Jordi Matas, Photographer
The Johannesburg methodist church is not just any church. Yes, it has its routine mass, Sunday morning services and religious images, but above all it has become a shelter for refugees in Johannesburg. After the 2008 xenophobic attacks in South Africa, that killed dozens of foreigners, church bishop Paul Verryn found that hundreds of undocumented, political refugees were living in the streets of Johannesburg, unable to return to their homes in the townships for fear of being attacked by local mobs. He decided to open the doors of his church to them.
The building was home to almost 2,000 people between 2008 and 2009, coinciding with the arrival of large groups of people escaping from Zimbabwe into South Africa. Verryn estimates to have housed about 30,000 people.
One refugee says in a tired voice: “The church is a house. It’s my home. It is also the home of over a thousand people who will sleep piled on the floor, again tonight.”
Jordi Matas is a Spanish freelance photographer, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. His work, with a strong focus on social and humanitarian issues, has taken him to about 20 countries in the last 2 years, from Africa to the Middle East, to Asia and Europe. Jordi Matas regularly photographs for international NGOs like UNHCR or UNICEF, and for newspapers like The Guardian and The Telegraph. His work has also appeared in Time Magazine, Newsweek, Stern or Vanity Fair.