South African churches take stand against xenophobia

United Methodist congregations across South Africa gathered to take a stand against xenophobia during a churchwide day of prayer.

The event was a response to recent attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa.

The Rev. Mills Maliwa, assistant to Bishop Joaquina Filipe Nhanala, said The United Methodist Church is against xenophobia, which is defined as the fear and hatred of foreigners or strangers.

“All we need now is to pray for our brothers and sisters who are affected by this act and also pray for South Africa as a whole. Violence will never be a solution, and xenophobia is totally unacceptable to all religions,” Maliwa said, citing 1 Corinthians 10.

“Our church is global and has social and doctrinal principles which we practice day in and day out.”

The day of prayer came on the heels of recent attacks targeting foreign-owned businesses, in which at least five people died. According to South African police, mobs looted, burned and vandalized shops and 189 people were arrested.

Neo Maboe, a young adult member at Soweto United Methodist Church, said the church has a role to play.

“As a church and people, it is our duty to regard other people’s race, religion, gender or sexual orientation with respect. We are all children of God and no one has a right to take another person’s life, regardless of any situation,” he said.

The Rev. Norah Puleng Maboe, of the Johannesburg Central District, said the recent violence has affected The United Methodist Church.

“This ungodly act affected our church business in Johannesburg, where our foreign brothers and sisters were afraid to come out from their homes to attend our church meetings,” she said. “Assault is always wrong, whether you are black or white, national or international.

“We need to unite, love and support one another and mostly our church members who are foreign nationals in South Africa by making The United Methodist Church a home of refugees.”

Maliwa said the church invited foreign nationals to the recent gathering to pray for an end to the violence.

“We had opened our doors and welcomed Meluleki Sibanda and Lemekazini Matamb, who are Zimbabwean, and other national foreigners who come from different countries in that prayer,” he said.

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Church members also assisted those individuals with food parcels and continued to check on them daily to encourage them to remain positive, the pastor said.

Sibanda said that has been difficult in the wake of the recent attacks.

“We are living in fear, not knowing what might happen next,” said Sibanda, who recalled an incident in March in which a group of looters raided the homes of foreign nationals at night, forcing many to move or return to their home countries.

Over 500 people sought shelter at churches, mosques and police stations.

“I was fortunate enough to have Lusizo Ntlakaza, a South African friend who also happens to be a member of The United Methodist Church, who offered myself and Lemekazini a place to stay at his home for a few days till this xenophobia cooled down,” he said.

Ntlakaza, a young adult member of Pinetown Pastoral Charge in Durban, said the situation affected his friend emotionally.

“Those  attacks really affected Sibanda and his family psychologically, as they always talk about it day and night, but we thank God for their safety because the worst could have happened if it wasn't (for the) love by God,” he said.

Matamb said he came to South Africa in search of a better life and found work as a mechanic. He is thankful for the help he received from The United Methodist Church, including counseling from Maliwa.

He said he was happy to be a part of the prayer gathering.

“We are grateful to members (of The United Methodist Church), because they showed us what it means to love the neighbor and the stranger like us.”

Mkwalo is a communicator for the South Africa Conference. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umnews.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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