Xenophobic attacks: Fillet but no fish in South Africa
“When they go low, you go high.” Michelle Obama.
In the United States of America, the government gives the indigent cooked fillets but also teaches them how to fish. They do not make them eat freebie fillets forever but teach them how to be resourceful, move to jobs so they can be free. Not in Africa and in this instance South Africa. There are only uncooked fillets for the citizens, the paradox is that the citizens cannot cook the fillet; governments do not have the time to teach them how to cook it, and how then can citizens even learn how to fish. They blame Nigerians for all their woes, billy clubs them, loot their shops, burn shops and kill Nigerians.
Where did South Africa go wrong? Fundamentalists, thugs are now stronger than government in South Africa and that country just like Nigerian leaders with love for going to have forty winks at moments that matter has shown that it doesn’t have smoking guns.
The reaction emanating from Nigeria is understandable, no-one sane person should tolerate malevolence but when some begin to say that South Africans do not have a monopoly of violence and that Nigerians should promote a culture of reciprocity, a tit-for-tat then I have to ask ‘what value are we trying to propagate with such stance?’ Look at Michelle Obama’s statement above. We should go high and move away from such banal restructurings, which promote social injustice. There is a difference between the policy of the state and the policy of hoodlums which the government over time has not been able to use the bully pulpit to rein in.
What has happened in South Africa, very condemnable is not the policy of the South African government but of thugs, poverty-stricken South Africans, probably with no capacity for anything, envious of Nigerians doing well in South Africa, if they could descend so low forgetting about humanity then why should we descend so low by engaging in violence against South Africans in Nigeria as put forward by some Nigerians. It’s in place to feel sad. I did also when I saw pictures of looting and beatings and the Nigeria community everywhere should be sad but should we like South Africa descend so low to the level of indignity? We are in a global community and we need South Africa as much as South Africa needs Nigerians.
What should the Nigerian government in South Africa have done to protect Nigerians? It is beyond my ken when people blame the High Commissioner. The High Commissioner should have been recalled to send a message to the government of South Africa that the lives of Nigerians anywhere can never be degraded. The Nigerian government is always in the forefront to react and never proactive in its relations with sister African countries that aren’t better than Nigeria but for failed domestic governance.
Government does not care about the Nigerian and never makes bold statements after ill-treatments of Nigerians in Libya (a state policy) and in Ghana (a non-state policy). Some have called for the nationalization of South African companies in Nigeria as a warning to prevent further attacks of Nigerians in South Africa but is the security apparatus in South Africa the responsibility of these companies in Nigeria? We play big brother to Africans and Africans deal with Nigerians but no one treats Americans cheerlessly. They know the implications. One chap on television said: “Nigerians are stealing our wives and a time will come when Nigerians will steal our country.”
It is against diplomatic norms anywhere in the world for politicians to use the word tit-for-tat on television anywhere in the world, even when horrendous acts are committed against citizens, governments do not promote the joining of accounts with innocent foreigners doing business in the country. Some bar room banters should be left in the bar and not taken out. It behooves on the South African government to take care of its citizens who are forever jealous of Nigerians. Xenophobic attacks have happened elsewhere but governments reined in miscreants that started troubles against foreigners and why not South Africa.
In London May 1, 1517, xenophobic attacks in the UK, Londoners (mobs) viciously attacked people from Netherlands, France, and Italians accusing these merchants of stealing their jobs, foreigners had no place to run to. These foreigners were accused of stealing the livelihoods of Londoners by competing with the craftsmen and London merchants of the day.
How do Nigerians compete with most black South Africans who do nothing? Many blacks unlike in the London of that era aren’t craftsmen and merchants. They buy cotton (a euphemism for doing nothing) and lack capacity for anything. In the London of that era, John Lincoln, a broker consorted with a Cleric, Dr. Bele, who in his capacity as a preacher incited his followers against foreigners and the goods they imported into London. Lincoln and Bele were tried for treason for upsetting relations with Europe. Lincoln, the instigator and some of the rioters were subsequently hanged; the King allowed the execution to maintain a cordial diplomatic relationship with Europe. Five thousand others were to be sent to the hangman’s halter but the Queen begged the King to spare them. Her argument was that their deaths would affect the livelihoods of their wives and children. The execution sent a strong message to mischief-makers. The South African government has not lived up to its billing to nip these frequent attacks in the bud. It is not the job of the High Commissioner in South Africa to do so; it is not the job of a diplomat on ground in a foreign land to legislate against the prejudice which man cannot stop.
Nigerian government should enlarge the government’s coast and teach citizens how to look beyond their parapet, as much as possible teach people to understand the preferred degree of cross-cultural understanding. Violence shouldn’t be accepted as the worldview of underlings causing trouble.
When militancy started in Nigeria, many people said it was just a struggle, until some people with a mercantile spirit somewhere, cashed in on the ‘struggle’ to make money, the country is topsy-turvy no-thanks. I do not support the preachment that Nigeria should go after South African companies in Nigeria because Nigeria needs investments. We have over one hundred and twenty South African companies in Nigeria, many ripping Nigerians off, and it is an open secret that we do not have Nigerians companies competing with the South Africans. But for Michael Adenuga’s Globacom, which taught MTN how to bill per second, which another Nigerian company in the cable television industry has been able to compete with DSTV in content?
The government should try to disabuse the minds of Nigerians from reciprocity; we shouldn’t debase ourselves to that level. It is not a South African state policy but that of lazy hoodlums who haven’t been integrated very well into the South African society. The economy is in the hands of the white (Afrikaans) South Africans. South Africa has not shown the will to nip these repeated crises in the bud; don’t they have a better security apparatus than we have? If it were a state policy, I will support the banishments of all South Africans and their business empires out of Nigeria in twenty-four hours but I do not see it as a state policy. The state must use the bully pulpit to deal with criminality.
Why shouldn’t Nigeria send travel advice to Nigerians going to South Africa and send planes to bring back many others who are willing to return home? I shudder at the last thought though, home to do what? I hate troubles; it starts with you and doesn’t end with you, the reason I don’t support violence, gangsters’ and scientific crooks with mercantile spirits. I witnessed a crisis that consumed Kaduna and lives when a governor turned cleric in Zamfara, the whole north is a boiling cauldron. If you harass South African companies to leave Nigeria, people would be turned loose to the streets without jobs and are there Nigerian companies to adopt them save for the civil service with love for employment on a quota basis and employment for its sake. Nigeria should not emulate South Africa for providing fillet to citizens without teaching South Africans how to fish but should teach Nigerians how to fish in Nigeria whilst also providing Nigerians with cooked fillets.
The ANC has failed the people of South Africa. The man in the hinterland and many in cities live in slums and the economy is still in the hands of white people. The concept of integrated pluralism has not worked in South Africa, the chief reason the South African who lacks the capacity to learn the trade of the white man is envious of the black man who only buys and sells in South Africa. Nigerians do not produce anything in South Africa, they buy and sell. Do buying and selling develop any country on earth? Buyers and sellers are always at the mercy of manufacturers who can shut them out of business at a moment’s notice.
The miscreants in South Africa were instigated by some people that the South African government refuses to apprehend and deal with. Nigerian security personnel and government should treat Nigerians right; the ill-treatment of Nigerians in the hands of agents of the state and by government sends wrong signals to members of the international community that rights and lives aren’t valued in Nigeria. I was shocked to hear a Nigerian on TV say that Nigerians are messing up Ghana. We need to begin to appreciate each other and the government must begin to inspire pride in Nigeria and to create the right environments for Nigerians not to travel abroad to seek gold, which isn’t available on the streets of any country in a foreign country.
How many North Africans do you see in Nigeria? If they must travel, it is for short-term business and education. Nigeria should increase its international diplomacy not sorties for its sake, engage in value-driven branding exercises and move away from tit-for-tat. If in the 16th-century era, leaders were aware of the dangers of not allowing xenophobia to fester, why is South Africa a rallying point for xenophobia in Africa?
Abah, is a Teacher, Speaker, Campaigner and Consultant, wrote from Abuja.