The devastating building fire which killed more than 70 people in the Johannesburg city centre recently – generating international headlines – highlights the plight of the poor, the refugee and the economic migrant in South Africa today.
Many of those who died were foreign nationals, some without legal status, drawn to the so-called “City of Gold” by dreams of a better future. Most were unemployed and lived hand-to-mouth, selling goods on the street or finding casual labour. Their overcrowded five-storey home was a so-called “Mnyama ndawo”, a “dark place”, one of Johannesburg’s abandoned dilapidated buildings where there is no water, sanitation or electricity, where rubbish piles up and rats run through stagnant water. Many residents pay rental to syndicates, and theft and muggings are a constant danger.
Why would you leave your rural home or your home country and live in such conditions? The Lambeth Call on the Environment and Sustainable Development highlights some of the issues that propel people into leaving their homes, hoping for a better life.
The Call reminds us that people migrate from the “chronic challenges in daily living and sudden disasters, often related to conflict, economic crises, and climate change causing drought, sea level rise, flooding and fires.” And one challenge leads to another, for example, years of drought lead to spiralling food prices and political instability.
How can we respond?
The first response is to build resilient communities – this means, in the words of the Call, “using our gifts and assets to build resilient, sustainable and just communities in line with the vision for the Sustainable Development Goals as reflected in the Five Marks of Mission.”
What might this mean?
A resilient community can learn water-wise irrigation methods that enable them to grow food even in drought situations. They can plant trees or mangroves to reduce the risk of flooding and help improve food security.
But as nations which host migrants and the rural poor, we also need to promote the Five Marks of Mission, including their vision “for re-imagining our world, responding to human need by loving service, challenging unjust structures of society and safeguarding creation…”
Where is the body of Christ when our sisters and brothers are in pain?
In South Africa we must face and lament the sin of xenophobia that means that foreigners are often not welcome in our communities and are forced to live in rundown ghettos. The church should be a safe space for all the nations, yet we often find that people of other nations are not welcomed. We need to stand in solidarity with neighbouring countries from which people flee when their governments overturn democratic processes and their elections, such as that held in Zimbabwe in August, are not free and fair.
In this way, we can “support and encourage one another across the Communion to work together towards achieving universal human dignity and flourishing (John 10:10) in a thriving planet.”
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Read the Lambeth Call on Environment and Sustainable Development in full here
Find out how you can take the Lambeth Call forward in your setting here