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The chickens from South Africa – Part 3


A mob armed with spears, batons and axes run through Johannesburg’s Katlehong Township during a new wave of anti-foreigner violence on September 5, 2019. Tensions eased between twin African powerhouses South Africa and Nigeria on September 5, after Pretoria temporarily closed its diplomatic missions in the rival state following a wave of attacks on foreign-owned stores there that claimed 10 lives. GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP

In the case of South Africa, this is the effect of Apartheid on the psyche of citizens. I mean, is the Minister proposing for foreigners to be put in Bantustans, away from the cities, just as blacks were segregated under Apartheid? Or is he proposing that foreigners should leave South Africa entirely? The South Africans doing what they are doing now in and out of government are doing so in the tradition of white minorities in and out of government in Apartheid South Africa who saw the black population as a threat, just as these South Africans today see African foreign nationals in South Africa as a threat.

They have imbibed the cruel, ignoble and negative culture of Apartheid and are not ashamed to be exhibiting it today because they think it’s a continuation of their fight for survival as a people. In Nigeria, though I’ve stated this is only comparable to an extent, it is what we also exhibit in governance when we operate our democracy like a military regime.

The many cases of government impunity and attacks on the rule of law and the lack of regard for citizens’ lives are carryovers from military rule. We have been exposed to a bad political culture that we think is normal. Even when the new political culture clearly states in law that we should not follow that past culture, in practice we interpret the law with a military mentality and in practice act as though we are still under military rule.


Yes, military rule and apartheid cannot be compared fully, but their effects on the psyche of citizens can be the same, just as we see with the cases of South Africa and Nigeria. The basis of that negative response to national responsibility is a total neglect of history. If South Africans remember that without the efforts of those they are killing, they wouldn’t have the freedom they claim to be protecting today and if Nigerians in government realize that without the sacrifice of the citizens they’re oppressing today, they wouldn’t be in elective and appointive positions to rule over them, good governance would have ensured that in both places these injustices and uncivilized conducts are immediately done away with.

But, having said the above, I return to my core argument in this piece, which is the need for our own self-reflection as Nigerians and as a nation. Sure, our government must now act firmly and we must all support them in doing this, as far as whatever they do protects the lives of Nigerians in South Africa and sends a clear message to the South African authorities that Nigeria will stop at nothing to protect her citizens in their country. We don’t have the details of the discussion between Presidents Buhari and Ramaphosa in Japan, but we clearly heard the South African president taking responsibility and promising to act firmly to stop the killings and harassment. That’s what Nigerians must hold President Ramaphosa to. However, on our side, we must acknowledge that foreign policy is the other side of the coin with regard to governments and their overall policies. Foreign policy is and should be a reflection of domestic policy abroad.

If we are not dealing appropriately with the question of law and order at home, we have no moral right to expect the government of another country to do so in their own country. Mr Ramaphosa can as well begin to regurgitate Buhari’s excuses with regard to the Fulani herdsmen killings in Nigeria. He can tell us that those doing the killings in his country are not South Africans, that they are foreigners who are streaming in from other parts of Southern, Central and Eastern Africa in search of the good life in South Africa because droughts have taken over their own countries. He can continue promising to bring these people to justice without lifting a finger. South Africans committing the offence can look at our country and say if we can do that to ourselves, they too can do the same to our hapless citizens in their country.


So, while we are trying to respond to this problem as a responsible nation concerned about the welfare and security of her citizens abroad, my hope is that we also begin to see how we undermine ourselves at home by not acting firmly on these ethnic-inspired killings going on in Nigeria. You might call it xenophobia when foreigners kill your citizens abroad but it’s no different from your own citizens or even foreigners killing your own citizens at home in their farms, on the roads and in their homes. I know that our cynical public officials may not even see it as I’ve stated here because, after all, those being killed in South Africa aren’t their children, brothers, sisters or relations.

That may be true, but only for now because what they really need to know is that the death of any Nigerian abroad in these circumstances is a reflection on them as individuals and as public officials. They are not going to be in office forever. One day, the example they set in public service would be the fate of their own children and descendants. The blood of all innocent Nigerians killed outside would not only be on the heads of those who are doing the direct killing in South Africa, but also on the heads of Nigerian officials who are looking the other way and doing nothing when these killings are going on.

As Nigerian citizens, we need to advise our compatriots in South Africa to do all they can to protect themselves. Self-defence is a natural right every human being can exercise anywhere on earth in the face of danger. They should be careful where they go and how they move around. They must come together in their communities to develop and implement plans to survive while hoping the governments of their country and the South African government resolves this quickly. They should not take the law into their hands, but, as I said, they have a right to protect themselves. Now, while the rest of us leave the governments of both countries to act and find a way to deal with this shameful problem, we all can show our displeasure with Mr Bongani Mkongi by asking President Cyril Ramaphosa to sack him immediately because such a person is not fit to be in government anywhere in Africa. A man who can openly use his public position and faux nationalism to support xenophobia is not fit to sit in any cabinet. Let the hashtag below trend. Let South Africans see what we think of their Deputy Minister of Police Affairs, Mr Bongani Mkongi.
Emetulu, formerly of The Guardian, wrote from London.


In this article:
Kennedy Emetulu
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