A public pastoral response to Xenophobia in South Africa : Ubuntu and hospitality within an African Christian ethical framework
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Xenophobia is invariably defined as an intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries. For the purposes of this study the concept has been defined with fear not being the operative word as it tends to obscure a plurality of beliefs and effects associated with the phenomenon. Furthermore, in the South African context, xenophobia manifests itself at times as a bias-motivated crime of violence and is directed towards individuals who are of the same colour as local citizens, hence the term Afrophobia. Xenophobia or migrants’ exclusion in African discussions, particularly in South Africa, has been blamed based on ‘African-hood’ as represented by Ubuntu and human rights. However, there has been inadequate critique of the actions from the perspective of Christian theological tradition or concepts. This study seeks to challenge xenophobia through appealing to Ubuntu values and principles as a Christian ethical prism for an authentic African Christian approach responsive to the challenge of xenophobia as well as to foster hospitality that embraces foreigners. The theoretical framework for the study was based on Osmer’s (2008:4) core tasks of practical theological interpretation. Following Osmer’s framework, the study will explore the causal factors and effects of xenophobia, and the influence of Ubuntu and hospitality in shaping the behaviour of South Africans towards foreigners. The study made use of theological concepts from public practical theology and the link between Ubuntu and hospitality to Christian ethics in shaping public moral policy. The study revealed that churches in South Africa are lukewarm in their response to evils perpetrated against foreign nationals. Instead of speaking out clearly and unambiguously concerning the evil of xenophobic attacks, understandably, the study revealed that the factors underlying xenophobic actions are complex and church leaders are equally caught up in this dynamic along with all other South African citizens. Three theories concerning the causes of xenophobia, namely: ‘scapegoating theory’, isolation theory and bio-cultural theory provided an insight and an analytical framework to understand xenophobia. However, the three theories inadequately address the subjective and objective, as well as internal and contextual variables that contribute to and perpetuate xenophobia in the country. An alternative approach utilising the test of eight theories explains and understands xenophobia in South Africa by applying a wide variety of explanatory variables that are subjective and objective as well as internal and contextual. The study discovered that xenophobic violence cannot be adequately explained by poverty and unemployment and the presence of migrants, nor can it be attributed to poor economic conditions, competition for resources or poor service delivery, as the key issue that emerges from the situation is the question of the humaneness (Ubuntu) or lack of it, as well as the absence of strong theological ethical guidance from the church. The study revealed that the church as the vanguard of the poor, the vulnerable and marginalised should take the lead in persuading the government to pass appropriate legislation to protect the migrants. However, the government faces the tension between supporting national sentiment and the need to advance foreigners’ needs. The national sentiment is a perceived danger posed by migrants to the socioeconomic, cultural and moral fabric of society, especially among black South Africans in the face of social deprivation. The country’s leaders are caught in this quagmire as first and foremost they are responsible to their citizens as their elected representatives and have to abide by their will, even if it is misguided. Therefore, the church and government are caught in this dilemma, albeit, for different reasons and motivations. The study provided insight and understanding that African philosophy must be understood in the context of its ability to create meaning for a culturally differentiated society. The study revealed that the relationship between Ubuntu and the aphorism associated with it ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ is no coincidence as it was a desire to find something uniquely African in post-apartheid South Africa in an attempt to transform society by incorporating traditions from the past that were deemed to be noble or worthy. The study provided an understanding that the church and the individual Christian have a duty to be engaged according to Ubuntu’s notion of identity and solidarity. Identity and solidarity imply a vector towards the other. The study emphasised that practical theology will be bridging the three epistemological spheres by exploring theological, historical Western approaches and African wisdom and tradition to engage with issues on an ongoing basis. From a social-moralist point of view Christian morality and Ubuntu principles will act as a barrier/shield to counter current responses from the South African public towards nationalist prejudices and xenophobia in its Afrophobic form. Public theology concerns itself with theological engagement with the public and making sense of these interactions, especially focusing on issues in the public sphere outside of the confines of the church and placing them on the church’s agenda. Public practical theology can take a leaf from the notions of hospitality and justice embedded in Ubuntu to make a meaningful contribution in a pluralistic society. The Christian effort will also be able to address itself to the wider community beyond the Christian membership in terms recognisable to them all. This is because the Christian message will not overemphasise forgiveness to the detriment of justice. In Ubuntu understanding forgiveness accompanies justice. There is a need to emphasise the caring side, revisiting our Ubuntu heritage and the Christian value of hospitality to foster a culture of Philoxenia. The study proposes principles and guidelines for a church-driven model to shift xenophobia to Philoxenia for the church in its ministerial approaches to pastoral care in South Africa.
- Theology