Taming the Xenophobia in the Rainbow Country by Tony Ademiluyi
In June 12 1964, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for attempting to violently overthrow the Caucasian dominated government. Alongside his comrades most notably Govan Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki’s father, he was sent to Robben Island to live the rest of his days in anguish.
The campaign for the release of Mandela became a worldwide rallying cause as genuine agitators and hustlers all found a common cause in crying that the world’s most famous prisoner should be set free. Nigeria played a vital role in the destruction of apartheid. As Africa was the centre piece of our foreign policy in the hey days of military rule, the ‘Giant of Africa’ spearheaded the throwing open of Robben Island and financed some of the activities of the banned African National Congress.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was particularly vocal in the Mandela cause and was known to have brokered peace deals between Frederick De Klerk and Mandela when he was eventually released using his African Leadership Forum platform.
1994 was an epochal year for the Rainbow country as the first truly democratically elections were held with Mandela declared as the winner. Many African nationals saw the country as a goldmine and rushed in to take advantage of her numerous opportunities. Many Nigerians were not left out as they trooped in large numbers to become partakers of the new renaissance African State.
The end of apartheid merely transferred political power from the whites to the blacks. The real economic power still largely resided in the hands of the whites. This led to some resentment by the hapless blacks as they lacked the skills and education to compete in the jet age. Activism had given way to administration and they clearly lacked what it took to consistently bring home the bacon.
The black South Africans now saw their new adversaries in the hardworking African nationals of other African nations who were honestly eking a living without or with little governmental backing. The waves of killings started and the media did its best to downplay it so as to give the impression that all was well in Mandela’s country. The conspiratorial role of the white dominated media was made more pronounced by the fact that the whites weren’t happy with the progress that these other black nationals were making and they advocated running a more closed economy with high barriers to entry.
The media suppression was short lived as in 2008 about sixty-two people were brutally murdered in a wave of xenophobic attacks. Many Nigerians were included in that horrible number. Subsequent attacks went on and on with the most recent being a few weeks ago when two Nigerians were killed.
Nigerians are nicknamed ‘kwere kwere’ and are particularly hated by South Africans because of the former’s penchant for hardwork and the uncanny ability to squeeze juice out of stone. Their ladies are said to prefer the more aggressive Nigerians to the rather laidback South African men which only increases the hatred for them. The erstwhile apartheid fighters are allegedly envious of the loud swagger of their Nigerian guests and would do anything including cutting short their lives to cut them down to size.
It is tragic that Nigeria is yet to take an official position to defend the interests of her nationals in that country. It is a well known fact that Nigeria is home to many South African companies from MTN to Shoprite amongst many others. These companies make the bulk of their profits in Nigeria and remit it back home without any disturbance from the Nigerian government. Nigerians don’t have the time to haunt down and kill South African residents in the country as we have a rich culture of accommodating our guests even when they don’t reciprocate such to us.
The xenophobia seems to be somewhat state sanctioned as the King of Kwa Zulu Natal, Goodwill Zwelithini was quoted to have said “We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries. The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country’s struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals.” Given his position as a first class monarch, the pro-xenophobic backers would have taken it as a cue to spill the streets with raw blood. While South African businesses flourish in Nigeria, there are deliberate policies to stifle African owned businesses in that country. One recalls the attempt of a well known Nigerian media house that went there to set up shop in 2004 only to be frustrated out barely a few years later.
There is need for the government to take a tough stance against the xenophobia that our nationals suffer in that clime. It was our terrible public policy that resulted in avoidable hardship that led these Nigerians to go there in the first place. Due to no fault of theirs, they are being hacked like rams with our government doing practically nothing to alleviate their needless suffering. How can the citizens of the so called ‘Giant of Africa’ be treated worse than dogs in another country in the African continent?
The onus of ending the xenophobia should also be extended to the stakeholders in South Africa as well. For instance the South African King should have been severely sanctioned for promoting hate speech. We recall the punishment that was meted out to the Rwandan politicians who promoted hate speech on radio in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide which lasted for three months. Hate speech shouldn’t be taken lightly at all as the after effect of it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Dr. Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah would turn in his grave as his vision for African unity which led to the formation of the Organization of African Unity now African Union in 1963 as he didn’t envision the killing fields that Africa has now become. He wanted an Africa bound in love and unity. Xenophobia clearly had no place in his dreams.
The African Union should live up to his billing by being a rallying point for love and solidarity among the fifty countries that make up Africa. Appropriate sanctions should be meted out to countries that directly or indirectly tolerate xenophobia.
The Nigerian government should also speak up and be more vocal in defending the interests of our citizens in South Africa. Our embassy should be a safe haven for our citizens to feel protected and loved. Our foreign policy should be rejigged for us to play a Big Brother Role in Africa whose citizens would be respected the continent over.
The South African government should educate its largely illiterate black population so that they have the appropriate skills to contribute their quota towards nation building and not to turn to innocent Nigerians to slaughter rams.
The killings must stop; Enough is Enough!
Ademiluyi writes from Lagos.