Of xenophobia and a quest for African renaissance
THE just-abating xenophobic attacks on fellow Africans by their South African hosts are not only barbaric, but also destructive to the ties that bind brothers and sisters across the continent.
Indeed, the attacks put a big question mark on the humanity of the instigators as well as the perpetrators, revealing their bestiality in spectacular fashion.
Many around the world have spoken loudly against the unfortunate acts. It is however, incumbent for Africans to speak for and to Africa on this matter.
Man’s inhumanity to man stands condemned anywhere, but Africans’ bestiality towards their fellows is particularly ignoble and must be recorded as a disgrace to the continent. And the message should go out loud and clear to the bigots in South Africa and elsewhere: Never again!
Under the iconic Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s prestige soared and her voice was heard as well as respected on every issue that mattered in global governance.
Mandela and his country were a source of pride to every African who acclaimed him and his country, rightly so, not only because in the dark days of apartheid rule, Africans never left South Africans alone, but also because Mandela never saw borders in Africa since the whole continent won freedom for him and his country.
Indeed, almost all countries on the continent, especially Nigeria, became part of the frontline states in the fight against apartheid.
Now, it would seem that the fellow feeling of the African and his communal life style articulated and lived by the likes of Edward Blyden, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, among many others, are being thrown into the Indian Ocean, leaving Africans alienated from one another.
For about three weeks, South Africans unleashed mayhem on African migrant workers beginning in the coastal region of KwaZulu-Natal.
The attacks, like a wild bush fire, soon spread to other cities and provinces in the country, especially Johannesburg where many migrants, namely Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans, Ethiopians and Nigerians among others, were attacked and had their shops and property looted. At the last count, the loss to Nigerians alone was put at about 1.3 million rand (N21 million).
Besides, many have been herded into refugee camps for safety. Xenophobic attacks in South Africa are not new; and have been on the increase since the first major outbreak in 2008. The latest appeared to have been ignited by the Zulu King, Godswill Zwelithini, who told foreigners to “pack their bags and leave”, a hate-phrase said to have been equally re-echoed by the South African President’s son, Edward Zuma, indicating a subtext of official complicity.
The attacks have elicited global attention, condemnation and internal solidarity marches by South Africans. While home countries of the affected migrants have seen street protests amidst calls for reprisals, the governments of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have since made moves to evacuate their citizens, while Nigeria has equally taken steps to shelter hers.
A monumental tragedy, however, the response of the South African government has been disgracefully pusillanimous and belated. It could have halted the attacks given the benefit of intelligence. It did not, so were the security forces, which merely stood aloof while the mayhem raged.
The point must be made that no nation should allow its citizens to take the laws into their hands and if any government does, it should be ready for reprisals.
The South African government did not say the appropriate words and did not take appropriate steps as and when due to stem the attacks. In that regard, the Jacob Zuma-led government failed itself and the entire continent.
Needless to say the attacks were a misplaced aggression, especially from a people who owe a debt of gratitude to a continent that stood for them during the trying times of apartheid. The barbaric incident, has thus, advertised the absence of a certain sense of history on the part of South Africans.
However, the pertinent questions are: What is the motive behind these attacks? And what are the causes? These puzzles require unravelling if the xenophobic attacks would be properly understood and reined in before they destroy the enduring African solidarity any further.
Owing to economic hardship, post-apartheid era has seen a wave of immigration of Africans into South Africa, a relatively more prosperous place. Despite efforts by successive governments to promote social cohesion, however, violence against foreigners has become a norm and a significant narrative for this crisis is the socio-economic conditions of the ordinary South African.
The South Africa-based Human Sciences Research Council once identified four broad causes of this violence, namely relative deprivation, evident in lack of jobs, commodities and housing; group processes underlined by psychological socialization that tend towards nationalism; ‘South African exceptionalism’ which induces a sense of superiority, however false, over other Africans and; exclusive citizenship that seeks to keep the country for South Africans, excluding others.
While some of these identified factors can be debated, the point must be made that ordinary South Africans often feel a peculiar animus towards migrants, who are sometimes more aggressive and entrepreneurial than their hosts, inducing envy and inferiority complex on their part.
To be sure, black majority rule has not delivered the promises of inclusion and prosperity to the majority of South Africans. The economic differentiation between white and black South Africans remains firmly entrenched and no significant re-distribution of the economic privileges has taken place beyond tokenism.
Besides, the government has been largely incompetent in dealing with the large-scale poverty in the land. With about 24 per cent unemployment rate and grinding poverty, alienation follows and a certain false consciousness in which outsiders are scapegoated for the failure of governance, becomes the dominant current. Hence the xenophobic attacks.
This is also reinforced by a prevailing apartheid era’s false flag operation of the South African intelligence which seeks to divert the black indigenes’ attention from the social relations which clearly delineate the haves and have-nots and set up a straw man in fellow Africans in ways that make poor citizens take out their rage on fellow Africans in their midst.
The process includes social profiling by which African migrants are blamed for crime, unemployment and sexual attacks.
Part of the latent functions of the same false flag operation is to undermine the contagious effect of other confident Africans, especially those who have passed through the crucibles of liberation struggles, from ‘contaminating’ South Africans into calling into question the social order under which they live.
This has also become convenient for the post-apartheid rulers as a useful tool for diversion from their poor-performance in government and to garner political capital for electoral purposes.
The rage is by no means over, despite the momentary lull. It is waiting for another opportune moment to vent itself in so far as the conditions which engendered them have neither been ameliorated nor addressed squarely.
Therefore, what is to be done? First, the government must address the deprivation of its citizens, who have, since the Dutchman set its foot on Table Bay, been dehumanized.
The post-apartheid government of South Africa must address the issue of education, unemployment, housing and food for its people. It must undo the apartheid super structure that still drives the economic process and unleash a redistribution of the wealth of the nation in such a way that leaves no one out or behind.
The people must be sufficiently educated on their own history, the history of domination and the role played by fellow Africans in dismantling that edifice. Such socialization must also emphasize the African personality in which Africans see themselves as brothers and sisters irrespective of location.
Fellow Africans are not responsible for their deprivation but their government. Correspondingly, African governments must also face up squarely to the task of revamping their national economies to curb illegal migration of their citizens.
To Nigerian illegal migrants, especially, it must be said that there is no gold mine anywhere in the world. Citizens should look inward and tap into the nation’s resources for the purposes of individual and collective self-actualisation while government provides the enabling environment.
The Africa Union (AU) must also come up with a protocol that guards against xenophobic attacks and enforces a continental embargo on any nation that allows attacks on fellow Africans.
Besides, it must make a major pronouncement on this ugly development. It is important it does because South Africa used to be the barometer for inflow of foreign direct investments (FDIs) into the continent and a destabilized South Africa would be a curse for the continent.
Also, beyond the symbolic peace accord between Nigerians and other Africans with South Africans in Abuja, the Nigerian government must send a strong delegation to South Africa and sound it audibly to the authorities in that country that concrete steps must be taken not only to stem the ugly incident, but also to prevent a recurrence.
Such platforms as the Nigeria-South Africa Dialogue Forum, which used to be a veritable meeting point and driver of understanding, may need to be revived.
As for Nigeria, which has always anchored its foreign policy on friendship, even brotherhood with every African nation, this is the time to deepen friendship in Africa and be the trigger for an African political and economic renaissance.