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Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa Worry Church Leaders, Countries Repatriate Citizens

Foreign nationals in South Africa during an anti-xenophobia match outside the city hall of Durban in 2015.

The wave of deadly attacks targeting African foreign nationals in South Africa has caught the attention of national and regional Church leaders and affected countries have started repatriating their respective citizens from South Africa.  

“It is with dismay that we take note of the recent upsurge in violence against foreign nationals,” the Catholic Bishops under the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have stated.

“We are facing a rising tide of hatred and intolerance, no difference to the rising tide of hatred in Nazi Germany,” the SACBC Prelates have said and cautioned, “If we do not take urgent action to stop it (xenophobic attacks), there will be nothing left.”

In their statement availed to ACI Africa, the leaders constituted by Local Ordinaries in Botswana, South Africa, and Swaziland disputed reports that the attacks targeting foreign nationals from some African countries in South Africa is criminal activity saying, “This is not the work of a few criminal elements.”

“It is xenophobia, plain and simple,” the Church leaders stated in their statement signed by Archbishop Buti Tlhagale who heads SACBC’s office for migrants and refugees.

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The President of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS), Bishop Emmanuel Badejo appreciated SACBC’s intervention and added, “We Africans must not lose our characteristic love of humanity, the respect for the sanctity of life and solidarity.”

“Nigeria and South Africa must peacefully resolve this unfortunate incident and stop its aggravation,” Bishop Badejo, a Nigerian national, said in a note to ACI Africa.

Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) has cautioned against retaliations targeting South Africans in Zambia and urged “all Zambians to restrain themselves from any acts of violence and vengeance against South African nationals and their property or business.”

The wider regional body of Church leaders in Southern Africa, the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) added their voice to the matter, expressing their disappointment about the situation in one of Africa’s most industrialized nations.

“The deplorable actions that we have witnessed cannot be condoned in any way nor can they be hidden behind words that hide the real terror of xenophobia,” IMBISA Prelates have stated.

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"We implore the home nations of those affected, not to raise the stakes by responding in revenge with violence," the Church leaders under IMBISA constituted by Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe stated.

The IMBISA Bishops’ concern for revenge attacks is coming at a time when reports of retaliatory attacks against South Africans in affected countries are surfacing and when some countries have started repatriating their citizens from South Africa.

In Nigeria, South African citizens have been attacked and their businesses vandalized, according to media reports.

South Africa’s High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria, and its mission in Lagos have been closed as the diplomatic staff feel threatened.

Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria are among the African countries that have considered repatriating their citizens from South Africa, with reports indicating hundreds of Nigerians successfully repatriated.

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This is not the first time South Africa has experienced such violence. Xenowatch African Centre for Migration & Society, which has been monitoring xenophobia in the country indicates that there was a peak in xenophobic attacks in 2008 and 2015.

Xenophobia in South Africa is often sparked by accusations that migrants take away jobs from South Africans. As a result, foreigners, especially Africans, have been targeted, with reports of some deaths and destruction of property.