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South Africa’s unending xenophobic hostilities

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A demonstrator holds a banner in Johannesburg during a march gathering. Johannesburg. PHOTO ; AFP/ A wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa .

Despite the big-brother role Nigeria played for the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, and the support given to South African businesses in Nigeria to thrive; Nigerians are still being attacked and mindlessly killed in South Africa.

It is curious that despite editorials and strong condemnation from all over the continent, this barbaric act is not abating in South Africa.

According to reports, since 2016 till date, about 200 Nigerians have been killed. The recent being the mysterious and unresolved death of Deputy Director-General of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, Elizabeth Ndubuisi-Chukwu, who was found dead in one of the rooms at the Emperors Palace Hotel and Convention Centre on June 13, 2019, where she lodged.

Coming on the heels of the killing of Mrs. Obianuju Ndubuisi-Chukwu, was that of Master Chinonso Dennis Obiaju, 17, a Nigerian still in high school who was shot dead in Johannesburg on Saturday, July 21.

Similarly, in 2015, there were reports that South Africans unleashed mayhem on African migrant workers beginning in the coastal region of KwaZulu-Natal. The attacks were likened to a wild bush fire, 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 that time, the loss to Nigerians alone was put at about 1.3 million rands (N21 million). The 2015 attack 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 former South African President’s son, Edward Zuma, indicating a subtext of official complicity.

Besides, the reports of 2015 stated that many herded into refugee camps for safety; while home countries of the affected migrants went on street protests amidst calls for reprisals; and the governments of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe made moves to evacuate their citizens, while Nigeria took steps to shelter hers. Essentially, xenophobic attacks in South Africa are not new; as history shows us that it had been on the increase since the first major outbreak in 2008.

However, the pertinent questions are: What is the motive behind these attacks? And what are the causes? These puzzles require unraveling if the xenophobic attacks would be properly understood and reined in before they destroy the enduring African solidarity any further.

Owing to economic hardship, the 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. What is more, a significant narrative for this crisis is the socio-economic condition 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 socialisation 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 particular 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 redistribution 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 27.6% in the first quarter of 2019 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 to 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.

Specifically, what have Nigerians done to merit this treatment? Needless to say, the attacks were misplaced aggression, especially from people who owe a debt of gratitude to a continent that stood for them during the trying times of apartheid. Furthermore, it’s a show of envy, lack of confidence and phobia for the giant strides by Nigerians in South Africa. The reality is that Nigerians are vilified because they supply the manpower needs of South Africa. Doubtless, Nigerians are strong, dynamic, prosperous, creative entrepreneurs and great employers of labour in South Africa; while some of the attackers are lazy. Hence, most often than not the South Africans single out Nigerians to attack and punish.

From the above, it would seem that the fellow feeling of the African and his communal lifestyle 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. This is a monumental tragedy.

Also, these cases of xenophobic hostilities, particularly against Nigerians in South Africa make the South African government look somewhat inept and ungrateful; as the response of the government has been a curious lack of courage. So, we would like to suggest that the Nigerian state should no longer tolerate the senseless killing of her citizens in South Africa.

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!

Against the backdrop of the relationship between South Africa and Nigeria, there should be mutual respect for each other. And South Africa should respond swiftly to the concerns of Nigerian citizens. Therefore, the South African government should carry out a thorough investigation into the death of Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu and other Nigerian citizens in such suspicious circumstances in the country.

As for the barbaric incidents, they advertise the absence of a certain sense of history on the part of South Africans. Perhaps, the current generation of South Africans should be taught the history of their liberation and be reminded that Nigeria was a major part of the frontline states that freed them from apartheid. The young ones need to know that Africans never left South Africans alone. Such socialisation must also emphasise the African personality in which Africans see themselves as brothers and sisters irrespective of location.

Furthermore, the South African government must address the deprivation of its citizens, who have, since the Dutchman set its foot on Table Bay, been dehumanised.

The post-apartheid government of South Africa must continually address the issue of education, unemployment, housing and food for its people. It must undo the apartheid superstructure that still drives the economic process and unleash a redistribution of the wealth of the nation in such a way that leaves no one behind. The South-African media should also sensitise their citizens to realise that 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 the illegal migration of their citizens.

Again, it should be made to know to the xenophobes that, 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. As such, Mandela and his country were a source of pride to every African who acclaimed him and his country.

Similarly, Mandela never saw borders in Africa since the whole continent won freedom for him and his country. It is gratifying to note that leaders of both countries, (Nigeria and South Africa) are going to meet over the relentless attacks on Nigerians in South Africa. There should be candour and sincerity in the purpose and thrust of the imminent meeting of the two leaders of two important countries in Africa.


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