Xenophobia a crime against South Africa
Xenophobia is once again rearing its ugly head in our country. At least five people are dead, three of them South Africans, as a result of the violent lootings of foreign-owned shops in townships around Johannesburg. More than eighty foreigners’ shops were looted and no South African shops.
Xenophobia appears to be a well-established part of the South African landscape. It is therefore important to debunk some commonly-held myths:
Myth 1: South Africa is overrun by immigrants and refugees. South Africa hosts one of the highest asylum seeking populations in the world, however, overall is a low-ranking immigration country with 6-7% of its population foreign born.
Myth 2: Immigrants, and in particular, refugees take locals jobs. Research from countries as varied as Uganda, Tanzania, Denmark and Australia suggests that refugees and immigrants create jobs and benefit the economy.
South Africans in the last week corroborated this when they lamented the loss of the local Somalian-run spaza shops which provided good service, credit when times are tough and cheap groceries in a nearby location.
Myth 3: By accepting refugees South Africa discourages people from returning to their own country. In fact, refugees that do well are the main source of development aid to their countries of origin where they often have remaining family. In this way they contribute to lasting peace building in a manner that no UN force could dream of doing.
Myth 4: Immigration encourages terrorism. Interestingly, the Charlie Hebdo perpetrators “felt French but were regarded (by many French) as foreign.” If we do not include immigrants into the development of a society then the pre-indicators of disaffection and its results mount – immigration is something that has to be worked at constantly.
Myth 5: South Africans are unwelcoming. It is my experience that South Africans are as hospitable as any race on earth – xenophobia has its roots somewhere else and it is important to understand this.
Churches have a crucial role to play in this dialogue as they perceive humanity as larger than narrow nationalistic or ethnic groupings. They must resist any impulse to define communities as such.
We can take heart that Christ himself struggled with the forces of scapegoating and racism and was forced by a foreigner to completely reimagine his mission to regard people for their innate dignity and not the colour of their skin. We should we never see the foreigner as anything but an opportunity to reflect and reconfigure our values and lives.