Religious leaders in South Africa have condemned the ongoing xenophobia in the country that has taken the form of “deplorable violence, thuggery and looting” and told political leaders to desist from promoting the vice.

“Leaders have contributed to this sad state of affairs (xenophobia) by their irresponsible, populist remarks for political expediency,” reads a statement by the Jesuit Institute South Africa seen by ACI Africa.

“Words have power and the ability to influence,” the statement from the Jesuit institute continues, noting that xenophobic rhetoric leads to xenophobic behavior and that “this must stop!”

The statement echoes that by Wilfrid Cardinal Napier of the Archdiocese of Durban, South Africa who has urged politicians “stirring up feelings against foreigners” to stop the incitement.

The statements by the religious leaders want implicated political leaders to make public apologies.

“Leaders who have made irresponsible remarks must publicly apologise to everyone living in South Africa,” the statement from the Jesuit Institute reads in part and call on the political leaders to “have the courage to take responsibility for (their) own careless words and hold (themselves) accountable!”

This is not the first time that the nation is experiencing xenophobia. 

Xenowatch African Centre for Migration & Society has been monitoring xenophobia since the country gained independence in 1994. 

A report by the Centre indicates that in 2008 and 2015 the country experienced a peak in the violence. Xenophobic violence in South Africa are often sparked by accusations that migrants take jobs away from South Africans.

The Jesuit Institute admitted that the people are frustrated and angered in their statement: “We must admit that beneath much of the frustration and anger is a despair at the lack of service delivery, economic empowerment and security of our own people.” 

However, the view is that politicians are accountable for the current situation.

In a separate statement issued by the South African Conference of Churches (SACC), Church leaders also agreed that South Africans are experiencing unemployment and poverty but did not find this a justification for xenophobia.

“The reality of poverty and unemployment for black South Africans is a stark reality,” however, “it should not be a reason for the people to engage in criminal activities.”

On his part, the South African Bishop Victor Hlolo of Klerksdrop diocese called on South Africans to tame their frustrations and instead put pressure on the government to act for their interests.

“Tame your frustrations in this area,” he said in a video message adding, “Pressurize the very government you have voted for because the government must act for you and for your interest.”

Law enforcement agencies were also called upon to work towards maintaining law and order in the country.

Several countries have warned their citizens against traveling to South Africa due to the ongoing violence.


Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.