Zimbabweans Face New Violence - in South Africa

By Nontando Hadebe 5-15-2008

This week has been marred by xenophobic violence in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa. The violent attacks targeted foreign nationals whom locals accuse of being responsible for crime, job loss, "taking their girlfriends," and other social problems. The violence meted on foreigners included murder, robbery, looting, rape, and violent assault. Most of the victims are Zimbabweans. One reason for this could be the high number of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa.

Currently many foreigners are being sheltered at police camps and the Red Cross is providing food and blankets. The timing could not have been worse because it parallels the ongoing post-election violence in Zimbabwe that has caused many Zimbabweans to flee to neighbouring countries.

An issue that is being raised is whether there is a "third force" behind the violence or whether the violence is an unintended coincidence -- i.e., it would have happened anyway and is unrelated to the political situation in Zimbabwe. In a survey done by one of the leading local newspapers, The Sowetan, readers were divided on this issue with just over 50% disagreeing that a third force was behind the attacks.

Despite the condemnation of the violence by politicians, the situation is deteriorating and the violence against foreigners is spreading to other areas. It is an experience of double trauma for many Zimbabweans.

I am struggling to come to terms with the violence around me and to respond to the issues that are being raised. However, I believe there is a prophetic Christian response informed by justice and compassion that can address the concerns of both foreigners and South Africans in the spirit of common humanity. Pray for us that as Christians we would find this prophetic response and be part of the healing and restoration of common humanity.

Nontando Hadebe, a former Sojourners intern, is originally from Zimbabwe and is now pursuing graduate studies in theology in South Africa.

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