Living together is key for development
21 July 2014

Dancers from Rwanda at the World Refugee Day event in Johannesburg, 2014 (Lekgotla Mosebi/JRS South Africa).
This notion is not just directed at the perpetrators of xenophobic violence – every time any of us thinks ill of another person on the basis of their origin, gender, race or religion, then we harm ourselves, we become somehow less human.

Johannesburg, South Africa, 21 July 2014 – The theme chosen for this year’s World Refugee Day by the Forced Migration Working Group (FMWG), of which JRS South Africa is a member, was ‘Living Together is Key for Development’. This theme captured the importance of inclusive development and the need for fostering social cohesion amongst refugees and the host communities. Fr David Holdcroft spoke about some practical steps for creating a more harmonious co-existence of all the people in this country.  


I must confess to always having had ambivalent feelings about World Refugee Day. I used to enjoy them working in camps as they provided an opportunity for the refugees to show their wares, the clothing or crafts that they had made and to sell them and thereby get a bit of money. This balanced the need to listen to all the so-called “important” people giving their speeches, often which seemed so empty and distant from the daily reality of refugee lives. 


Here in South Africa we don’t have many wares on display and most of us come here feeling a little more battered and bruised than we did last year. But even here, we should pause to give thanks to the people who have helped us and to draw strength from our being together. It is only with this that we can be reminded of the immense work still ahead of us.


Madiba’s death and funeral late last year demonstrated the greatness that often seems to lie latent in this country that so many of us have adopted and which we now call home. It showed the power that can be unleashed when all the peoples that make us this great nation begin to face the same way, begin to walk together, utilising rather than cursing our differences, ethnicity, religions, skills and so on. It showed the power that is in each one of us, but only comes out when we learn how to work with others.


So I say this morning to the small minority of people in Mamelodi or Thokoza or other places, those who attack refugees: your attack, like any violence, does not just inflict harm on another person. It demeans you, the attacker, as well and it demeans all of us as a community. It makes us all less human – it takes dignity away from us all. This notion is not just directed at the perpetrators of xenophobic violence – every time any of us thinks ill of another person on the basis of their origin, gender, race or religion, then we harm ourselves, we become somehow less human.


I have been asked to leave you with some thoughts on how we go forward from here. I give you four practical steps that all of us can and must do:


1. Let’s firstly start with ourselves, with our own attitudes. Whenever we find ourselves thinking or saying something ill of another person, judging them on the basis of some category like their being Muslim or Christian, Congolese or Rwandese, woman or man and so on, then let’s stop right there and ask ourselves: “Why am I doing that? What am I afraid of?” 


2. Then let’s learn to respect our differences and see them as opportunities. This applies not only to individuals, but also to organisations. Let’s renew our commitment to walk the long road of learning how to work together.


3. Let’s also encourage one another always, especially when we are down, when we feel it is all too much. Let’s look to the positive side in all that we are and do and remind our neighbour or colleague, whoever that may be, of what is good in them.


4. And, having changed the minds and hearts of all South Africans, person by person beginning with ourselves, let’s aim to make our work and our organisations redundant. 


In this way let us all join hands to realise our God-given capacity to welcome our brother and sister and in so doing, build a truly great South Africa!


David Holdcroft, JRS Southern Africa director.





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Leah Marais
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