Ethical Implications of Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa: A Challenge to the Christian Church

By Okyere-Manu, Beatrice | Cross Currents, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Ethical Implications of Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa: A Challenge to the Christian Church


Okyere-Manu, Beatrice, Cross Currents


Introduction

One of many violent phenomena that have taken the world by surprise in recent times is the reoccurrence. (1) of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals residing in South Africa, particularly foreign nationals from other African countries. This surprise is due to the increasing acceptance of assumption such as those reflected by the Commission of Human Rights Report that racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia have been declared human rights violations. (2) As a social issue, such attacks violate the dignity as well as the rights of individuals in this globalized world; their reoccurrence in April 2015 has been a great cause for concern.

It must be noted that over the years, there have been various cases of xenophobic attacks in the country; most notable were those of May 2008 and April 2015. In the 2008 attacks, the recorded death toll was sixty people: forty foreign nationals and twenty locals. Besides the deaths, there were the displacements of over 100,000 people, close to 700 were wounded, and a number of women and girls were raped, as well as the destruction of a number of properties. (3) Additionally, "342 shops were looted and 213 were also burnt down." (4) Just after these incidents, international communities, activist, and scholars condemned the outbreak. Seven years later, in 2015, another attack occurred in which it is estimated that seven people lost their lives and a number of others were misplaced. This later attack has attracted attention globally, and a number of countries have raised deep concerns about the violence and brutality associated with the attacks. There have also been a number of debates globally surrounding the causes and consequences of these brutal activities. (5) The current article has no intention of repeating previous discussions about the events, but it will give an overview of these attacks and will critically examine the role played by the church, particularly the Church in Action: a fraternity of pastors and church leaders in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal. Using the theory of deontology as an ethical lens, the article argues that the church has a duty to engage in social action that involves being the voice making sure that those who are vulnerable are protected. The current article is divided into three sections: The first gives an overview, explores the overview of the attacks over the years, and argues that xenophobia has been an ongoing phenomenon in the country. Second, it examines the response of the Christian church, particularly the responses of the church in Pietermaritzburg. Third, through the theory of deontology the article challenges the church to step up and take its social responsibilities seriously.

Overview of xenophobia in South Africa

The 2015 xenophobic attacks on non-South African nationals residing in the country did not present a new phenomenon. A number of scholars have described isolated attacks taking place there as far back as 1994, when the country attained independence. In addition, several studies have documented the physical, psychological, and verbal abuse of foreigners over the years. (6) For instance, between December 1994 and January 2005, a number of undocumented foreign nationals were attacked; their homes and property were destroyed, and they were taken to the police station in Alexandra Township for deportation from the area. (7) In response to these incidents, Godfrey Mwakikagile described xenophobia at the time as a "blunt, and increasingly bellicose, mythology targeted at non-South Africans living in the country," and to him, politicians, police, and the media were responsible for perpetuating the myth that foreigners "take jobs, commit crimes, consume RDP resources, spread AIDS and smuggle arms and drugs." (8) Jonathan Crush listed a series of xenophobic attacks in 1998, which included two Senegalese and Mozambicans being thrown out of a moving train by an angry group who attributed growing levels of crime and unemployment, as well as the spread of HIV, to foreign nationals. …

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