Congregations Work to Combat Xenophobia in South Africa

Demonstrators in Johannesburg. Source: UM News

During a recent workshop in Soweto, youth attendees were asked to define the words “xenophobia” and “foreigner.” The youth defined foreigners as black Africans from other countries and commonly referred to White South African as “tourists.”

According to Human Rights Watch, “xenophobia” — fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners — is widespread in South Africa resulting in harassment and violence. The purpose of the workshop in Soweto was to educate the youth about the negative impacts of xenophobic attacks on society.

For many residents, the Soweto riots of 2008 remain indelible in the minds of many residents. During the riots, neighbors turned on neighbors and longtime residents found themselves rejected by peers they called friends.

Many of the victims were migrants from Mozambique, Somalia and Zimbabwe.

Additional rioting spread to Cape Town and townships in Durban.

Thabang Ntuli, a community leader in Chiawelo, said “It was, and remains, sad to remember or see that … thousands of immigrants, mostly Africans, were harassed across the country, regardless of whether they were legally in the country.”

Khuliswa Mbatha, a lay leader of Chiawelo United Methodist Church, said twenty-one youth attended the workshop.

According to Rev. Innocent Muhomba, pastor of the United Methodist Northwest Circuit, “The xenophobic attack is a baby of ignorance that is being passed from one generation to another. If we succeed in educating young people about what a foreigner is and how much they benefit from them, we will create an Africa without xenophobia.”

The goal of the workshop was to replace assumptions with facts about the roles migrant workers play in stimulating the South African economy and dispel cultural stereotypes.

Currently, the United Methodists and the Council of Churches of South Africa are planning additional workshops as part of their ongoing campaign to stem violence against foreigners.

Source: UM News