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YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Church leaders in Africa are denouncing the treatment of Black people as they flee the violence in Ukraine following the Russian invasion of the country.
Media reports and footage circulating on social media show that amid freezing temperatures and with no food, blankets or shelters, Africans are being shoved out of trains and buses as they struggle to flee Ukraine to neighboring countries.
“It shows we live in a racially divided world, an apartheid world,” said Jesuit Father Russell Pollitt of the South Africa Jesuit Institute.
“Apartheid was a word that didn’t die when South Africa became a democracy. We face a growing global apartheid. We don’t use the word, like the word, because it is stark, but the situation is stark, and we need to face it. Those scenes are deeply troubling. People of color are being treated as lesser. It’s racist. It’s heartbreaking. It shows that the struggle for humanity and dignity is still a very real one for people of color. Some people’s lives are more important than others. This is very painful,” he told Crux.
On Monday, the African Union issued a statement saying that the reports that Africans are being “singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment would be shockingly racist and in breach of international law.”
It emphasized that “all people have the right to cross international borders during conflict, and as such, should enjoy the same rights to cross to safety from the conflict in Ukraine, notwithstanding their nationality or racial identity.”
Pollitt also condemned Russia for invading a democratic, sovereign state, noting that such attacks could reverse years of hard struggles towards democracy and the respect for human rights.
“South Africa knows the painful situation when people’s rights are trampled on,” he said.
“We also know the struggle for a democratic state. Russia is both trampling on human rights and trashing democracy and sovereignty,” the priest said.
He called on the South African government to “condemn this invasion, impose sanctions on Russia, stop business dealings with Russia and cut democratic ties with the Putin regime.”
He said failure to do this would be synonymous to bowing to Putin, whom he described as “a global bully.”
“Moral imperative means make a stand. Sadly, this isn’t the case. South Africa cannot shout about human rights or decry their abuse if we do not take a stand against Russia. Our government can’t have two standards – one for “friends” and another for everyone else. It’s hypocritical,” Pollitt told Crux.
In a February 25 statement, the Jesuit Institute of South Africa also called on South Africa to use its membership in the BRICS to exert pressure on Russia. The BRICS bloc – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – was formed in 2006 so that the large emerging economies could coordinate with each other.
Pollitt said he felt disappointed that two BRICS members, namely China and India – both UN Security Council members – failed to vote to condemn Russian aggression.
“I find that vote worrisome. It reveals that we do not share a basic moral position and foundation for global peace: Violence can never be justified. We talk about a global community but, sadly, do not all share basic bricks for community-building. Political self-interest and games are more important than life,” the priest said. “If there are no shared imperatives, a global community and global peace is not going to be possible.”
The Ukraine war also means that Europe, which gets a third of its natural gas from Russia, may turn to its southern neighboring continent for supplies. It’s a prospect natural gas producing countries in Africa could find palatable, but Pollitt is more cautious.
“It’s always more complicated than economics alone. I think there could be benefits, in that people may now realize that more of the global community, like Africa, can participate in the global economy. But we must also be cautious of exploitation, political deals and games that may bring their own burdens,” he said.