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South African churches mobilize as anti-foreigner violence flares

Church and community centers have been providing refuge for tens of thousands fleeing recent anti-immigrant violence.

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Sandra Davids saw them running – women with babies, men carrying blankets, clothes, identity papers, anything they could save from the mob. The next day she did the only thing she could think to do: she went to church. She has been here ever since – sorting baby clothes, laying out rows of tiny shoes, and guiding dazed, uprooted mothers.

Local school principal Neal Lochenberg sprang into action last week, organizing a task force of churches and mosques, nongovernmental organizations, and community leaders to set up a relief distribution system for thousands of foreigners who had been chased from their homes.

This area east of Johannesburg has been the site of some of the most horrific violence against foreigners living in South Africa, a country-wide explosion that has left more than 50 people dead and tens of thousands on the run. But at St. Vincent's Anglican Church, local volunteers are showing a different side of Reiger Park – a different side, really, of South Africa. Here, in a grass-roots effort, hundreds of volunteers are giving foreigners food, clothes, and care. When asked about the violence, they express a mixture of sadness, shame, and resolve.

"Reiger Park is an impoverished community," says Mr. Lochenberg. "Despite that, the people here respond to their ethical, moral instincts to care for their displaced brothers."

It is a sentiment that has been repeated across South African in recent days – a counterpoint to the images of burning shacks, shell-shocked refugees, and, at its most gruesome, "necklacings," a method of execution in which fuel-filled tires are put over victims and set alight.

Solidarity with foreigners

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