Last week there were international headlines from Durban and other cities in South Africa. Any story about Durban catches my attention since I have been to this beautiful city on the Indian Ocean. South Africa is a country with amazing people. I remember sitting on the airplane watching a sunrise over the green rolling hills around Durban. Where are the lions, right?
Unfortunately last week’s headlines were sad and described tragic events. There were violent attacks against foreign immigrants. This is not the first such outburst of hatred, but the most recent one. The stories spoke of rising xenophobia in South Africa. The definition of xenophobia is „unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture”. As we know, it is not a South African problem; it is universal. Let’s think of our own countries…
After spending time in South Africa, I know it is very complicated and there are many challenges in this ‘rainbow nation’. Lots of bad governance, homicide, unemployment, poverty, growing in-equality between those who have and those who have not… From the news, the attacks are mainly in the poor townships and directed towards people from other African nations (with some exceptions of Asians)… That raises many questions.
Whatever the possible answers, it is clear that this anger and frustration is directed at the wrong people. Also, there are powers who can manipulate these feelings. It is easy for those who have power to start pointing fingers. The leaders can blame the media, the media can blame the leaders or the poor. Meanwhile many poor blame the immigrants… and so on. Lots of scapegoating. But the most important question becomes, „Who is my neighbor?”
I was so encouraged to read in international news about our friends in Chatsworth. Many churches, including Good News Center (a mixed Zulu and Indian fellowship), are responding to this difficult situation. Bringing food and aid to thousands of people who are sheltering in makeshift camps in one of the football fields in Chatsworth. Dennis John is a local pastor and a man of peace whom we enjoyed partnering with. He told the journalists that those behind the attacks were becoming more meticulous, driving away South Africans in relationships with foreigners.
There are peace marches and other statements of solidarity. There are many religious and civil society groups and NGO’s who are showing compassion and neighborly love. I don’t need the journalists to tell me; I know it because I have been to South Africa. I know the people there and I know that there is lots of light in the darkness.
I can only try to imagine the hardship and suffering of the people who are now afraid and so uncertain for their future. Coming from poor or conflict ravaged countries and hoping for a new and better life. I hope that the friendship of their true South African neighbors will bring them the assurance that they are ‘welcome’.