Accolades for Bishop Verryn and Elinor Sisulu

Accolades for Bishop Verryn and Elinor Sisulu

"My dream is that somehow South Africans and Zimbabweans create relationships of such a nature that the Limpopo river is no longer a border but all it is, is a source of water and food,." These were the words spoken by Bishop Paul Verryn as he received his award, recognition for his work on Democracy and Human Rights in Zimbabwe presented to him by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) last Friday in the border town of Musina.

CiZC hosted the awards ceremony to honour and acknowledge human rights activists who have worked tirelessly to ensure that Zimbabweans in South Africa are given their dignity and their rights are respected. Bishop Verryn, who attended the colourful ceremony, received the award along with renowned author and activist, Elinor Sisulu. Since 2003 Elinor Sisulu has been advising on projects on democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe. She is a Zimbabwean-born writer, human rights activist and political analyst and was also pivotal in establishing the presence of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in South Africa.

(please see the accompanying speech by the latter).

Bishop Verryn, in his acceptance speech, began by apologising for the criminalisation of Zimbabweans and the xenophobic attacks they have suffered at the hands of some South Africans. "I want to apologise for what [other] South Africans have done in criminalising Zimbabweans and further traumatising an already traumitised people," he said remorsefully.

He stressed the need to continuously restore and reaffairm the dignity of people, especially the poor and the downtrodden in society, saying without that, we could never comprehend what it is like to be part of a nation or broader society.

At the Central Methodist Church, Bishop Paul Verryn has for years provided a haven for indigent and transient people of Zimbabwe. He has worked tirelessly to provide shelter for Zimbabweans living in South Africa and has played a leading role in administering to the welfare and needs of desperate Zimbabwean and other refugees in the South African city of Johannesburg.

Various representatives from leading civil society organisations which work closely with CiZC and were present at the awards ceremony for Bishop Verryn and Elinor Sisulu, gave moving testimonies of the work carried out by the two activists. And, although she did not speak officially, the mayor of Musina, Councillor Carol Phiri attended the event in support of the recognition of both Verryn and Sisulu.

Perhaps the most earnest statement of the night was uttered by the Bishop himself when he stated that he viewed his opening up of the Central Methodist Church as a privillege because he had been exposed to priceless human relationships with people who have walked through the doors of the church. He urged South Africans to open their eyes and accept the skills Zimbabweans have brought to the country. "One of the most profound ways of abusing human rights is not to expose the gifts that are in people," he said.

The award ceremony kickstarted South Africa's first-ever Zimbabwe Human Rights Arts Festival which sought to raise awareness of and highlight various issues affecting Zimbabweans migrants.

By Regina Pazvakavambwa, Media Assistant in the regional office. Additional reporting by Levi Kabwato.

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