Xenophobia in SA: Where are our religious leaders?

AFRICA witnessed a big shame few days ago. This happened when Nigeria decided to repatriate its 600 citizens from South Africa after a wave of xenophobic violence which led to tensions between the two countries.

Some left on two flights on Wednesday, Nigeria's Consul General in Johannesburg told the media. I call this a shame because ten people, including two foreigners, were killed in South Africa last week, when mobs attacked foreign- owned businesses.

The attacks started after lorry drivers staged a strike to protest against the employment of foreigners.

As most of us know, South Africa has become a magnet for migrants from other parts of Africa as it has one of the continent's biggest and most developed economies.

But in Africa today, once someone has valid papers he/she can move to any country where there are employment opportunities but sadly, that is no longer possible in South Africa.

Having observed these attacks, I have researched to find out whether different groups in Africa have spoken as one voice in this tension, but I found there is no such a union.

As a Catholic, I had expected to find out the voice from The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar calling us at least to set apart one day for prayers against xenophobia, but there is nothing like that.

I also thought my own Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC), could have at least invited us one Sunday, to pray for that shameful situation in South Africa, but unfortunately nothing of that nature has come in the open.

I have also searched around to see whether the Anglicans, Lutherans, Muslims or Pentecostal Churches in Africa had jointly come together and speak against xenophobia but there is no such unions.

We know that religious leaders and faith communities are the largest and best-organized civil institutions in the world, and once they speak as one voice they can be listened to.

Such leaders claim the allegiance of billions of believers and they bridge the divides of race, class and nationality in different issues, especially those related to moral or ethical issues.

I know that more than any other civil society representatives, religious leaders have the experience of establishing and working with international partnerships, which could influence the culmination of xenophobia attacks in South Africa.

Religious leaders are often the most respected figures in their communities and we witness that when we gather for prayers every week.

In the world today, monks, nuns, imams, pastors, priests, punjaris, and leaders of faithbased communities play a powerful role in shaping attitudes, opinions and behaviors because their members trust them-Couldn't they end xenophobia in South Africa?

I says this becayse community members and political leaders usually listen to religious leaders, and on this we have an example of our president John Magufuli and all other four former presidents who work jointly with religious leaders.

At the family and community level, religious leaders have the power to raise awareness and influence attitudes, behaviors and practices-Can't they do something to end xenophobia in Africa? I think they can. Such leaders can shape social values in line with faith-based teachings.

At these levels, religious leaders can motivate and educate followers to adopt behaviors that are compatible with religious teachings in issues related to love and peace in society.

Religious leaders can influence communities and families to love each other irrespective of their origins, colour, skin or race.

As we know, Xenophobia threatens the lives and livelihoods of refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants and other locally defined 'outsiders' including domestic migrants and ethnic minorities in South Africa.

There is a need now for religious leaders in Africa to team up with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in order to protect people suffering from xenophobia.

When the xenophobic violence in South Africa first occurred, the victims were not only foreigners in the sense of a different nationality attacked.

Everybody not belonging to the dominant ethnic groups in the main cities, Zulu or Xhosa, was attacked.

Members of smaller ethnic groups in South Africa are also viewed as foreigners by fellow South Africans. White people are not viewed as foreigners in the context of xenophobic violence.

There had been attacks on South Africans who 'looked foreign' because they were 'too dark' to be South African.

Reasons for the attacks differ, with some blaming the contestation for scarce resources, others attribute it to the country's violent past, inadequate service delivery and the influence of micro politics in townships.

Other reasons include involvement and complicity of local authority members in contractor conflicts for economic and political reasons, failure of early warning and prevention mechanisms regarding community-based violence.

Local residents claims that foreigners took jobs opportunities away from local South Africans and they accept lower wages, and they also claim foreigners do not participate in the struggle for better wages and working conditions.

Other local South Africans claim that foreigners are criminals, and they should not have access to services and police protection.

Foreigners are also blamed for their businesses that take away customers from local residents and the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Other South African locals do not particularly like the presence of refugees, asylumseekers or foreigners in their communities.

It is TIME for the religious leaders in Africa to enhance pro

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