Recent xenophobia and the plight of the vulnerable in South African society

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The recent violence against foreigners in South Africa brings to light occurrences that go on daily in South Africa against South Africans. It is a violence borne heavily by the poorer elements of South African society. You may not agree with everything Cawo Abdi says in her article, but I believe she has a point when she notes that this current situation is not as simple as kicking everything under the carpet of ‘xenophobia’, instead:

A mantra of xenophobia wishes away the fact that the everyday lives of those in vulnerable positions in this society (the poor, the disabled, women, children, the elderly) are filled with violence similar — if not worse — than that facing African foreigners eking out a living in the midst of abject poverty.

I think we should do all we can against xenophobia! But the violent acts these foreign nationals faced (and face!) are likewise faced by many vulnerable South Africans. These are incidents which are not necessarily in the news each week: the news providers have deemed them not captivating enough for the goldfish attention span of us – their devout news devourers. And who can blame their decision. They accommodate the masses (us) driven by what is new news. Issues which drag out for too long become boring and bland, and are flushed down the loo of society’s limited focus. ‘Tell us something new,’ we cry, as like spectators in the arenas of ancient Rome, we switch to the latest story, to be captured by the latest information coursing through our brains.

It is understandable in some ways. After all we have lives to lead and things to do and plus, long term compassion is tiring and must be sustained by something greater than ourselves. But perhaps it also serves as a question mark towards our own hearts and the lack of real compassion for the daily plights of people, all as we go about our daily lives.

Even though remaining unnoticed by media (and so by us), these banal occurrences still form the daily experience of the poor and marginalised and abused within our society. They won’t go away even if we do not note them, Many of the people who may read these thoughts are probably middle to upper class: the crimes against people ‘like us’ are more likely to be reported and to receive airtime. That doesn’t make these crimes any easier or less evil! But the many crimes against those in the townships and informal settlements often do not receive the same attention (these xenophobic attacks are rather exceptional). As Lizette Lancaster reported in 2013:

Similarly, countrywide analysis of police precinct statistics suggests that income levels matter. Residents in low-income areas, the analysis shows, are far more likely to be murdered than their middle and high-income counterparts. Half of South Africa’s murders occur in only 13% or 143 out of 1,127 of police precincts.

A vast majority of the average of 43 murders that take place daily do not make the news. They happen in areas where crime and violence are part of the daily despair of residents who already feel marginalised and forgotten by media and politicians. The majority of murders are not premeditated or committed as part of a crime, like a robbery, but occur when an argument leads to physical assault.

I am sheltered. I’m a middle class white South African male who has seen some ‘stuff’, but I don’t know the half of it. As someone trusting in Jesus, I pray to God that this realisation is used by Him to help shape me into a compassionately empathetic person. I’m to look at the recent xenophobia and to prayerfully stand against it. We should focus on this currently publicised matter. But we shouldn’t be foolish and miss the fact that it also points us to other vulnerable people, people whose plights are real, even if there is no camera-person nearby to capture it on film. The recent xenophobia highlights other acts of violence going on, often overlooked. These must not be forgotten.

A few final thoughts:

Of course the plight of the vulnerable (non-foreign and foreign) are placed in the context of the issues of wider South African society  – poverty, unemployment, HIV-Aids, absent fathers. There are no excuses for the attacks which took place against the foreigners among us. We may like to talk about mitigating factors, such as those listed above, which led to the violence, and there is need for conversation in that regard. But they cannot stand as justifications for the assaults and intimidations – they do not shake individual responsibility for actions (whether carried out as an individual or in a group). However, while never an excuse for violence against the vulnerable, these issues are still real and are socio-economic factors which must be addressed.

As I said, I am a follower of Jesus. That means a number of things but it certainly means that I am under no illusions that if the big issues like poverty, HIV-AIDs, unemployment and crime were fixed, then South Africa would be heaven on earth. No, the deeper issue to the deep issues has always been our sin, this heart issue, our rejection of the God who created us. To the good God who created us to know him and live with him as our good God – to him we’ve given the middle finger, and it’s been a disaster ever since then. Our sin manifests itself in so many ways: xenophobia, racism, sexism, the list goes on and on. Close one door and we open another avenue for the expression of sin – we’re like that and it’s often those closest to us who feel the brunt of it all. The only real hope is found in God the Son who came to rescue us and change us from the inside out by God the Spirit. Knowing this means at least two things.

One, I don’t expect heaven on earth now, at least not until Jesus returns to perfect what he accomplished at the cross.

Two, I also don’t act like this world is all going to hell now either. This latter point means active involvement as a Christian in the situations of South Africa which includes the wider South African socio-economic issues and the specific acts of violence against the vulnerable.

It’s as someone trusting in Jesus that I pray and do the following things, and invite you to do the same:

Pray for the continued position of foreigners in South African

Read this article on the situation of the displaced foreigners and then pray:

Give thanks that many people are reaching out to help!

Pray that their needs may be provided for.

Pray against the kinds of diseases and ailments that are likely to spread given that people are living in such close proximity and with not great sanitation.

Pray that local leaders might have wisdom in knowing how to re-establish these people back into South African society, or back in their countries if they chose to return

Continue to give to the groups collecting food and items.

Pray for the vulnerable elements of our society, placed within the context of South Africa’s socio-economic issues

Pray for South Africans leaders who desire to care for the poor and marginalised in society.

Pray for wisdom for our leaders that they may impact structural change that looks after and protects the vulnerable and that do work against the many issues of South Africa.

Pray that churches (especially the one we are in!) may be involved in caring for the poor and needy, the vulnerable of society. (Get involved!)

Pray for the non-governmental groups helping on the ground (and get involved!).

Pray that as individuals we may be involved in empathetically caring about the people who come into our sphere of engagement.

If we’re too sheltered and are not coming across those in need, then pray that we might step out [of our gated communities? and] into areas where we can be used to show care and compassion.

Pray that God may use Christians to see the good news and certain hope of Jesus go out.

Pray for comfort and healing for those vulnerable affected by crime and poverty and disease.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

See also:

Prayerful action in response to the violence of xenophobia

The relationship of evangelism and social responsibility

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