South Africa: Partnerships, the Key to Social Justice
12 October 2015

Jesuit Refugee Service, Southern Africa Region, Communications Officer, Gushwell F. Brooks, giving a talk on the 9th of October, at Good Shepherd Retreat Centre at Hartebeespoort Dam on on migration, poverty and xenophobia at the All Africa Assembly for the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul. (Roy Hawkins/Society of Saint Vincent De Paul)
”The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.”

Many Catholic organisations exist with the aim to add to the dire need for social justice in today’s world. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), through the vision of our founding father, Father Pedro Arrupe SJ, who was so moved by the plight of the Vietnamese boat people and their perilous journeys to exile, established JRS in November 1980, personifies that desire to bring some relief in a world in dire need of social justice.

Another Catholic organisation that was established with the aim of bringing about greater social justice, is the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul (SSVP). Following an open challenge during a debate at university, the founder of SSVP, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, established the organisation in 1833. In response to the question posed in the debate: “But what is the Church doing now? What are you doing? Show us your works, and then we might believe!” Ozanam took up the challenge. “We must do what Jesus did … let us go to the poor”.

So through a simple act of taking some of his own fire wood and donating it to an old man living a few doors away, Ozanam started serving the poor. Within two years SSVP had grown to 100 members.

Many of the refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced people that JRS serves, are poor. At times, having escaped with naught but the clothes on their backs, many refugees reach the countries of refuge, where they seek protection, with no jobs - or prospect of employment -, homeless and with a limited – if not non-existent – social network. Many of these refugees end up needing the assistance of organisations such as SSVP, at times simply receiving meals through the soup kitchens for immediate relief. Many of these refugees are not aware of the legal and administrative processes that are required in the protection and assertion of their rights and many are not aware of the durable solutions JRS offers.

It is therefore clear that closer co-ordination is needed, a relationship that serves all the needs people may have. At one end SSVP may be able to provide immediate relief with meals and other forms of assistance extended to the poor, but JRS could then assist with specific needs peculiar to the needs of refugees such advocacy and in finding lasting solutions through the educational, livelihoods and other assistance we provide refugees.

SSVP recently held their All Africa Assembly, at Good Shepherd Retreat Centre at Hartebeespoort Dam. The Assembly brought together a large number of SSVP Presidential representatives across Africa. The Assembly invited JRS Southern Africa Communications Officer, Gushwell F. Brooks, to give a talk on the 9th of October – the final day of their symposium - on migration, poverty and xenophobia. The most obvious case studies came out of the South African context where research shows that cross border migrants – including refugees and asylum seekers – constitute between 4-7% of the total population and that much of the xenophobia plaguing South Africa emanates from an undercurrent of frustration due to socio-economic inequalities. Brooks touched on these, highlighting examples such as the fact that over 36% of young people under the age 34 are unemployed. This problem is further exacerbated by a slowing economy, poor service delivery and a poor educational system that leaves 1,713,000 or 33.2 % of total completing secondary school unemployed and 390,000 or 7.6% of tertiary educated people unemployed.

How SSVP and such organisations can stem the tide of anger is to ensure that all those they serve – local and migrant alike – share in each other’s common humanity and dispel myths that drive xenophobia. A common myth is that migrants “take local jobs” but the truth is that 82% of the working population aged between 15 and 64 are “non-migrants”, 14% were “domestic migrants” who had moved between provinces in the past five years and just 4% could be classed as “international migrants”. Further, South Africa’s unemployment data shows that 26.16% of “non-migrants” are unemployed and 32.51% of “domestic migrants” are unemployed. By comparison, only 14.68% of international migrants are unemployed. But while international migrants are less likely to be unemployed, most find themselves in positions of unstable, “precarious employment”. International migrants are far more likely to run their own businesses. Eleven percent are “employers” and 21% are classed as “self-employed”. This is valuable information that does not only inform, but change the narrative and acrimony toward migrants and organisations such as SSVP, working on the ground are great allies in spreading these realities.

The conclusion was therefore reached that greater co-operation between organisations such SSVP and JRS can ease the challenges faced by those at the margins and most vulnerable. We do not have to do things in a significantly different way, we stick to our expertise and experience, the difference however is a recognition and understanding that in as much as we are working toward a common goal of social justice, we have differing expertise that complement each other holistically.

Dr Michael Thio, President General of the global SSVP Community, kicked off the day by recounting a personal encounter he had with Mother Teresa. The crux of this encounter was how it ended when she handed him one of her business cards, with one of the most profound quotes printed on it:  ”The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.”

May organisations serving towards the goal of social justice continue to spread their peace.

To see more about the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul, please follow the link.

Press Contact Information
Gushwell F. Brooks
+27 11 618 3404