South Africa: Jesuits condemn racist attacks

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa have been condemned by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). It has called upon the country and its leaders to show respect for and solidarity with each person – irrespective of their race or nationality.

The statement by JRS follows attacks and fear of reprisals in KwaZulu-Natal province, Johannesburg and other parts of the country. Shop lootings and violence over the past two weeks have left five people dead and have displaced nearly 2,500 Malawian, Zimbabwean, Mozambican and Burundian, among other, nationals. In a country of 50 million people with high unemployment rates, perpetrators of the violence accuse the five million migrants of taking the jobs from South Africans.

JRS South Africa says that although police have been working to control the xenophobic violence, more needs to be done. It is encouraging communities, civil society and the government to address effectively the xenophobic violence and sentiments now engulfing the country.

"The current wave of xenophobic attacks calls for a deep reflection on our values of equality, human dignity and solidarity,” said Fr David Holdcroft SJ, JRS Southern Africa Director. “We must recognise the value of each person, not because of race or nationality, but simply because they are a human being."

Justice

JRS is assisting refugees deal with issues of safety, livelihoods and integration. As well as helping refugees themselves, JRS is also working with the wider community, identifying key stakeholders in government and civil society and establishing long-lasting programmes which unite South Africans and foreigner nationals, including refugees, in the search for common solutions.

JRS South Africa is also urging the authorities to intervene in a timely manner to prevent copycat incidents anywhere else in the country. While 17 people have already been arrested, JRS hopes that all the perpetrators - including those who incited the violence - are brought to justice. It says that a peace march organised in the eastern city of Durban earlier this week demonstrates these violent acts do not represent the sentiments of all South Africans. The provincial government established four camps to house those fleeing the violence. However, the tents and destitute camp conditions are no replacement for the homes and shops left behind. Families have lost not only their homes, but also their livelihoods and many children are being forced to miss their schooling, says JRS.