Cape Town - The Christchurch NZ website describes the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand as “a place of transformation - where change and innovation have been embraced a vibrant place to visit and an exceptional place to live”.
However, following Friday’s terrorist attack in the city that left 49 Muslim worshippers dead, the peaceful image of Christchurch, affectionately known as the Garden City, has been changed forever.
It has been replaced by images of dead bodies strewn across the floors of two mosques, devastated families, friends and communities mourning the massacre - the vendetta of a lone gunman armed with a semi-automatic weapon.
On Friday, a few hours after the shooting spree at two Christchurch mosques - the Al Noor and the Linwood mosques - New Zealand police arrested Australian Brenton Tarrant for the deadly attacks. Fitted with a body-cam and black body armour, Tarrant live-streamed his attack on Facebook.
According to a 74-page manifesto posted to a now-deleted Twitter account, believed to belong to the suspected gunman, the 28-year-old said the attack was planned to give him “enough time to train, form a plan, settle my affairs, write down my views, then enact the attack”.
He made reference to former president Nelson Mandela in the manifesto of hate called “The Great Replacement”.
“I do not just expected (sic) to be released, but I also expect an eventual Nobel Peace Prize.
“As was awarded to the terrorist Nelson Mandela once his own people achieved victory and took power.
“I expect to be freed in 27 years from my incarceration, the same number of years as Mandela, for the same crime,” Tarrant wrote. The manifesto names other mass shooters Norwegian Anders Breivik and American Dylann Roof.
Just hours after the massacre dominated global news headlines, South Africa joined a host of other countries in condemning the attack. “On behalf of the people of South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa sends a message of condolence to the government and the people of New Zealand following the massacre,” said a statement issued by the Presidency.
“We want to convey our deepest condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones and wish all the injured a speedy recovery. The South African Diplomatic Mission in Wellington has been directed to provide consular assistance and support to any South Africans affected.”
While the outpouring of grief and support for the victims has had global resonance, for some South African expats living in New Zealand, the tragedy has hit much closer to home.
Speaking to Weekend Argus, South African expats said the tragedy represented a dark day for the peace-loving sovereign island country, which they’d immigrated to in search of a safer and more peaceful life.
Melissa Moore, a former Durbanite who has been living in Auckland since 2008, said the massacre was not a true reflection of the culture of the country.
“We as a New Zealand community are devastated for the lives lost. This has never happened here.
“New Zealand embraces people of all cultures and religions, and to have our own people gunned down in masses has sent absolute shock waves throughout the whole country,” she said.
Moore said New Zealanders would continue to stand together in the wake of the tragedy - regardless of race, age or religion.
“We will all get through this. The only message I can send to all those who would like to call New Zealand their home is to leave their racist preconceptions in South Africa, as it will not be tolerated in New Zealand. We have had, and will always have, a zero tolerance to racism and attacks of people’s religion.
“We will all band together and support those that have been affected.”
Back home, local leaders are planning to increase security around mosques. AV Mohamed, chairman of Durban’s Grey Street Mosque, said: “We will have to beef up our security.”
“Flashbacks and the opening of old wounds are what we get when we look at what has happened in New Zealand,” said Azad Seedat, chairman of Durban’s Imam Hussain Mosque.
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana of the SA Council of Churches met with the leaders of the Muslim Judicial Council on Friday. He described the attack as “indescribable acts of evil”.
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies said: “We stand up against hate crimes against all religious communities. We stand in solidarity with the Muslim community.”
Yesterday, at the third Annual Commemoration of the Proclamation of the Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War held in Cape Town, scores of human rights activists condemned the “senseless” killings.
Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabayo said they were not aware of any South Africans who were killed or injured in the attacks.
Yesterday, as burials of some of the victims began, Tarrant appeared in court and was charged with murder.
His next court appearance is scheduled for April 5.