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On xenophobic violence in South Africa

05 June 2008

WCC Member Churches in South Africa
South African Council of Churches

Geneva, 6 June 2008

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,


The Bible demands that, "The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34).

We are deeply saddened by the brutal wave of violent xenophobic attacks and murders of foreign nationals, migrant workers and refugees occurring since early May in South Africa. We raise our voice along with the South African Council of Churches (SACC)'s General Secretary, Mr. Eddie Makue, who stated that "As people of faith, we strongly condemn the use of violence and intimidation, particularly insofar as it is targeted against strangers and uprooted people," He continued, "Christian scriptures, in common with those of the other great faiths, contain numerous passages asserting believers' responsibility to show hospitality to strangers and to protect society's most vulnerable members, including aliens."

Increasing numbers people live in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual societies. In some places people are forced to leave their home countries because of political, economic or social reasons in the hope of a better future for them and their families elsewhere. In an April 2008 public statement of the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches on the changing ecclesial context, "Impact of migration on living together", adopted at the Armenian Catholicossate of the Holy See of Cilicia, Antelias Beirut, Lebanon, it was stated that "Migrants are not commodities, illegal aliens or mere victims. They are human beings. Migrant rights are human rights. We must respect the human dignity of every migrant and give holistic consideration to their needs, their strengths and the economic, social and cultural contributions they make to society. Above all, we must stand in solidarity with migrants and migrant churches, accompany them and include them in the decision-making that effects and governs their lives." The statement went on to say that "While we continue to see the impact of migration only in narrow terms, we will fail to come to grips with the economic potential of migrants, the role remittances play in supporting families, stabilizing countries during emergencies, and providing the vital capital needed for developing economies". The positive contributions migrants within South Africa bring to the local society and economy, in terms of cultural diversity, skills, economic growth, etc., should not be overlooked.

The current WCC programme on global migration builds on the Council's work of many years. In its Statement on Uprooted People, adopted in Geneva in Sept. 1995, the World Council of Churches Central Committee said: "Severe breakdown of economic and social conditions that once provided people with the means to survive in their traditional communities and in their own countries is accelerating the movement of people. Nonetheless, the movement of people has been a permanent feature of human history. A dangerous rise in racist and xenophobic hostility is often expressed in violence against refugees and immigrants. They frequently become scapegoats for many social and economic tensions in society and targets for growing hatred."

South Africa has a long history of fighting against racial discrimination and hatred. Its constitution contains a Bill of Rights which is a "cornerstone of democracy in South Africa" and compels the State to "respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights in the Bill of Rights". Thus we urge the South African government to demonstrate leadership by bringing to an end this murderous violence and promoting the observance of human rights and adherence to the standards and norms as contained in international human rights instruments. Furthermore, we call for the reinforcement of the human-rights-based legal framework in order to prevent and redress human rights violations against migrants and for the promotion of training on migrants' rights and against xenophobia. We affirm the SACC General Secretary Eddie Makue in believing that, "South Africa can and should do more to promote security, political stability and broad-based economic development in the region, as well as to ensure a more equitable sharing of resources and delivery of services in the nation."

We acknowledge the right of nations to maintain the sanctity and security of their borders. At the same time our faith compels us to appeal to your compassion to welcome the stranger as we find written in our gospel - "I was a stranger and you took me into your home. When I was hungry, you gave me food, when thirsty, you gave me drink…" (Matthews 25: 35-36). The World Council of Churches asks no less of the churches, the government and the peoples of South Africa toward those who are seeking shelter among you. "In Christ there is no East or West, In Him no South or North; But one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide Earth." Let these words find meaningful and concrete expression in your ministry and relationships with the brothers and sisters who have come to South Africa in search of security and better opportunities for a more abundant life.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary
World Council of Churches