Our Mercy work was born at the time of the genocide in Rwanda, namely in 1994. Anyone with any humanity must have been deeply moved at seeing the TV footage of the horrific happenings, man’s inhumanity to man, that took place there at the time. I was one of those armchair observers and decided to do something about it. But what? What could one do from so far away? It was not possible to go to Rwanda.
God provided an answer, of all places, in the secular press: on Sunday, 2 October, 1994, the leading article of the Sunday Times was about a group of young men who had come down from Rwanda to South African to look for help. These were our first refugees. 1994 was not just the year of the Genocide, but also a watershed year in the history of South Africa, the birth of democracy. Before that no African person would have been keen to come into the Apartheid system, but there was also not such a great need. The Genocide gave the impetus to looking south for help for help. The number of refugees increased as the war spilled over into other countries in Central Africa, displacing millions of people.
Because refugees were something new in South Africa at the time , there were no organizations or facilities to assist them. They had no place to stay and took shelter at a disused mine, Angelo, on the East Rand, which had become a haven for criminals and was a very dangerous place. I saw the Sunday Times article as an answer to my search as to what one could do, got details of the location of the refugees from the paper and went there to see for myself on Monday 3 October. Here I found refugees living in terrible conditions, no doors on buildings, no windows, leaking roofs, no garbage removal, no electricity and, after a few months not even any water. Alcohol abuse, sex for sale and fighting were the order of the day It was not a safe place visit, let alone for the young refugees to stay. Two young refugee girls were raped there on the night after they arrived. I visited there regularly and started teaching the refugees English, realising that they would not survive here without that vital skill.