Thursday, April 23, 2015

Xenophobia concerns in South Africa (letter from Mission President)

Dear Family and Friends of South Africa Johannesburg Missionaries:

I know that many of you are hearing various reports about the current civil unrest going on in isolated pockets of South Africa, and referred to in traditional and social media channels as "xenophobia." I also know that you are understandably concerned. My purpose today is to reach out to you and assure you that all missionaries are safe, are aware of the heightened political tensions and are taking all reasonable precautions. However, please be assured that this story has been overblown by the media, and the real threat to our missionaries safety and security remains minimal.

So you can understand the situation on the ground here, the violence against immigrants is mostly directed at Africans from neighboring countries who have come to South Africa for economic opportunities. Owing to their desperation, many of these immigrants work very hard and are very successful—much to the chagrin of other impoverished South African neighbors who scrape to get by in a country with a 40% unemployment rate.

The actual violence began two weeks ago in Durban, and has since spread to isolated pockets in and around Johannesburg's central business district (closed to all missionaries) and surrounding low-income townships. Because of a politically motivated shooting in the township of Alexandra yesterday, South African army troops were deployed today in Alexandra to support the local police. Though dramatic, the move was mostly seen as a show of force to further discourage some of the random and opportunistic crime (looting, burglary) which has been associated with the civil unrest. To be clear, the violence has been shocking with many people injured and seven people killed in the last two weeks.

From the outset the church's Area Security Team has been on top of this, monitoring hot spots and sharing that information with the Area Presidency and our mission leadership team. At this point, they have not requested any restrictions on our proselyting activities. In addition to our professional security, local members—who are always concerned about our missionaries—are monitoring neighborhood situations and warning our missionaries of any potential dangers long before they erupt. Because our missionaries do not watch local news, I have also been in contact with every missionary to make them aware of the simmering tensions and also urge them to be vigilant and report and potential trouble. Again, our leadership team will continue to watch this closely.

On a practical level I want you to know that life in Johannesburg feels very normal. Shops are open, people are on the street, and the work of the Kingdom is moving forward thanks to your amazing sons. Be assured that their safety remains my top priority. As such we will continue to monitor this situation closely and take all appropriate precautions should the centers of unrest begin to spread. Beyond this your prayers are always appreciated and helpful.

If you have specific concerns or there is anything else I can do, please let me know.

With my gratitude,
Michael A. Dunn, President
South Africa Johannesburg Mission

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