As the latest wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa dies out, churches in the country and others on the continent are demanding an end to the persistent problem, affecting economic migrants in one of Africa’s biggest economies.
The attacks, targeting nationals from other African countries, began in early September with mobs looting foreign-owned businesses in Johannesburg, the nation’s financial capital. The violence – which left at least 12 people dead — also triggered revenge attacks and looting in Nigeria, Zambia and Congo.
“The attacks jettison cultural and ideological philosophies of Ubuntu (humanity) and Ujamaa (oneness),” said the Rev. Lesmore Gibson Ezekiel, a Nigerian who heads the Peace, Diakonia and Development department of the All Africa Conference of Churches, a continentwide ecumenical group. “This culture of violence must be rejected by all with accompanying actions of entrenching a culture of hospitality.”
Ezekiel urged the government and churches in South Africa to tackle the “recurrent and needless attacks on fellow Africans, who find South Africa as a safe space to thrive and (who) contribute to its well-being.” He urged the churches to open their doors to the migrants seeking protection and shelter and to provide humanitarian support as well as psycho-social support to them.
“We commit (AACC) to accompany all stakeholders in South Africa and the continent … to bring to a halt all acts that project Africa as a continent that eats its own,” said Ezekiel.
This is not the first time South Africa has experienced xenophobic attacks. Before the country’s independence in 1994, immigrants still faced violence and discrimination. The problem continued in post-independent South Africa, with about 67 people dying between 1994 and 2008. The attacks peaked in 2008, with violence and looting targeting Mozambicans and leaving more than 60 people dead. Those attacks ended with the deployment of the army, but nearly 20,000 people were displaced and countless injured. The violence resurfaced in 2015 and 2018 and has been occurring in poor neighborhoods in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
According to Ishmael Tongai, a self-employed Zimbabwean residing in Cape Town, the attacks often spark over allegations that foreign African nationals are taking away jobs meant for South Africans.
“Foreign African migrants are found (in) all sectors of the country’s economy. There are doctors, teachers, vendors and academics. Pastors and priests are also finding space among the millions of Christians,” said Tongai.
South Africa, with a population of about 55 million, estimates that more than 2.2 million foreign nationals from African countries live there. Although most migrants have arrived in search of jobs, the country’s unemployment rate is estimated at 29 percent.
South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, apologized for the attacks but said they presented an opportunity for the continent to tackle poverty, unemployment and inequality, according to news reports.
While the country urged other African nations to manage the migration of their citizens, several African nations pushed back, calling on South Africa to protect their nationals.
But some South African religious leaders questioned the role of political leaders in the violence. Roman Catholic Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, who heads the KwaZulu-Natal Church group, said the clerics are concerned that some politicians are responsible for the violence through their derogatory and inflammatory statements about migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable people, according to the African News Agency on Sept. 9.
“Poverty and competition for scarce resources are some of the factors contributing to this violence,” said Napier. “Violence is not a solution, and blaming the weak and the marginalized is not a solution.”
Nigeria has taken a hard stand, saying it will evacuate about 600 of its nationals trapped in the violence. The West African country’s Catholic bishops censured the attacks but also praised the response to them by the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
“We advise Nigerians living at home and abroad to be good and law abiding,” said Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria.
Noting that Nigeria and South Africa have long-standing diplomatic relations, the archbishop urged the two nations to work to solve the problem affecting their people.
Nigeria recently surpassed India to become the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty: 87 million. Nigeria is oil-rich and boasts Africa’s fastest growing economy. Yet six of its people fall into extreme poverty every minute.
This is the continent’s paradox: vast natural resources and mineral reserves alongside extreme poverty.
Historically, poverty has been predominantly dealt with as a lack of material resources or an income deprivation issue. Development work has focused on pushing resources to poor communities. Many have criticised the availability of “free money” through international aid, which they say has created a “dependency syndrome”, dishonest procurement and white elephant projects. Aid work has also been accused of fostering paternalism rather than partnership.
Without contextual knowledge, education and adaptation, foreign or imposed practices or resources cause new sets of problems. This is seen again and again across countries that depend on aid. For example, where food poverty was causing under-nutrition in parts of Malawi, financial aid has alleviated it. But that problem is quickly being replaced by diabetes and hypertension – because of a narrow financial solution to a complex problem.
We argue that tackling poverty requires a different focus, rather than just money. It requires partnerships and practices that promote learning, particularly in relation to cultural and self-knowledge. Having communities identify their own problems, then collaborate to find solutions, is also crucial. Money has a role to play in partnerships, but projects shouldn’t default to depending solely on it.
Many of the factors that are blamed for contributing to poverty are not measurable in dollar terms or connected to income. These include people’s lack of choices, restriction of freedom, lack of skills, gender castes and barriers.
Understanding these issues and their complexities require looking at poverty through a sustainability lens. This is a perspective that focuses on ethical and innovative ways to look at and use resources, share knowledge, and build a community to affect positive change.
Our work with the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network has shown the importance of this lens. We’re an interdisciplinary collective of researchers, educators, and communities of practice that aims to build understanding, research, and practice in socio-ecological sustainability (which recognizes the interconnection between social and ecological systems) in Africa.
We work from the understanding that because poverty is multifaceted, solutions to alleviate it must be multifaceted, too.
A number of the community projects we work with are engaged in poverty reduction practices but don’t focus solely on generating income. These projects are driven by communities on their own with existing resources; they rely on their own abilities and efforts that are not externally funded.
One example is ECOaction, which works in a slum community on the outskirts of Kampala in Uganda. Residents largely rely on collecting and selling discarded plastic bottles collected from across the city for small amounts of money.
With no resource other than time and vision, residents have built a community hall from recycled water bottles and an urban garden that grows food for residents and a chicken farm. Colorful murals and sculpture can be found around every corner.
In Botswana, the Sustainable Futures in Africa team is working with a community in Mmadinare to develop a project that will protect their farmland from wild elephants. This will not rely on or generate, external funding. But it will protect the farmers’ and the wild animals’ interests.
There are other ways to build strong sustainable communities without external financial resources. In Taba Padang, a village in Indonesia, sustainable community forestry is helping improve human well-being. There’s also Boomu African Village in Uganda, where a women’s group participates in eco-tourism and invests back into the community. They have built a nursery school and trained other residents in their village to get involved in eco-tourism.
Other self-reliance projects centre on health. For example in Lesotho, volunteers participate in community home-based health care and fill the gap in the community health care chain.
A new lens
There is, of course, no one-size-fits-all solution that will end poverty. But aid in the form of donated money, from one place to another, is culturally, practically, and ethically problematic.
Money is not the currency of well-being, sustainability, and community cohesion. More often, it’s a tool for influence and power dynamics that will favor the creditor. That’s why partnerships that rely on different types of resources and bring people together to design and act on context-relevant solutions can be such powerful drivers of change. That’s why for resource-rich Africa, promoting self-reliance would be key to eliminating poverty.
This article was co-authored by Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil, who recently completed a residency at the University of Glasgow funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK. She is the co-founder of Abundance (www.abundanceworldwide.org).
When Motebang Moeketsi looks at his country, he sees the majesty of its mountains, the stillness of its rivers and the joy of its people. Moeketsi lives in Lesotho, a country that sits between the Drakensberg and Maloti mountain ranges and is surrounded by South Africa. This land of 2 million residents and numerous awe-inspiring sites is a hidden gem, too long overlooked for Moeketsi’s taste. So Moeketsi, like many of his generation, is capturing and sharing his country’s beauty for the world to see. And what is being seen is changing the world’s view of this continent.
The beauty and diversity that is Africa is coming to light in photos and video from young Africans who tweet using #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou.
Since #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou appeared on Twitter, the world has been taking a new look at the continent that can fit North America, China and India within its borders and still have plenty of land to spare. The diversity of cultures, clothing, modern cities, and natural landscapes reveals a side of the continent that most Westerners don’t see on their evening news or in their social studies textbooks.
“In general, the media, especially non-African media, have shown poverty and diseases … little good,” says Moeketsi, a photographer and computer engineering graduate from the University of Cape Town. “Our role as Africans is to turn this mindset around using various channels. This hashtag provides us with that platform. Africa has come a long way from the ruin created by those who now fault us for it. Images and perspective are important because how people perceive you often feeds how they treat you.”
How it got started
That was the sentiment that caused Rachel Markham of Ghana and her friend, Diana Saleh, a Somali-American, to create the hashtag back in June. The two were tired of seeing stereotypical images of the continent that only captured extreme poverty, corrupt governments and people living in jungles. According to a Fader interview, Saleh asked her followers to join her in showcasing the beauty of Africa. The hashtag hit a much-needed-to-be-addressed nerve and hundreds of images were tweeted of contemporary African fashions, amazing ancient and modern architecture and stunning people. The hashtag was mentioned more than 70,000 times in its first few weeks and beautiful images appeared on Instagram as well.
The tweets come from countries all across the African continent, showing photos of countries with growing economies, industry, new construction, energy businesses, IT and banking. As some tweeters have pointed out, all homes are not huts, every country is not at war, and not all African children have flies on their faces.
“We are attempting to change the fixated face of Africa from the dying, malnourished child, to healthy children playing,” says Moeketsi, the father of a 3-year-old son. “Hopefully, we can shed new light on our continent to those who have never been here and those who have been told by the negative images not to come.”
Images as narrative
Some in the Western world, as well as some on the African continent, see the media bombardment of African images of poverty and disease as a holdover from colonialism. Back then, it was the so-called African savages who needed to be civilized. Today’s images continue to depict African countries as powerless and in need of outsiders to take care of them rather than seeing African countries as equals in the community of nations. “By providing other images of Africa, we’re putting our continent on equal footing on the world map,” says Moeketsi. “We’re giving people an alternative, allowing them to learn about Africa’s strengths and beauty, and think about African countries as places to invest in or where they can take an extended vacation … like they would countries in Europe.”
Moeketsi joined the social media revolution a few years ago, tweeting several images he had taken with his Canon EOS. One of the favorite places in Lesotho for this sky-diving and bungee-jumping enthusiast is the scenery around Katse Dam. A photo he tweeted of its calm waters is now being used by the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (@VisitLesotho). “This hashtag is doing wonders for Africa,” says Moeketsi. “It’s allowing us to depict Africa exactly how we see it on a daily basis and how we would like others to see it who haven’t been here. We have our share of misfortunes, but what country doesn’t? Homeless people litter the streets of even the wealthiest nations, and yet that has not been reason enough to never zoom in on their beauty. It will always be important to show the troubles so that they are addressed, but it’s equally as important to show the good so that it can be appreciated.”
See more of Moeketsi’s photography on Twitter: @Mocats_ .
Maisie Sparks is a writer and author. Her latest book is 151 Things God Can’t Do.
Chinua Achebe, 1930 – 2013. Achebe’s 1958 novel Things Fall Apart has sold more than 10 million copies in 50 languages. (Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/Newscom)
Last Thursday, Chinua Achebe, a trenchant social critic of colonialism and the author of Things Fall Apart, died in Boston at the age of 82. The title of Achebe’s masterpiece is an allusion to William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming:”things fall apart; the Centre cannot hold”. The title also symbolizes the unraveling of modernity – the collapse of grand secular visions of peace, prosperity, and parity among all nations.
Whether we account for his imaginative corpus in terms of God’s common grace or an unintentional effort that nonetheless bears witness to the majestic creativity of God, two things seem clear: Achebe’s compendium of writings deserve the global audience the have reached and will continue to positively impact readers for generations to come.
Despite the transcendence-free promises of our post-Enlightenment age, Achebe’s life and legacy can remind Christians that the “center cannot hold”, that things ultimately fall apart for colonial paradigms and social conditions that are not consonant with the Beloved Community of justice inaugurated by Christ.
Here’s an idea for Lent that will do more good than giving up desserts: Read a book about contemporary sub-Saharan Africa. It’s not a penance, though it can hurt. And seeing how much of the rest of the world lives sure does put a lot of our minor irritations, and even major problems, in perspective.
Consider reading a novel or memoir by an African author, such as …