Integrating people on the move into the synodal process

In the afternoon of 16 March 2022 the Deputy President of South Africa David Mabuza will be answering questions from the members of parliament. Among the question he will have to answer is a question from Mohammed Dangor concerning undocumented foreign nationals.

Dangor wants to know “(1) Whether the government is considering ensuring that the persisting social mobilisation of communities against undocumented foreign nationals and concerns regarding the expansion of foreign criminal networks and activities (details furnished) do not undermine government’s national efforts towards promoting social cohesion and building a better, united and prosperous Africa; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details; (2) whether such efforts include ensuring that such concerns do not turn into xenophobic streaks and Afrophobia; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details. Also, what measures are in place to ensure that such concerns are addressed within the confines of the law and the commitment to peaceful settlement of disputes?” While it remains to be seen how the South African government is going to proceed with this challenge, the Archbishop of Johannesburg, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, has already suggested a way forward for members of the Church, and that way is a synodal way. 

The Archbishop of Johannesburg, who is still involved with the work of migrants and refuges, in his article gives the motivation for integrating people on the move into the synodal process. Archbishop Tlhagale in his motivation says on the whole, people on the move strongly feel that their own human rights are trampled underfoot and their own human dignity disrespected.  “They have this deep desire to confront their fellow-Christians about the many negative experiences that pain them.  Their on-going pain and rejection is their strong motivation to desire a common platform where they could be heard,” noted the Archbishop.

He goes on to talk about the synodal assemblies of which he says are appropriate official structures at which Christians come together in order to discern, discuss and reflect together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, matters of faith, and pastoral concerns.  Adding that it is at these platforms that people on the move seek to stake their claims as fellow Catholics and they wish to speak directly for themselves without interpreters or go-betweens.

There are certain claims the Archbishop wished to stake in the hope of getting some clarity on a number of the dilemmas people of the move face in society. He says migrants and refugees would like to be allowed to make a contribution towards the agenda of these assemblies.  “Members wish to make it clear that their entitlement to participate and speak out derives from the sacrament of baptism”, said the Archbishop Tlhagale.

The Archbishop says the synodal platforms, in promoting dialogue, should also shed some light on biblical sayings which do not appear to be applicable in situations where Christian migrants and refugees are involved.  For examples Matthew 25: “For when I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, etc., you took care of me.  When you do these things to the least of my brothers/sisters, you do them to me”. Migrants and refugees see themselves as the least of the brothers and sisters. 

He raises the element of solidarity in saying many migrants and refugees point out that South Africans in general have an extremely poor sense of solidarity with the rest of the entire African continent.  And this myopia accounts for the unnecessary resentment experienced by people on the move.

The archbishop proceeded to talk about the Church as the expert of humanity and “is in a position to listen to the plight of migrants and to mobilise campaigns essentially aimed at restoring and enhancing the dignity of people on the move.” Adding a reminder of the preferential option for the poor he said, “They live ‘a gutter-life’ on the margins of society.  Instead of being given help as ‘neighbours’ and as human beings, they are simply ignored or harassed.”

Archbishop Tlhagale also noted the challenging issue of unemployment pointing out that In the South African context, work has become a divisive wedge between economic migrants and local South African workers. “The fierce competition or battle over employment is at times a matter of life or death,” noted the Archbishop. He admitted that it is not all doom and gloom for migrants and refugees, “It would be wrong to give an impression that nobody cares about the harsh ‘living conditions’ of migrants and refugees. There is a plethora of non-governmental organisations, faith-based groups and human rights lawyers who work tirelessly to relieve the migrant communities of their perennial oppressive living conditions.  Such significant gestures of charity have not gone unnoticed. 

The Archbishop noted that migrants and refugees foresee the mark of Cain for South Africans due to a high unemployment rate. He noted that Joblessness in the main, affects masses of young people.  “Migrants and refugees reluctantly predict that given the fast deteriorating economic situation, able bodied South Africans will also be compelled to seek greener pastures in other countries.  This time round, they will not be warmly welcomed as they were in the past when they fled from the apartheid monster,” warned Archbishop Tlhagale.

To warn the Church to not proceed naively the Archbishop said the relationship between migrants and refugees and local South Africans is more than just bad blood in that tensions between the two has intermittently broken into public violence.  Admonishing members of the Church he said, “The palpable tension between the two communities can easily point to the reality of a divided church.  The truth of the matter is that there are no incidents of visible tensions or violence within the church communities themselves.  But it would be a folly to assume that church people are not involved in the attacks directed at foreign nationals,”

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale concludes by saying focus on the plight of migrants and refugees has become like a new mission territory. He noticed that rich nations are desperately trying to seal the borders of their countries so as to prevent the poor of the world from entering.  “The poor migrants are driven out of their countries by poverty, hunger, persecution, violence and war.  The challenge is so great that it deserves full attention,” he noted. Archbishop Tlhagale’s hope is that this new mission will also require an increased sense of Christian charity, of hospitality, of welcoming others and of an increased awareness that resources, though limited, are to be shared.  “Hopefully these ideas and the gospel mandate will form part of the dialogue at synodal gatherings of the baptised disciples of Christ,” says Archbishop Buti Tlhagale.

Full document below.



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