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Religious Organisations and Xenophobia in South Africa

Funded by the Development Trust Research Fund, College of Humanities and Social Science, July 2009 - June 2010

In May and June 2008, South Africa was shaken as xenophobic violence spread across the country. Immigrants from various African states who had fled to South Africa as refugees or to pursue economic opportunities were subjected to outbreaks of violence that quickly spread across South Africas major urban areas. The state did very little to curtail these incidents.

In contrast, churches and FBOs were amongst the first to respond to the crisis, playing a vital role in assisting victims of xenophobic attacks. Within a week of the violence erupting, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) was providing assistance across South Africa, including the provision of food, blankets and volunteers to assist with the coordination of aid. Many churches opened up their premises to provide shelter to displaced victims. In the aftermath of these events, churches and FBOs continued to assist refugees with legal and psychological assistance, promoting programmes of repatriation and developing and implementing programmes of reintegration and reconciliation for those who wished to remain in South Africa.

This project will investigate the role of four mainstream Christian organisations as socio-political actors in post-Apartheid South Africa in their attempts to deal with the immediate aftermath of the xenophobic attacks and engage with the latent xenophobia that post-Apartheid society has not confronted. Against this background, and the vacuums in the states ability to deal and engage with emerging political and social issues, this project seeks to investigate how faith organisations negotiate public spaces and political voids in South Africa and how they provide alternative solutions to crises of violence and deep-rooted inequality. 

Edinburgh Students