The government must play an active role in educating citizens about coexistence with foreign communities in SA to combat xenophobia.
The proposal emerged from a community dialogue on xenophobia led by religious leaders in Umlazi, Durban, Friday.
The dialogue, organized by the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council and attended by Umlazi residents from South Korea, Burundi, Congo and Zimbabwe, discussed the role of the churches in the fight against xenophobia .
Reverend Sipho Sokhela, Coordinator of Psychosocial Programs for Peace at the Council, said: “By taking the conversation to our parishioners, we are speaking directly to the communities because most people – about 85% of the Population – going to church. Pastors have an opportunity and a platform to influence people every Sunday.
“Most conflicts arise from fear of the unknown – and people don’t know each other. Dialogue, worship, and sporting events can go a long way in overcoming mistrust and separation.”
Rev. Bigirimana Mathias, leader of an African diaspora of pastors in KwaZulu-Natal, said he arrived in South Africa from Burundi more than 20 years ago.
“I saw the xenophobic attacks of 2008 and 2015 and the cases that have been visible lately, but I don’t think South Africans are xenophobic in general,” he said.
“It’s small groups that are xenophobic. So if we can sensitize our constituency and preach peace, we can uproot them.”
Mathias said the church needs to listen to organizations like Operation Dudula instead of ignoring and isolating them.
< p>“As a church we must not isolate the Dudula people, we must listen to their concerns. We need to be a bridge between them and the migrants so that we can develop a proper plan of action.”
South Korea’s Pastor Peter Han, mindset specialist at the International Youth Fellowship in Durban, emphasized the need for South Africans to educate themselves.
“Fifty years ago we [South Korea] were a poor nation, we had nothing. But we’ve seen steady growth over the years because of interventions that have allowed companies like Samsung and Hyundai to thrive and boost economies,” he said.
Sokhela said that the history of the Isolation from SA may play a role in how citizens view foreigners.
“Most people have never left the country or even their provinces, so they are still very alien to Africanism or international relations.
“The government must play an active role in teaching local people not only to relate and live with others, but also about Africanism because Afrophobia is very widespread,” Sokhela said.
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