On Saturday, May 14, 2022, Africa Unite held a strategy planning for Immigrant Religious Leaders at the Blaauwberg Beach Hotel in Cape Town. This strategy planning was open to various religious leaders to strategize on how they can help their communities overcome difficult circumstances. It was the third gathering of Immigrant Religious Leaders, and a lot of progress was made throughout the day. Also is part of the Africa Unite project that seeks to capacitate immigrant groups particularly young immigrants, women immigrants, and immigrant leaders with the necessary skills to make their voices heard and accelerate policy and social change. Our strategy is to support the meaningful participation of refugees and migrants in decisions affecting their lives.
Welcoming participants the Director of Africa Unite, Mr Zoe Nkongolo shared about the mission and the goals of Africa Unite and went on to share why Africa Unite thought of inviting religious leaders. He discussed how much potential if religious leaders can unite in a strong movement. “If leaders can work together, the outcome will impact many people” Mr Zoe said. “This movement can generate jobs, create social cohesion and peace within South Africa” Mr Zoe added. He also shared how collaboration between local churches and immigrant churches can change the way Immigrants in South Africa are currently viewed by the locals. Mr Zoe emphasized that if religious leaders are empowered on issues of human rights and social cohesion, it allows for assistance among many community members. So if problems arise, there is always someone who can refer people to the right people or an organisation that can offer support.
After introductions, the facilitator, Dr Ken Mutuma Africa Unite Board Member and holds a Doctorate in Law as well as extensive practical knowledge of interdisciplinary issues including international law, international humanitarian law, human rights and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms began the brainstorming session in which Leaders were asked to discuss what is currently wrong in Africa, and what they would like to do to solve these issues.
Religious leaders mentioned issues affecting their communities in general and their congregants such as Xenophobia, Afrophobia, the Dudula Movement and lack of authority assistance. There were other issues that participants brought to attention like lack of jobs and documentation, exclusion, scapegoating, violence, and the lack of support from the Department of Home Affairs. There has also been a noticeable division between Immigrants themselves, and the cohesion between them needs to be restored. Issues and challenges highlighted by religious leaders collaborated with Africa Unite earlier findings of an Anti-Xenophobia School summit that took place in July 2021 together with a focus group discussion that took place in October 2021 with adults and youth immigrants. Both suggested that immigrant problems include identity crises among young migrants, lack of support for refugee and migrants’ structures, lack of leadership and infighting among refugee leaders, isolation, lack of adequate information, and desperation among women immigrants.
The above issues should be resolved as they affect immigrants negatively in as much as they make immigrants more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, while others have become perpetrators of crime. Participants agreed unanimous to strive to work together to eliminate these barriers and create social cohesion for all. The importance of social capital was also discussed because when an individual possesses social capital, the immigration process becomes slightly easier due to the available resources.
During this meeting, religious leaders decided to establish a platform that will bring them together. The name selected is the African Immigrant Church Leaders Forum (AICLF). The primary goal of this group is to use their common devotion to religion to help guide each other to full social cohesion throughout South Africa.
The objectives of the forum include among others:
• To engage in networking, advocacy and lobbying on behalf of immigrants and the advancement of their rights
• To promote spaces of dialogues and conversations around social cohesion between immigrants and local communities
• To conduct research on matters relevant to the rights of immigrants and their relationships with local communities
• To actively promote the social and well-being of immigrants, including/ through economic models of empowerment and related charitable actions.
An interim Steering Committee and an interim secretariat were formed, and the next task will be to work on their strategic plan. The AICLF plans to promote social cohesion between Immigrants and local communities and to promote the rights of African Immigrants. This group will also be lobbying and advocating for African Immigrant’s rights and fighting for awareness to take down some false public information and misconceptions against immigrants. There is currently a lack of voices that speak for the rights of all Immigrants and the rights they should have. So, the participants want to maximize the number of people that are advocating for these rights and create a voice that speaks for all.
One participant, a pastor from the Democratic Republic of Congo whose church is in Parow said this forum comes at the right time. “If our voices are not there, nobody is pushing immigrant’s agenda whereas people pushing for xenophobia are increasing day by day such as the Operation Dudula,” he said.
“Once you are a foreigner, no one stands with you, so we must stand for ourselves” added Pastor Memory Gatsi, a pastor from Zimbabwe who is currently based in Gauteng.
The participants of this strategy planning workshop also tried to brainstorm some of the solutions which the forum will focus on. Participants felt that some current challenges are a result of the many existing stereotypes, the lack of people telling their immigration stories and that the term “migrant” is automatically linked to drugs and crime.
Participants want more education on the lives of Immigrants, and are hoping to have more people tell their personal stories to the public to create a better understanding. There was also an idea to launch a social media campaign, which would allow for their message to reach far across the country. It was agreed that there needs to be an increase in the amount of lobbying and advocating that is taking place for Immigrants’ rights. Also, a designated voice that can speak for all the Immigrants who do not have the power to speak for themselves. Participants agreed to work together, not in separate bubbles so that everyone would have a solid understanding of the progress that will be made as this group expands.
After the meetings, all the participants gathered in the dining room area, where the informal conversation continued over a meal.
Although the idea for this forum originated in Cape Town, it will become a national forum to create a better and coordinated voice. Participants showed appreciation to Africa Unite for the support, provided to religious leaders to attend this meeting.