Xenophobia’s eerie xylophone
In what has seemingly become a recurrent ritual, some disgruntled and ostensibly unemployed and impoverished South Africans have recently been venting their frustrations with their government`s inability to provide for them on expatriates of African descent whom they accused of guzzling up the measly job opportunities available in their country. The South Africans also accuse their guests of straining scant social services and importing crimes and other hideous vices into their country.
In waves of attacks, brigandage and pillory that has shaken diplomatic relations to its roots and alarmed the international community not as much as by its occurrence as with its recurrence, scores have been killed, properties worth mammoth amounts destroyed and a general cloud of insecurity and fear darkened even further in a country known for its history and gargantuan struggles against crimes and other social ills and vices.
As the world has increasingly gravitated towards becoming a global village, innumerable people have departed their countries of origin to sojourn in other countries driven by a plethora of factors largely bordering on the economic and the occupational, and ‘darkly’ by conflicts, violence and other global issues which assail from time to time humanity`s common fabric.
In this light of migrational mobility inspired by a slew of factors, South Africa not being a pariah country has received its own chunk of nationals from other countries coming in legally and illegally in search of opportunities for better lives in salubrious recognition of the economic hub and model South Africa has become, all inspired by a vibrant media, fiercely independent judiciary and a young but forcefully promising democracy.
Thus, in spite of the crime levels which make for particularly grim and grotesque observation, the Rainbow nation has come to occupy a central place in the economic, political and democratic discourse of Africa and its image as a country of hope, triumph and possibilities finds a compelling background in the eternally effulgent image of its universally loved former President and anti-apartheid hero, Nelson Mandela (of blessed memory).
This alluring image backed by such a towering persona has always cast South Africa in good international light and the country`s heart-wringing struggle against apartheid has always won it sympathy and admiration from neutrals.
In the light of all these, the recurrent xenophobic attacks by South Africans on fellow Africans living in their country betrays a disturbing paranoia and harks back to the painful chapters of apartheid. In lashing out at nationals of Zimbabwe, Nigeria et all in murderous rage and sanctimonious loathing, the criminals involved in these xenophobic attacks betray their narrow thought patterns and their desperately poor memories.
They have accused foreigners of taking up jobs that should go to them and importing grave crimes into their country, thus presupposing that indigenous South Africans are in no jobs in their own country and are altruistic angels incapable of even simple misdemenours. They also seem to wallow in the illusion that there are no South African citizens taking up jobs or holding business and economic interests in other countries.
The statistics recently came into public attention that about 116 Nigerians have been killed in Xenophobic attacks in South Africa. This is a huge figure by any measure and it is given particularly stark enormity by the sheer stupidity and shallowness of xenophobia and all its roots, stems and branches. However, in a country like Nigeria which has often vacillated in policy decisions when the lives of its citizens have been periled both within and outside Nigeria, the figure may not necessarily strike an alarming note. Besides, thousands within the country have perished under wholly avoidable circumstances. The regime in Zimbabwe as famished for ideas and vitality as it is would most likely care even less if its citizens in South Africa are hacked down by xenophobic hordes. Besides, many of the Zimbabweans living in South Africa in the first place are there in a bid to escape an aged and notoriously isolationist president back home.
The response from the South African government has been sickening in its lethargy to put it mildly. Where a country that was born of the horrors of apartheid, during which countries like Nigeria stood unflinchingly by her side, was supposed to denounce the criminals that some of her citizens have become and demonstrate a forceful hand for reasons of deterrence, statements coloured by obliqueness have issued aplenty from the mouths of government officials, while the law enforcement agencies have shown only half-hearted vigour as a historic menace prowls the rainbow nation like a spectre.
More introspectively, however, Xenophobia painfully mirrors the failure of governance in the country of the perpetrators and in the countries of their victims alike for at the root of xenophobia lies appalling discontent. As wrong as they seem and as grotesque as their means of voicing their frustrations appear, there is no denying the fact that at the roots of xenophobia is a painful failure of the South African government and its policies which have conduced to asphyxiating living conditions and an increasingly bleaker tomorrow for its most vibrant bodies and minds.
At the core of migration in most instances lie a thirst for better opportunities. It is common knowledge that the many struggles that have convulsed the Nigerian nation for decades now have seen many of its most vibrant minds and bodies lurching for the greener pastures of other lands. South Africa has been one of their most alluring destinations.
Admittedly, foreigners have been involved in grave crimes there, but let it be left for the proper authorities to investigate and sanction same, not vagrants and street urchins with warped thinking and painfully short memories gyrating to the sanctimonious rhythm of xenophobia`s eerie xylophone.
• Obiezu wrote from Abuja.