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Address Root Causes of Xenophobia to Completely End It: SECAM Official

Participants in SECAM Justice, Peace and Development Commission Workshop in Boksburg, South Africa

The challenge of xenophobia in Africa can be overcome by identifying and addressing the root causes of the menace that has affected the peaceful coexistence of people of the same race, an official of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) said recently in South Africa.

“I think that it is very simplistic to call this phenomenon xenophobia and end there, there is a lot of it. What has happened has xenophobic element, but it is very nuanced, and if we are to succeed in dealing with it, we need to address those nuances as well,” the first Vice President of SECAM, Bishop Sithembele Anton Sipuka said in Boksburg, South Africa last week. 

“One particular context of South Africa that requires strategies for peace, it is the context of lack of harmony between some South Africans and nationals of other African countries,” Bishop Sipuka noted in opening remarks during the three SECAM’s Justice and Peace and Development Commission (JPDC) workshop, which concluded October 10.

The Prelates who is the Local Ordinary of Umtata in South Africa described the violence occasioned by xenophobia in his country as “very saddening and embarrassing.”

Highlighting some of the causes of the evil of xenophobia, Bishop Sipuka said, “Competition among the poor of South Africa and the poor of other African countries,” is one of the reasons of the violence. 

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“Violence started when it became clear that the state of paradise that was hoped for in 1994 (at independence) was not becoming a reality, instead poverty and unemployment were becoming the order of the day. The anger about this failed dream began to be directed against the foreign African nationals,” explained Bishop Sipuka.  

“The other cause of tension is the advantaged position of people from other African countries in terms of being entrepreneurial, (able to identify business opportunities and using them) and South Africans who have not been trained to be entrepreneurial, but trained to depend on the government,” noted the member SECAM Standing Committee. 

However, he (Bishop Sipuka) challenged the Church to “Educate South Africans to be entrepreneurial” as “they (South Africans) will not feel disadvantaged against Africans from other countries.”

“Finally, the other reason for the attack of Africans from other countries is that they breed crime,” the South African Prelate said and clarified, “true as this maybe for some foreigners, this is also true for some South Africans as well, and we do not vent our anger to them in the same way that we do to perceived foreign criminals.”

“One can see an element of xenophobia, because criminals are treated differently on the basis of their nationality and this is not right,” he concluded.

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The JPDC workshop took place under the theme: “The Church’s Role in Peace Processes: Challenges and Opportunities.”

The workshop was attended by the Chairpersons of Justice and Peace Commissions of Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA), Association of Catholic Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACERAC), Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA), and The Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA).