People need to take care of one another, including their “brothers and sisters” from neighbouring countries, former director general in the presidency Rev Frank Chikane has said. “We are one family, we are one people…. We are one people, that’s why our languages are similar. We come from the same place,” he told delegates at a regional conference of the Methodist Church in Soweto yersteday.
Chikane said a person was a human being before he was a foreigner. “This country has got the means for everybody to have some food…. We have a system that takes care of basic needs,” he said. Chikane asked residents to share what they ate with other people because they were family.
Speaking at the Charles Wesley Methodist Church, Chikane said in the past people had not had a problem crossing borders, because they treated each other like family members. It had become a problem only in recent years. People needed to understand the laws of the country so they could use them appropriately to help themselves and others. “We need to make sure that the legal framework helps us to take care of each other; the law is supposed to help us, not cause us pain.” Chikane said some churches had become part of an industry which did not make a difference.
“We need to change our perspective about church and make it about the people; then we won’t see foreigners as foreigners, we would see them as human beings. “Don’t think that because they are foreigners that they are thieves. We are also thieves.” Earlier, former SA Council of Churches (SACC) general secretary Brigalia Bam, who is also the former chairwoman of the Independent Electoral Commission, said South Africans needed to make an effort to get to know and befriend foreigners in the country. “There is a lot of mistrust, there is a lot of jealousy, there is a lot of irritation… mostly over jobs,” she said. “There is no need to be violent. Violence will not solve the problem. People will still come to South Africa.”
“It [xenophobia] is not going to end today. We need to find ways and means of knowing the people that are here,” she said. “We have a tradition here, and we must keep to that tradition of taking care of strangers.” She said people needed to find ways of living together.
“When we receive a stranger at our homes, you may not necessarily like the stranger… reactions are not always the best, but you have to pretend.”Bam said South Africans also had an expectation of strangers to behave. When South Africans visited other countries they abided by the foreign laws and did not stay for ever. “It is unknown how many living in South Africa are not South Africans. “It’s going to be a very long journey. In the continent on which we live, there are many conflicts, and we are part of that conflict,” she said.