that is ever-open to critique and growth.
This Sunday we break bread together reminding us that we are one body … one body yet broken. We will share the cup of forgiveness … a joyful celebration, yet also a gruesome reminder of blood shed world over. We will remember our Baptism and be thankful as we are invited to accept the good news that we are God’s beloved and to live out the good news for the world that everyone … everyone, is God’s beloved.