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It’s saddening, heartbreaking

The xenophobic attacks being perpetrated by some South Africans against their fellow Africans is very saddening.

And equally the way the rest of the continent is reacting to these barbaric attacks is heartbreaking.

Where does this leave us as peoples, a continent that should be integrating in so many ways?

We are told in Leviticus 19:33-34, “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt…”

Many of us are familiar with the Ten Commandments. What we may not know is that they are a subset of a myriad of detailed instructions, both positive and negative. Among these instructions there is one that forbids mistreating foreigners, or aliens. It’s a topic that after thousands of years still hits home today.

Globalisation is accelerating interdependencies among nations. A complex web of trade and power creates wellbeing as well as wars and this triggers patterns of migration that have always existed but never with such speed. Financial crisis, austerity and diminishing quality of life opens space for populist messages to take hold. Discontented citizens look to nationalism and separatism as a way ahead. The way we treat foreigners and migrants becomes a crucial measure of how we are doing in terms of being evolved and enlightened humans.

Anyone who has been through the process of immigration quickly learns that everything you took for granted in your own country has to be re-acquired. It is a ground-shaking and humbling experience. You lose the right to services and the democratic status of voter until you pass through various bureaucratic, legal and financial processes. When resident status is acquired, you nevertheless remain in some way ‘other’, whether by ethnicity, accent or behaviour (including spelling). What makes the difference to the quality of life of immigrants is the level of tolerance that indigenous people have to ‘others’. Tolerance, however, has to go deeper than political correctness. It cannot just be about politeness but about real change. Our natural biases that lead to discrimination in favour of those who are “like us” have to be challenged in a behavioural way.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, how we treat foreigners will inevitably affect the quality of the society we all live in.

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