Xenophobia: South Africa Needs a Turnaround Strategy

Published on 10th September 2019

The violence we are seeing in society, whether in individual acts of crime such as the assault and killing of women and children, or in the attacks by crowds on migrants and refugees, are indicative of an unstable society torn by pathologies and dysfunction. South Africa needs a turnaround strategy to address issues of equal opportunity, education and employment, and I will continue calling on President Ramaphosa and government to address these as a matter of urgency.

We in the church are deeply disturbed by the recent orchestrated attacks on citizens from outside our country – sadly called foreign nationals – for no one is foreign, all are all God's people and all are Africans. I am appalled and ashamed by the violence meted out against them, especially against truck drivers, and at the prejudice voiced against these vulnerable people who come from beyond our borders. We are dismayed by the inept statements that fuel mindsets of rejection in the public discourse, and which disregard the trauma of displacement that these, God's people, have to endure.

Have we forgotten the pain that apartheid forced removals inflicted upon us? It is shocking that there are now those among us who want to inflict that pain on others. We can't be ambivalent, we can't be insensitive, to God's people who happen to be from outside our borders. Jointly with my colleague, the Archbishop of Nigeria, we condemn the violence meted out against them and as Archbishop I express our prayers for the traumatised and our condolences to those who have lost members of their families.

I want to thank President Ramaphosa for addressing the nation on this matter but pray that he will follow up and demand that the responsible branches of government act firmly, and especially that those who attacked people and looted their homes and businesses will be arrested and prosecuted. I have also called on the ambassadors of South Africa in the countries whose nationals have been affected to offer apologies on behalf of our country and our churches. I have just attended the World Economic Forum and the buzz-word has been cross-border trade. How can we expect other countries in Africa to trade with us when we demean and mistreat others?

I am also calling on members of our church and all those in the household of faith to contribute in whatever way possible to help those who have been the victim of attacks. I confess my own intolerance, and our intolerance as South Africans, and I commit my church to create spaces for dialogue where we can look at how we can support one another theologically, pastorally and in a practical way so that we move away from only condemning the government and towards being part of the solution ourselves.

While the darkest night we have experienced since liberation in 1994 has ended, it is clear that the new dawn promised by the President will not meet our hopes and expectations if we don't all pitch in and work to realise its potential.

Historically, we South Africans have achieved most when we have realised that if one member of society suffers, if one family suffers, if one community suffers, we all suffer. We succeed when we focus on what we can create together, when we allow hope to flourish and don't stress over what we cannot control. If we are committed to embrace the New Struggle, my prayer is that we will heed Jeremiah’s understanding of God at the Potter’s house (18:1-11). What was important was not the spoiling of the clay, but the perseverance of the Potter in making clay into another vessel. Friends, the Lord is the shaper of the clay, shaping it according to God's purpose.

It is at turning points such as this in your lives and in the life of our communities and our country that our destiny is shaped. Destiny is a matter of choice, not of chance. I pray that all of us will embrace our New Struggle, that we will awaken our consciences and demonstrate solidarity and commitment to a culture of values-based decision-making and care for one another in ways including the protection of women and children. In that way we can be of service to our schools, our families and our beautiful country.

By Thabo Cecil Makgoba

South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

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