The refusal to accept migrants in South Africa goes against “divine commandment” and the Christian call to give special consideration to “the stranger, the widow, and the orphan”, Wilfrid Fox Cardinal Napier has said.
In his message at the conference on immigration that St Joseph’s Theological Institute (SJTI) organized, the Catholic Archbishop emeritus of South Africa’s Durban Archdiocese found it puzzling that a country that considers itself Christian should be hostile against those most in need.
“Every year in the schedule of Readings to be proclaimed and reflected on by both leaders and members of the Church during the Prayer of the Church and the Mass, there are passages from the Old Testament where the phrase quoted below is repeated so often that it becomes a divine dictum regarding ‘the stranger, the widow, and the orphan!’ Invariably this dictum calls us as God’s people to give special consideration to these categories of the human family,” Cardinal Napier said at the two-day conference that concluded April 15.
He added, “It is therefore strange but even more puzzling, that in a country like ours, which claims to be Christian, at least in terms of people calling themselves Christian, there should be such a blatant violation of this divine commandment, and even worse that our failure or even refusal to accept migrants is most patently obvious in regard to our Brothers and Sisters from Africa!”
The South African Cardinal explained that many African countries have been in crisis since the end of colonization, prompting many to move out in search of better living conditions, and sometimes, just to survive.
In many African countries, he said the violation of human rights is the most common cause of ordinary men, women, and children becoming displaced persons or migrants, or refugees.
Cardinal Napier lauded organizers of the conference, noting that it was an opportunity to stop and think about “the stranger, the widow, and the orphan”.
Organized under the theme, “Migration in Africa”, SJTI realized the conference in collaboration with the Migrants and Refugees department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC).
It saw different speakers from SACBC, SJTI, and the University of KwaZulu- Natal deliberate on various issues pertinent to immigration, including those related to visa application, the growing number of migrant women and children, as well as faith-based leaders’ collaboration in tackling violence towards migrants specifically in South Africa.
In his keynote address, Archbishop Joseph Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg Archdiocese said that South Africans risk retaliatory victimization and other forms of harsh treatment away from home should they keep on harassing migrants and refugees in the country.
The former SACBC Liaison Bishop for Migrants and Refugees observed that skirmishes between migrants and locals in South Africa happen intermittently at various places.
The confrontations are unplanned, Archbishop Tlhagale said, and explained, “At times they happen on the back of a service delivery protest over the lack of clean water, electricity, housing, pit-toilets, schools, and so on. On such occasions, the anger and frustration of the local people at the government’s empty promises have tended to engulf migrants who live in the same neighborhood as the protestors.”
The South African Catholic Archbishop said that attacks on migrants in South Africa have an “anti-foreigner” sentiment and that the violence cannot just be minimized to hooliganism.
“These attacks are patently fueled by anti-foreigner sentiment. Hooliganism under these circumstances is an expression of the anti-foreigner sentiment. If these attacks continue unabated, the tension between South Africa and other African countries will begin to show,” he said.
He added, “Foreign governments expect the South African government to quell and diffuse the inchoate tensions brought about by the xenophobic attacks. They expect the government to protect all foreign nationals who live in South Africa. The migrants themselves expect to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality. They do not need to be reminded time and again that they are outsiders.”
The Catholic Church leader who started his Episcopal Ministry in April 1999 as Archbishop of South Africa’s Bloemfontein Archdiocese condemned what he referred to as a new anti-foreigner movement called Dudula (meaning: push them out), which he said had been forged in a cauldron of anti-foreigner sentiment.
The Dudula movement, Archbishop Tlhagale said, is currently trying to spread its presence (or venom) around the country.
He reported that Dudula followers have stood guard at hospitals and institutions of learning in order to prevent migrants without identity documents from accessing medical help or foreign students from entering school premises.
He said that the Dudula movement is driven by an intense dislike for migrants, and explained, “What it does is that it poisons the social environment by constantly bringing up the issue of undocumented foreign nationals who should be deported instead of regularising the stay in South Africa.”
“Besides, the Dudula movement has no mandate to be harassing migrants about their identity documents. They are not an adjunct arm of the South African police. The police ought to be calling Dudula into order. But Dudula is given free rein to harass migrants,” Archbishop Tlhagale said.
Meanwhile, the South African Archbishop has acknowledged the contribution of migrants in South Africa, noting that they continue to participate in the development of the country even with little appreciation.
“Migrants from Lesotho, Malawi, and Mozambique have been involved in the mining sector for decades even though they do not have much to show for it,” Archbishop Tlhagale said.
He added, “Migrants bring skills into the economy. Those who run businesses provide employment even to the local people. Many are involved in the informal sector of the economy. The contribution of migrants to the economy is significant.”
According to the Catholic Archbishop who has been at the helm of Johannesburg Archdiocese since his installation in June 2003, migrants bring along with them the passion to succeed, industriousness, cultural diversity, and a sense of openness to the world as opposed to what he described as “a narrow inward-looking nationalism and isolationism”.
He said, “Migrants display a rich cultural diversity in a form of customs, traditions, fashion, music, and the arts.”
“Finally, migrants demonstrate a strong virtue of courage to cross borders and to explore new possibilities in order to enhance their lives,” the Catholic Archbishop observed, adding that the only thing that migrants ask for in return is to be treated with dignity, and to be given a chance to find new opportunities and to live peacefully with their neighbors.
In his remarks at the conference, Bishop Joseph Mary Kizito, the Liaison Bishop for the Migrants and Refugees department of the SACBC, noted that the Bishops’ conference was working with the Department of Home Affairs to find a possible solution for several issues of documentation of migrant Religious and Priests.
Bishop Kizito said that the SACBC Migrants and Refugees department had produced books and articles, and organized various awareness campaigns and training workshops to address the situation of migrants in South Africa.
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