Wednesday 22 April 2015

"Hear the cries of the poor and marginalised"

Remarks prepared by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba for an Anti-Xenophobia Rally at the City Hall, Cape Town on April 22, 2015:

Thank you, Cosatu, for the initiative you have taken in bringing us together.

After the attacks of 2008 on migrants from other parts of Africa, we hoped that we had seen an end to xenophobic conflict in our country.

But more than five years on, the tension has erupted again.

People are dying again.

And now we are seeing the ominous threat of counter-attacks from people who say they can no longer sit and wait to be killed.

Today, we are here of course to condemn xenophobic attacks.

To say: Enough is enough!

To say: Cut it out!  This is not ubuntu!

To say: Foreigners are God's people too! All foreigners, not just those from Africa!

And we are here to express our condolences with the families of those who have been killed, and our sympathies with those who have been injured.

But we must go beyond that – way beyond that.

Firstly, we must condemn the irresponsible talk of those South Africans, whether leaders from public platforms or ordinary citizens on social media, who fan the flames of violence.

Secondly, we must go beyond condemnation.  We must come up with long-term solutions.

Because we all know the causes of the anger which so many South Africans from all walks of life are giving vent to in these difficult days.

We know why service delivery protests have become so commonplace that we are more likely to hear about them on radio traffic reports than in the news.

We know the root causes of a campaign such as Rhodes Must Fall, aimed at an inanimate metal object.

We know why jobless, desperate people are hitting out at the nearest vulnerable targets – at victims such as themselves, victims of situations in other countries where conditions are often much worse than here in South Africa.

We all know that at the heart of all this anger is frustration that inequality continues to plague our country, 20 years after our liberation.

  • From students whose education does not prepare them properly for further studies, to unemployed young people on the streets; 
  • From workers in shops and factories struggling to make ends meet, to those in business and industry who try to operate under inconsistent public policy;
  • From the township mother who gets home after a long day's work and train ride to find there's no electricity to prepare the supper,  to the middle-classes  who see their hard-earned quality of life being eroded; 
  • From those in government who are tired of the corruption and mismanagement they see around them, to the leaders of civil society and the unions who feel like pawns on the chessboard of an amateur chess player;
South Africans are tired of our collective failure to improve all our people's lives for the better.

We have become so discouraged about the injustices we see around us that we give up and say, “That’s their problem.”  We have become a society in which “me” has replaced “we” – in which we place our personal and family interests ahead of the interests of all of us.

We have become a society which accepts economic inequality, service delivery inequality, healthcare inequality, education inequality and most seriously for me, the inequality of opportunity, because it undermines people’s capacity to use their God-given gifts to improve their own lives.

When our struggle against apartheid was at its noblest, we all joined together: the unions, the churches, the mosques, the temples, the synagogues, the shopkeepers, the traders, and enlightened business people.

But now we have become a society in which South Africans with the courage to speak out against the wrongs they see are penalised and punished.

On Monday I went with a group to visit the family of Emmanuel Sithole in Alexandra, and then to the Jeppe Hostel in Johannesburg. There, I was really challenged as a church leader when a young man commented on our visit by telling us: "I hope the government is not using the might of the church to silence the poor."

Those of us with jobs and careers must not only condemn: amid the violence, we must hear the cries of the poor and the marginalised.

And we must join a New Struggle, a struggle for equality, and for equality of opportunity.

We must all come together again, with the courage of our forebears, and take collective responsibility for identifying our problems and fixing them.

To come up with long-term solutions to xenophobia, we must harness the energy being poured into protest and violence, we must re-direct it and channel it into a creative, society-wide drive for real transformation.

We can change our situation – we have done it before in the face of much bigger challenges.

And we are not the only people facing the challenge of xenophobia. Europe too is challenged by an influx of migrants fleeing poverty, wars and unemployment.

Last year the European Union cut back on naval operations to help migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa. At the weekend, up to 900 people drowned off Libya at the weekend when a boat carrying migrants capsized.

As Pope Francis said, "They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life."

In South Africa, we need to lay down guidelines for hospitality to migrants. But they must be based on our own values; not those of the monolithic cultures of Europe.

We must work out our own solutions. We must organise civil society coalitions and form task forces to create dialogue around our key problems.

We need to convene indabas for those who live and do business in townships to get local leaders, local business people and migrant business people talking with each other to find ways of helping each other.

We need to put pressure on government to come up with a comprehensive immigration policy, to ensure that we give refuge to those fleeing danger and violence without worsening the plight of South Africans.

We need that policy to resolve the legal status of all migrants in such a way as to welcome those whose skills, initiative and hard work can build our country, help create jobs and serve our people, and to discourage criminals who take advantage of our porous borders.

This won't be easy. There are no short-cuts. In a world where we often speak past each other, where conflicts are resolved by violent means, progress lies in dialogue, in taking slow, respectful steps to understand each other. It is the only way.

It will be a struggle. But human progress is never guaranteed unless there is struggle. Every step we take towards the goal of ending inequality requires sacrifice, requires suffering, and most of all requires struggle. If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

So let us turn crisis into opportunity, and declare today the first day of our New Struggle!

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