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Xenophobia spreads to Bredasdorp - Interfaith communiti...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Interfaith community rallies as xenophobia spreads to Overberg town of Bredasdorp

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By Nic Paton
06 Apr 2022 0

Nic Paton is a musical composer and interspiritual activist based in Cape Town. He has been blogging at Sound And Silence for 17 years around cultural, spiritual and philosophical issues. Musically, he writes for worldwide media with more than 40 albums of production music available. Socially, he organises online and offline community formations in the Cape Town area, and is part of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative and the Cape Flats Anti-Crime Interfaith Dialogue Community. He is the grandson of author Alan Paton.

On the weekend of 26 March 2022, a service delivery protest in Bredasdorp turned violent as foreign nationals were targeted in a mass xenophobic attack.

The shops and homes of mostly Malawians and Zimbabweans in the Zwelitsha part of town were looted and destroyed and up to a thousand people sought refuge in the town’s mosque, churches and town hall. 

Reports on EWN, in the Hermanus Times and elsewhere inspired us, members of Cape Town’s interfaith communities, to take a deep south road trip. 

We made contact with two faith-based organisations and drew up a quick list of what was needed — toiletries, children’s clothes and bedding. Food was further down the list. Many Capetonians responded generously and our vehicle was packed with provisions and good wishes. 

First stop was the Bredasdorp Muslim Centre where some 20 to 30 families were being put up in the mosque. Few men were present, children ran about, and many women sat about uncertainly among piles of goods either owned or donated. 

Imam Yasier Benjamin told us of signs of a clear and coordinated campaign to stir up resentment in the local Xhosa community. This resulted in unrest in which many “foreigners” had their homes and businesses destroyed. 

Imam Benjamin, who has led Africa’s southernmost mosque for 18 years, displayed a generous-spirited service towards all people regardless of identity. He said there were only two types of people, Bredasdorpers, and Others. Local is the new global. 

For logistical reasons, we were sadly unable to meet with another involved party, the Dutch Reformed Church which together with other churches is also working to bring relief to their town.

Third stop was the town’s community hall, “Glaskasteel”. A white resident was only too pleased to direct us there and we sensed absolutely no antipathy towards us outsiders (despite our much darker average skin tone). 

The complex is housing hundreds seeking refuge, with a kitchen staff dedicated to feeding them. “They are not used to our pap, but need bread and tea,” said one (following the trip, James Ellman of Faith Hope Love Communities of Elsies River has organised support for the refugees from Wholesome Bread). 

We asked these bringers of relief if any of the township churches were involved in the aid programme, they said not really, implying not that they did not care but that it might be a too-costly stance in a toxic environment where foreign nationals had been demonised with charges of “stealing jobs”. 

So the cracks revealed themselves. At one end, the society is more cohesive than ever before, multicultural, multi-faith, and economically mixed. But at the other, simmering with resentment towards strangers, and largely absent from the discourse that is interfaith. 

As we left the kitchens of the Glaskasteel, Cecil Plaatjies led us in a Buddhist chant for peace and all that is good. It may have been the first time that Bredasdorp had heard a prayer of this nature, but the “amens” that followed were genuine assent to the very human activity of prayer. Another of our number, Imam Salieg Isaacs, inspired by this outpouring of goodwill, stated, to much applause:

“When we went into exile [in Zimbabwe, during apartheid], no one killed us, man! Why are we doing these things to other people? … It is not reflective of the 56 million people of South Africa.” DM

 

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