A Pastoral Letter Examining Suggestions for Addressing Some of the Possible Solutions to the Impasse of Xenophobia in South Africa and Exploitation in Several Contexts: A Quest for Balance and Redress for Both the South African and Zimbabwean Poor
29 May 2008
Texts: Eph. 2: 19 – 21; Deut. 24: 17 – 22; 10: 17 – 19; I Peter 2: 11 – 17
Greetings to the poor and homeless, informal settlement dwellers, the unemployed and underemployed, sojourners, citizens, legal and illegal refugees, refugee status seeking people of God, asylum seekers, our neighbors from African and other continents, sisters and brothers, children of God, population of South Africa. This pastoral letter from the Ecumenical Movement and Civic Society Organisations of the Province of KwaZulu- Natal has you in mind after the aftermath of the dubbed xenophobic attacks which spread like wild fire in many parts of South Africa in the past two weeks or even few months of the mid-year 2008. Peace, Mercy, Goodwill and the Justice of God abide with you.
Introduction: It is our belief that “the church, in response to Jesus’ teachings, must foster human progress – progress not understood solely in terms of economic and technological advances, but in terms of fostering full human potential (i.e., social, cultural, and spiritual)”. Over the years the church has tracked and traced world conflicts to the root cause of poverty, and has always advocated for proper development as a means of peace” (Pope Paul VI, additions mine).
The emergence of the dubbed xenophobic attacks has been in our view demonstrably and verbally rejected by many in South Africa and the world and rightly so. These incidents were rightly called a disgrace and were condemned as unacceptable here in South Africa and elsewhere in a ‘civilized’ world. An apology has been extended and accordingly we pray for the victims to emerge strong beyond these incidents and the perpetrators to forgive themselves and realise how they could have been used by the circumstances and conditions in which they found themselves and reacted in a way that when looking back may see that there could have been some better way of addressing the situation than to use violence, arson, murder, rape, clubbing and inflicting wounds on fellow neighbors.
This pastoral letter seeks to bring consolation and peace and yet probe this matter in terms of unleashing and examination of probable suggestions towards the amelioration of the situation.
Quest to Combat Injustice: “In the churches quest to combat injustice, there needs to be a focus on political action – not just economic action. Christian theology of justice encourages Christian communities, the entire society and local churches to apply gospel principles of justice to contemporary situations and take appropriate political action” (Pope Paul VI, additions mine). “Justice is an essential ingredient to the liberation of human beings – not to mention a key expression of Christian love”. Injustice can be understood as discrimination and marginalization of migrants and refugees, local poor working class, homeless, unemployed and underemployed sub-classes, including human rights violations, like we see rampant in the new South Africa, torture of humans by other humans, political imprisonment by ruling powers, chasing away and isolation of the poor in shacks and plastic houses, denying them of the right to education, skills acquisition, job opportunities and access to adequate resources.
Confession: Pastoral letters of this nature in normal circumstances are produced with patience, thorough and wide consultations. It shall be understood that the situation in which we find ourselves as the ecumenical movement and civil society organisations compelled us to call a provincial consultation which was attended by 70 representatives from 35 organisations across the province of KwaZulu-Natal to ponder and prophesy upon the matter of the resurgence of xenophobia in South Africa.
We were reminded that such xenophobic actions result in racial and tribal tensions which some ended with genocide elsewhere in Africa and Europe. It was the urgency of the realization of the seriousness of the situation and the probable repercussions of the actions of our people that we had to attend to this as a matter of urgency. In our mind we ponder the causative factors of such xenophobic manifestations as much bigger than local manifestations of this ‘black-on-black’ violence as it would be spuriously perceived from other perspectives.
When the poor want to really understand the causative factors of such manifestations, they are often told that they will not understand. The poor are often told, understanding certain discourse is supposedly a preserve of the experts and the educated. This pastoral letter challenges the poor of Zimbabwe and South Africa to apply their minds to this and begin to ask themselve thought provoking questions as to what happened to the beautiful neighborliness that existed before the explosion of this violence. What is it that we believed and now see it was false? How do we jointly redress it? And so on.
As the church, the ecumenical movement and civil society organisations we confess our failure to keep on reading the signs of the times. It was as if the ushering of the new democracy was the end of times. We forgot to keep on reading the sighs which were so glaring that we regret we have become part of the cause of this evil because of not doing good when the actions of destruction were so showing. The kind of policies that were adopted by both the South African and the Zimbabwean governments were supposed to have been resisted not only with submissions of suggestions for amendments but including public protest and civil disobedience at least on our part.
We confess, we have not done our social analysis on a continuous basis as we were supposed to do. We spoke about doing social analysis, but we never came to really do it to help our new found freedom to make amends where it was going drastically wrong. I would guise the same was the case with the divided voices of the churches and civil society organisations of Zimbabwe. The Lord forgive us.
We collectively have not done our needs and skills audit as we always thought it was the work of government. Trusting that the government and business are tackling the issues of poverty eradication, wealth distribution, fairness, equality and freedom of economy, we have bamboozled ourselves. Look where we are now 14 years in the democratic dispensation?
Contexts: Drawing parallels between Zimbabwe and South Africa in the present context we observe how physical political violence is inflicted upon the poor in Zimbabwe and the economic violence is imposed on the poor in South Africa. We observe how democracy and Constitutional processes have been undermined in Zimbabwe and how democracy and democratic institutions have failed the poor in South Africa.
We observe how the elite are exploiting scarce resources in Zimbabwe and how the politically connected few are enriched in South Africa. In both situations this is done by the politicians under pressure of their fellow Westerners at the expense of the poor. The margins of the cities of both countries are squalid; the rural areas are subjected to permanent and adverse poverty, all crammed in shanty towns and unproductive rural land, completely sidelined from competitive commercial farming and rendered paralyzed to magnanimous levels – its incredible.
How does one expect a people so squeezed and squashed not to imbibe jealousy, envy and self pity which regrettably translates in the manifestation of xenophobia? During the Industrial Revolutions, public authorities did not preserve, respect, promote and protect the rights of the poor and worker. So it is in our time. “In the era of the advancement of nuclear energy, automation, space exploration, and improved communication technologies new and complex problems were posed to industrial nations. Meanwhile millions lived in poverty in Asia, Africa and Latin America as is the case today” (Ibid. Additions mine). So it has been but yet it is not divinely ordained. It is the project of the greed of the rich exploiting the labor and the vulnerability of the poor.
Poverty Exposure: It has already been alluded to, that in the past as it is indeed in the present, the churches have come to a conclusion that the root cause of world conflicts is poverty. Issues like xenophobia and so on are the manifestation of the pain of adverse poverty the people are subjected to, often for decades and centuries. It does happen that at times the easier target the poor communities would vent their anger on will be the weak in society or those they deem to be inferior and defenseless among them. On the other hand, the Poor’s response with violence is a form of mirroring their own economic, political and cultural inferiority. By attacking others psychologically it brings them a feeling of superiority and justification which in normal circumstances, is unfounded and misinformed.
About three years ago (2005) a group of church leaders went to visit poor homesteads in he province of KwaZuliu-Natal. The political leaders need to be exposed to what happened to this group of leaders mentally and morally, when we went to see poverty face to face. What did we go out to see? Poverty! Did we not know what it is? Have we not experienced it before? How fast did we forget that poverty is “…. characterized by the inability of individuals, households or communities to command sufficient resources to satisfy a socially acceptable minimum standard of living. Poverty is perceived by poor South Africans themselves to include alienation from community, food insecurity, crowded homes, usage of unsafe and inefficient forms of energy, lack of jobs that are adequately paid and/or secure, and fragmentation of the family. In contrast wealth is perceived to be characterized by good housing, the use of gas or electricity, and ownership of major durable goods such as a television set or fridge” (Poverty and Inequality 1998: 26).
Research has shown that 19 million people, just fewer than 50% of South Africans are poor. Unemployment is conservatively estimated at 40% able bodied persons. The monthly expenditure level of those who are employed is averagely estimated at R345 per adult equivalent. “Poverty, and its handmaid, inequality, in their myriad incarnations, are every where for all those with eyes to see .” Poverty and inequality go hand in hand.
One of the issues the church leaders have to attend to are the inequalities created by our evil past in South Africa. These inequalities are fixated and entrenched in our social fabric. They have to be rooted out. We have also realized that for the transformation of the lives of the poor, churches and communities cannot rely on capitalist market forces to grow the economy and hope that the crumbs which may trickle down to the poor will eradicate, list alleviate poverty. The question of poverty is a structural and political one. It has to be attended in terms of the interventions in economic policies implemented by ensuring that they are transformative and geared to make poverty history.
Needless to mention that: “Most of the poor live in rural areas: while 50% of the
population of South Africa is rural, the rural areas contain 72% of those members of the
total population who are poor”. Further, almost 70% of the poor are black people. Thus, the church leaders must not lose focus to attend to the problems of black people. They are the ones who have been bedeviled and we should not shy away from that fact.
The Experience of Visiting the Poor in their Homesteads
We went out to visit the poor in their houses. We drove on their dusty streets. We greeted them in their own languages. We saw anguish, sorrow, suffering, sickness, drought and hunger. One poor man was even quoted in the Newspaper, Mercury (Tuesday, 4 July 2006) saying: “Many policies have been passed. Many people have voted. But what has been done has been done for the rich. I am afraid the government, other organisations (including the churches) and academics speak about the poor all the time but so few want to speak to the poor (additions mine)”.
The poor we have seen are like captives in a foreign land, unmercifully scourged by a cruel heartless master who will never let them go free. Like deliberately gouged and blinded people, for them it seemed hopeless to pray for sight for their eyes are gouged out – is a feeling and experience we had when they spoke to us. We prayed with all of them but our prayers seemed so empty, so hypocritical and so meaningless – that is how we felt. We were moved from inside. We felt something must be done about the situation.
“Poverty, and its handmaid, inequality, in their myriad incarnations, are everywhere for all to see: every landlord’s house in each village, every five-star hotel is surrounded by them, every posh colony has its attached antithesis outside its gates, where the other half strives to survive. Y ou encounter them on your morning walk, when they are up and about their work well before you arise; they greet you again on the pavements after a late night, when they are still going about their chores well after you turn in. You have a brush with them at city traffic lights. On public transport buses, if ever your air- conditioned car breaks down. It seems the sun never sets on them and their world of work” (Saith 2005: 4601).
Coming out of the poverty exposure trip, we asked ourselves: what did we go out to see? Poverty seems to be blatantly everywhere. Some of us grew in poverty and yet we
were so heavily moved by what we saw. Speaking about poverty is not the same as speaking to poor people themselves and in that matter listening and hearing their stories; telling us how it is like and why it came to be so. This pastoral letter is trying to do just that – to tell the stories of the poor, and to describe the experiences of both the poor and the observers in this trip.
What is Poverty?
“. poverty is perceived by poor South Africans themselves to include alienation from the community, food insecurity, crowded homes, usage of unsafe and inefficient forms of energy, lack of jobs that are adequately paid/ or secure, and fragmentation of the family” (Poverty and Inequality Report 1998: 26).
People have said, poverty is lack of water, scarcity of employment opportunities, unfairness and nepotism in allocations of tenders, the intransigency and irresponsive public officials and so on. Poverty is socio-economic oppression. Poverty is suffering from the power of injustice. It is harassment by those who only consider their own advantage and influence (Boesak 1977: 22 – 23).
The Discourse of Capitalism as a Religion of Worship of Mammon/ Wealth
The creator God has been falsely given an unfortunate image of the God of wealth, exploitation, competition and capitalism. How the elites accumulated wealth for themselves at the expense of the people and how they brought in the people in this competitive religious capitalist colonial economic system, where Africans participated as objects of labor exploitation, is unacceptable, but, on the other side reveals the kind of God the elites are committed to by their practice (Bosch 1983: 31, additions mine). Their insatiable greed and hoarding of wealth and empty promises of distribution of wealth cause poverty to deepen its nails on the poor and ends up with the uprisings of the poor. These uprising are acts of social protest against exploitation and repression and at times the frustration of the poor can only be unleashed and directed to their own communities. This is unfortunate.
It was the initial need for cheap labour, for an exceptionally numerous labour force at an exceptionally cheap price, that made South Africa different.
Without this need most of the indigenous people might have been eliminated like the native Americans or pushed into separate colonies outside the ‘golden areas’. What actually happened was that millions of black people were forced into a kind of slave labour to dig the deepest holes and the largest network of tunnels on this planet. Pharoahs’s little effort at putting up huge buildings and pyramids with forced labour was as nothing in comparison with this (Nolan 1988: 72).
The African people were forced into slave labour in the mining industry where they had to dig out gold discovered in 1886. These Africans came from the conquered groups who had no land but had to survive through earning wages part of which were used to pay the taxes imposed on them. The very introduction of taxes was meant to encourage Africans to look for money in white capitalist locations. In the new South Africa capitalism is the central policy of a ‘democratic’ government. Capitalism has changed pigmentation, from white elites to black ones. It is driven predominantly, by African elite. Its economic results continue the same way. The exploitation of the working class, shedding of jobs, homelessness and poverty is doom.
Put quite simply, the purpose of all capitalism as it was with colonialism is money. In the olden days the colonizers exacted a tribute or tax, in kind or in cash, from the colonized. European colonialism, however, was a way of acquiring more land, new markets, raw materials or cheap labor – depending upon which of these were available in the colonies. These were the commodities that were needed by the economy of Europe, by its particular way of producing or manufacturing goods (the capitalist mode of production). The European economy and its successful way of producing goods were based upon the arrangement that some people would own the land, the factories, the mines and machinery, while others would work for wages (Nolan 1988: 73, additions mine).
So, the South African experience of the God who was preached by the missionary-capitalists and their following generations of white capitalists and now succeeded by African capitalist, was the God of wealth, greed, exploitation and
economic oppression. In the pre-Apartheid era this was happening after the white military forces had subjugated Africans and succeeded in changing their tributary mode of production and distribution to the capitalist mode of production and accumulation. This continues to happen after the political liberation of the masses of the poor and the introduction of neo-capitalism as the central policy position of the new democratic South Africa.
According to Kritzinger (1990: 6) one more idol, a ‘false god’ identified by Black theologians, worshipped by capitalists is Mammon- the worship of money, wealth, property, privilege, power and prosperity. ‘To this money idol, many human lives have been sacrificed'(Nolan 1988: 72; Kritzinger 1990: 6). The lives of neighbors and friends, other nationals and visitors now and in the future will continue to be susceptible to ‘xenophobic violence for instance if the issue of poverty is not attended to seriously. South Africa as indeed Southern Africa needs the political will to legislate for economic liberation, fairness, equality and goodwill for all.
The internalization of capitalism, the precursor and successor of colonialism in South Africa can be traced from a continuation of British colonialism in which the colonizers were deeply involved and through the preaching of God encouraged the Africans to participate in such a system they knew would not genuinely benefit the Africans as would be the will of the God of the elites patronizing the Africans.
But all this, the conquest of Africans by British colonialism and the Dutch (Boer) – the continuation of the same in the form of internal colonialism, to the extent that the white sacrificed their lives for the wealth they found, accumulated and worshipped (Nolan 1988; Kritzinger 1990), was not accidental. According to Mbeki then, it was the ultimate end of British imperialism and policy to have a self-governing white community in southern Africa which would be supported by Black people. So, African human labour, natural and spiritual resources were exploited for the benefit of whites only (1978: 18)
From the Africans, as they were economically colonized, the God of money demanded total obedience, absolute subservience and full co-operation with what was happening to them. It was the will of the God according to divine providence viewed by the
debased Christian teaching. This God was said to be moral, all knowing, all powerful, and had supreme authority and this was expressed in the apparent supremacy of whites over Black people (Ntwasa and More 1973: 20, additions mine). As such, from the perception of Africans, the mission was not ‘religion’: rather, the mission represented the arbitrary exercise of political power, exploitation of labour, and extraction of wealth (Chidester 1996: 34). The whites worshipped wealth; exchanged the ‘living God’ for the idol – Mammon. And,
Translating the advantages of black worker disenfranchisement into cash, the Chamber of mines stated in its 1910 annual report that it ‘viewed the native purely as a machine, requiring a certain amount of fuel’. It decreed accordingly that the diet of the African miners living in mine compounds should be determined in terms of the formula ‘. the minimum amount of food which will give them the maximum amount of work’ (Mbeki 1978: 16).
And at that time, the English speaking churches, products of missionary-evangelization were totally disconnected from Black labour – poor makers of wealth (Cochrane 1987: 2ff). It was, therefore, during the conquest of the Africans that missionary-colonizers were to find full scope for their activities (Majeke 1952: 17) which tempted the whites to worship Mammon. As it were, the role of missionaries was to reconcile the ‘savages to the colonial Christian government, create artificial wants, industry, trade, agriculture and incorporate the African to the capitalist mode of production’ (Majeke 1952: 18). This was not a new problem:
It seems to many that throughout history God has all too often appeared in the garb of the rich and the privileged, standing on the side of the authorities and without protest abiding by all untruths, the half truths, and the equivocating myths. In South Africa God is white … (Boesak 1979: 33).
Today, God is South Africa, at least politically has been relativised and percolated into religious pluralism. Religious, cultural and political relativism are not necessarily unethical in themselves except for fundamentalists. The problem is when is comes to economy democracy. No one among the elites groups wants to budge. It seems, economic decentralization is impossible to legislate. It is for this reason
the God of greed is rejected by those who suffer under a religio-cultural and political relativism which does not translate into economic freedom as a matter of policy.
Worship of Race, Culture, Language, Class and Elitism
Yet another idol of an unfortunate God identified by Black theologians is racism, tribalism and xenophobia – the worship of race, tribalism and xenophobia, is claimed as not just mere hatred on the other person originating from another different nationality (Kritzinger 1990: 3, additions mine).
It is important, however, to understand what they mean by it (then relating to whites and now uncritically adopted by the elites of the new dispensation of democracy in South Africa. To them racism is much more than mere racial prejudice, which functions at the level of attitudes and feelings, and is therefore responsive to moral appeals. White racism is seen by black theologians as a system of oppression, a power structure which causes exploitation and oppression of black people. For this reason they think and link it to capitalism and colonialism, in order to indicate that they are concerned with institutional racism and not merely with racial prejudice. We have fallen into the same folly albeit unconsciously in the new South Africa (Kritzinger 1990: 3. additions mine).
So, we realize that whites and now our new elites are first white/ elites before they are humans. In other words whites/ elites are human as a secondary appendage, otherwise they can live as beings which are white/ elite and void of humanity for it is only in this attitude that you can dehumanize other humans and treat them like objects as indeed whites/ elites did in southern Africa. Otherwise, human conscience will always debar humans from doing inhuman things.
But in southern Africa we have seen what Mbeki then (1998: 33) relates. He said: I have seen what happens when one person has superiority of force over another, when the stronger appropriate to themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created all men and women in His image. I know what it signifies when race and colour (power and elitism) are used to determine who is human and subhuman. I have seen the destruction of all
self-esteem, the consequent striving to be what one is not, simply to acquire some of the benefits which those had imposed themselves as masters had ensured that they enjoy.
I have experience of a situation in which race and colour (power and elitism) is used to enrich some and impoverish the rest. I have seen the corruption of minds and souls as a result of the pursuit of an ignoble effort to perpetrate a veritable crime against humanity. I have seen concrete expression of the denial of the dignity of a human being emanating from the conscious, system and systematic oppression and repressive activities of other human beings. There the victims parade with no mask to hide the brutish reality – the beggars, the prostitutes, the street children, those who seek solace in substance abuse, those who have to steal to assuage hunger, those who have to lose their sanity because to be sane is to invite pain. Perhaps the worst among these who are my people are those who have learnt to kill for a wage. To these the extent of death is directly proportional to their personal welfare (Mbeki 1998: 33, additions mine).
This is what happens when ‘God’ is turned to race, colour, culture, power, and elitism. Once these things come first before humanness, you see no human in a person of another skin colour, or another race, culture, class, privilege and religion. In other words, bigotry reigns supreme and a person becomes so blind to racism and elitism as a ‘god’, culture, language, religions as false ‘gods’ a person is worshipping. But what is more is that these gods and idols are worshipped in the name of the ‘living God’. Certainly MODIMO/ Umveliqangi/ Xamata etc, of African religions was never ‘worshipped’ as a deity of a particular chosen race and elites engendering favouritism with that chosen race/ elite, taking the lands of other peoples or denying others access to land and giving them to the ‘chosen of that God’. No, never.
Thus, as Mbeki then reiterated, it is spurious to name people and define them by their race, religion, language and culture (1998: 34). Allegiance to a religion, speaking a certain language, being born in a particular population group does not make you a superior being nor make your have a superior religion. These are just impositions by colonizers we have seen in southern Africa which have left us with what Mbeki (Ibid.) described above.
Ironically, regarding racial worth, it is as if the white God as revealed in southern Africa said to Africans because of their race, colour, culture, creed and alleged inferiority:
You are of infinite value to God: religious language proclaims. Life proclaims:
I hope you will be satisfied with the value God places on you, because in our eyes you have none (Ntwasa and More 1973: 26)
In South Africa, the ones who had human value were white/ elite and this had far reaching implications for Black people to be modumedi/ ikholwa (lit. One who agrees; Christian; believer). The Christian message and intention had no place for anything African to the point that conversion meant for Africans bending all the way, changing everything and almost or actually becoming Western Anglo-Saxon Protestant – a European through and through, although still not being accommodated in their culture, politics and economics.
Here was one area where there was a clash. Africans expected to worship the God while white/ elites worshipped, and sacrificed for; their race, class, language and culture, gaining advantage over the indigenous people in that the European religion (Christianity) culture, language, interests, politics and economics were promoted through the use and abuse of Africans and Africans were not allowed to put back resources to strengthen their language, culture and religion.
By contrast, those marginal men and women drawn into the church soon realized that they had to accept, in no small measure, its methodical, rule – government regime: to be seen to adopt, that is, the conventions of sekgowa/
Isingisi [European manners]. Interested inquirers who wished to drink at the fountain of the elitists – to cultivate their irrigated fields, use their tools, learn to read books, rely on them as a defensive shield – were expected also to acknowledge their beliefs and assent to their laws. That much was implicated in being a modumedi/ ikholwa; one who agrees (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991: 247, addition mine).
Proposals and Suggestions for Solutions Towards Total and Permanent Eradication of Poverty on Earth: If this is the case what are possible suggestions towards the amicable amelioration and eradication of the present status quo?
■ We propose: the promotion of human dignity through just distribution of wealth.
- The equalization of rewards and just compensation for the contributions of the people in the creation and the sharing of the wealth of God’s creation.
- The promotion of the right to work, to own property and to receive legitimate wages
■ The creation and maintenance of an environment respecting worker’s dignity
- That the role of the state be the creation of a just society through laws that preserve the rights of the people to realise making poverty history, i.e., total eradication of poverty in the face of the earth
- The state desist from capitalism which makes poverty permanent and perpetual on earth etc.