This week, South Africa was once again shaken as xenophobic violence spread across the country. Immigrants from various African states who had fled to South Africa as refugees or to pursue economic opportunities were subjected to outbreaks of violence that quickly spread across South Africa’s major urban areas.
Rioters looted shops and set fire to cars and buildings. The police said five people were killed and at least 189 arrested.
News24, a South African news agency, said riots came after hundreds of people marched demanding foreigners leave, claiming that they are behind drug-dealing and unemployment.
The chaos has been widely condemned and drew sharp criticism from other countries on the continent. It also made world headlines.
In a statement, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) General-Secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said on Tuesday the xenophobic violence has left the country in a “state of shock.”
“The violent acts, burning and looting of business premises in the city centres and townships in Gauteng have left the country in a state of shock that things can degenerate to a point of such violence without us attending to the various underlying and causal issues.
“The issues of competition for scarce employment opportunities and the belief that foreign Africans, in particular, are part of the problem is at the core of these protests. There should be no room for criminal acts of violence against people and properties. Such acts must be condemned everywhere without equivocation,” he said.
The Bishop affirmed that messages were circulating on social media calling on South Africans to stop Africans from other countries from entering their homes and places of work. He warned that such attacks might impede the spreading the word of the ministry, especially for churches with dioceses and dependent parishes across the region.
“South Africans will be attacked wherever they go in whatever capacity. South African churches like the Zion Christian Church, the Methodist Church and others have no borders, they are in all neighbouring countries. SA church members will be bused to other countries for their conventions. Are we ready for a trans-border conflict? We think not. That is a no-win conflict,” he said.
The Archbishop of Durban, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, O.F.M., told Vatican News that every life is precious and attacks against foreign nationals and migrants are wrong. The cleric also said politicians must stop steering up anti-foreign sentiments.
“Xenophobia is not wrong just because someday I might be on the run and take refuge in someone else’s country. It is wrong because that person (the foreigner) is made in the image and likeness of God – just like me,” Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier told the press.
“Everyone has a life that is of supreme value. It does not matter where that person comes from, their origins, how they have come. It does not matter. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God,” he emphasised.
Police in South Africa reported on Tuesday that five people have been killed in xenophobic attacks which began in Johannesburg and spread to the capital, Pretoria, as President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to clamp down on what he described as “acts of wanton violence.”
“Attacks on businesses run by foreign nationals is something totally unacceptable, something that we cannot allow to happen in South Africa,” Ramaphosa said in a video address diffused on Twitter.
“I want it to stop immediately,” said Ramaphosa, adding that there was “no justification” for the violence.
The protests group clashed with police, who fired rubber bullets and, arrested over 189 people in Alexandra, a township in the Gauteng province of South Africa.
Lungelo Dlamini, a spokesman for the police, said the motive behind Tuesday’s riots was not clear.
“They are just criminals who are looting and taking advantage of the situation,” he told Al Jazeera.
According to The Daily Telegraph Newspaper, while most illegal foreigners are from African countries, such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Burundi, there is a steady flow of illegal nationals from Pakistan who mostly enter the country from Mozambique.
In similar attacks before, churches and faith-based aid organizations (FBOs) were amongst the first to respond to the xenophobic crisis, playing a vital role in assisting victims of attacks.
SACC provided help across South Africa, including the provision of food, blankets and volunteers to assist with the coordination of aid while many other churches opened up their premises to provide shelter to displaced victims.
In the aftermath of the events, churches and FBOs continued to assist refugees with legal and psychological assistance, promoting programmes of repatriation and developing and implementing programmes of reintegration and reconciliation for those who wished to remain in South Africa.
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