South African churches condemn violence, offer help

By agency reporter
May 22, 2008

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) has expressed shock and sadness over the violence directed at foreigners living in the Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg.

The violence has now spread to the city centre and across the Gauteng region.

Churches and church leaders are providing humanitarian relief and working closely with civil society and government.

"We urge residents of these communities to desist from violence," said the SACC's General Secretary, Mr Eddie Makue. "We commit ourselves to working with public servants and all those living in the affected areas to promote human security and sustainable livelihoods for locals and immigrants alike."

Mobs of South Africans have been roaming through the townships looking for foreigners, many of whom have sought refuge in churches, community halls and police stations.

The majority of the three to five million foreigners living in South Africa are believed to be Zimbabweans fleeing the economic catastrophe at home.

On Monday a delegation of church leaders from the SACC Gauteng paid a pastoral visit to Alexandra and met with police and community officials. A crisis committee of local church leaders was set up. The leaders pledged to continue working with members of the community who are seeking to build peace, security and justice for all South African residents, regardless of their national origins.

"As people of faith, we strongly condemn the use violence and intimidation, particularly insofar as it is targeted against strangers and uprooted people," Mr Makue said. "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."

Mr Makue said that the SACC’s 27 member denominations are committed to working with all those affected by the violence to address the underlying factors that have given rise to the frustration and undermining of respect for each other's inherent human dignity.

"We believe 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 our own nation," Mr Makue said.

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