Buti Tlhagale, archbishop of the Southern African Catholic bishops’ conference office for migrants and refugees, says the recent attack on foreign nationals in the country is an act of xenophobia, not criminality.
This comes days after Bobby Moroe, South Africa’s high commissioner to Nigeria, had said the attacks in his country have nothing to do with xenophobia, but just “sporadic acts of violence”.
But in a statement he issued at the weekend, Tlhagale said there are clear indications that foreigners were the target.
While faulting the response of security operatives in the country, he asked why South Africans who were involved in drug peddling were not affected in the attacks.
“Once again we received reports of the authorities doing very little to protect the victims. We received reports of police standing by idly in Pretoria while shops were being looted and people attacked. Not a single arrest was made on that day,” he said.
“Once again the authorities resort to the old explanation: that this is not xenophobia, but the work of criminal elements. Let us be absolutely clear – this is not an attempt by concerned South Africans to rid our cities of drug dealers. And this is not the work of a few criminal elements. It is xenophobia, plain and simple.
“If it was about drugs, why are South African drug dealers not being targeted as well? Are we really to believe that there are none? And why are drug addicts who rob people in our city centres to get money to buy drugs not being targeted? If it is the work of a few criminal elements, why are South African-owned businesses not being looted as well?”
The bishops described the attacks as a rising tide of hatred and intolerance.
“The teaching of the Church is direct and uncompromising. More than 80 per cent of South Africans claim to be Christians. What are our religious leaders teaching the multitudes that fill our Churches every Sunday? Galatians 3:28 says, ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’,” he said.
“By the same token, there is neither South African nor Nigerian nor Ethiopian. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
“Let us take heed of this. We are facing a rising tide of hatred and intolerance, no different to the rising tide of hatred in Nazi Germany. If we do not take urgent actions to stop it, there will be nothing left.”