by Pamela Maringa

Over the years we have been taught to read and put the scriptures into practice. Verses like, “love your neighbour as yourself” and “love each other as Christ loved the Church,” are important. We are encouraged to practice the spirit of Ubuntu, which exhorts: “You are who you are because of your interaction with the people and community around you”. We see this ancient wisdom slowly losing its impact as we reflect on the recent incidents of xenophobia in South Africa.

Cases of xenophobia have been reported in different parts of the country between May 2008  and February 2017.  Many foreign nationals have been killed and many left homeless. The most recent xenophobic attacks took place in Gauteng.  Communities alleged that some houses, owned by foreign nationals, had been turned into brothels. They alleged that drugs were found and other crimes – like human trafficking – uncovered. The assumption was made that foreigners were the cause of these crimes. Locals cited these reasons for the attacks.

It’s unfortunate that local people have turned a blind eye to the fact that just as some foreigners might be involved in criminal activity, there are also locals who facilitate crime. It is not foreigners alone who sell drugs in the townships, locals also do. Some local people turn to crime because of the unfavourable social and economic circumstances – such as the high rate of unemployment – that people find themselves in. It is our government that should take responsibility for failing its own people and allowing favourable circumstances for these kinds of problems.

South Africans should call to memory the fact that fighting apartheid was a collective effort. African countries such as Zambia, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique (and others) played a very important role when the African National Congress (ANC) and other political activists were banned in the country.

Pope Francis has condemned the growth of populist and xenophobic movements around the world saying that they pose a “grave danger for humanity”. He has also criticised leaders who rely on “fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills on to a ‘non-neighbour’ “.

Foreigners are our brothers and sisters.  Just like us, they are someone’s mother, father, brother, or sister. We are impelled to practice hospitality, kindness, gentleness, patience, and most of all humanity, to our neighbours. Xenophobia is an evil human scourge, which continuously rears its ugly head in our country.

Christians are exhorted by Jesus to be “light to the world” and make right choices. It is not an exaggeration to say that the scriptures teach us that the way we treat strangers is, basically, an important test to salvation. Jesus said: “When I was hungry, you did not feed me… a stranger and you did not welcome me”.

Change begins with each of us. Let’s restore our own individual and our country’s dignity by making it a safe and welcoming place for all.