A wave of deadly attacks targeting African foreign nationals in South Africa has caught the attention of national and regional Church leaders, as affected countries have started repatriating their citizens from South Africa.
“It is with dismay that we take note of the recent upsurge in violence against foreign nationals,” the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a statement earlier this month.
“We are facing a rising tide of hatred and intolerance, no difference to the rising tide of hatred in Nazi Germany,” the bishops added.
“If we do not take urgent action to stop it (xenophobic attacks), there will be nothing left.”
“This is not the work of a few criminal elements,” the bishops said of the recent spate of attacks against Nigerians and other foreign nationals in South Africa. At least 12 people have been killed in recent weeks, and hundreds have been arrested for their part in riots demonstrating against foreigners.
“It is xenophobia, plain and simple,” the bishops said.
“We Africans must not lose our characteristic love of humanity, the respect for the sanctity of life and solidarity,” Nigeria’s Bishop Emmanuel Badejo, president of the Pan African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS), said last week.
“Nigeria and South Africa must peacefully resolve this unfortunate incident and stop its aggravation,” Badejo told ACI Africa.
The Zambian bishops’ conference has cautioned Zambians not to retaliate against South Africans in Zambia, urging “all Zambians to restrain themselves from any acts of violence and vengeance against South African nationals and their property or business.”
The Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa has also added their voice to the matter, expressing their disappointment about the situation in one of Africa’s most industrialized nations.
“The deplorable actions that we have witnessed cannot be condoned in any way nor can they be hidden behind words that hide the real terror of xenophobia,” IMBISA said.
“We implore the home nations of those affected, not to raise the stakes by responding in revenge with violence,” the Church leaders of IMBISA added. The organization includes bishops from Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.
Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria are among the African countries that have considered repatriating their citizens from South Africa, with reports indicating hundreds of Nigerians successfully repatriated already.
Amid the attacks in South Africa, South Africa’s High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria, and its mission in Lagos have been closed, as the diplomatic staff feel threatened by the possibility of retaliation.
This is not the first time South Africa has experienced such violence. Xenowatch African Centre for Migration & Society, which has been monitoring xenophobia in the country, reports similar peaks in xenophobic attacks in 2008 and 2015.
Xenophobia in South Africa is often sparked by accusations that migrants take away jobs from South Africans. As a result, foreigners, especially Africans, have been targeted, with reports of some deaths and destruction of property.