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Unite against xenophobia, South African Primate urges

24 April 2015


Sanctuary: Samito, a child from Mozambique, sits in the refugee camp at Christ church, Mayfair, on Monday 

Sanctuary: Samito, a child from Mozambique, sits in the refugee camp at Christ church, Mayfair, on Monday 

THE Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, has called for an end to a wave of attacks on migrant workers in South Africa. He urged Christians to unite against the violence in a series of vigils and rallies, which culminate in a march today.

"Please join me in your numbers. Please pray for an end to xenophobia, and for tolerance. Let us be voices of reason, acknowledging the anxiety and desperation which leads to attacks on foreigners," he said.

"Let us look at sustainable ways of removing the conditions which cause these attacks, and each commit ourselves to one act of witness to change the situation."

Seven people have died in the violence in recent weeks, and up to 5000 are thought to have fled their homes.

Up to ten per cent of the population of South Africa is made up of immigrants from across the continent, including Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Malawi.

Many migrants have fled their homes, and are living in temporary camps. Some are staying in a transit camp outside Christ Church, in Mayfair, a suburb of Johannesburg.

The South African charity Gift of the Givers, which set up the camp in Mayfair, said that the response to requests for help had been "absolutely sensational and heart warming".

"It reaffirms that we are a caring nation driven by ubuntu [human kindness] and spirituality, and that the xenophobic attacks are not in keeping or acceptable to our inherent capacity of goodness," it said.

The violence began last month, after an apparent labour dispute involving South African and foreign workers in KwaZulu-Natal province. The unrest was fuelled by comments made by the chief of the Zulu ethnic group, King Goodwill Zwelithini, who was reported to have said that "foreigners must pack their bags and go home".

This week, however, he said that his words had been distorted, and he appealed for calm. In a speech to a packed stadium in Durban, on Monday, he said: "We need to make sure no more foreigners are attacked. If it were true that I said foreigners must go, this country would be up in flames."

One of those murdered was a Mozambican national, who was stabbed to death on a street corner.

The attacks have sparked an angry backlash across the rest of the continent. In Mozambique last week, a group of about 200 protesters blockaded the southern Lebombo border, and stoned South African vehicles.

The energy and chemical company Sasol evacuated 340 South Africans from Mozambique, over fears for their safety. In Zambia, a privately owned radio station has stopped playing South African music in protest; and Zimbabwe has sent buses to collect its citizens.

The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, cancelled a state visit to Indonesia to deal with the crisis. He visited one of the camps in the Durban suburb of Chatsworth, where more than 1000 foreign nationals are sleeping in tents and relying on volunteers for food. Many were boarding buses to return to Malawi, Zimbabwe, and other home countries.

He told those who had left their homes that he wanted people to live side by side, "as sisters and brothers".

The refugee agency UNHCR said that it was "extremely concerned" by the violence.

Its spokesman said: "Those affected in these xenophobic attacks are refugees and asylum-seekers who were forced to leave their own countries due to war and persecution. They are in South Africa because they require protection."

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