This year’s April, when this writer interviewed the Zimbabwe-born South African-based Panache Chigumadzi, one of the questions he asked her was: ‘As an activist, what do you think could be done to stop the xenophobic assaults of Nigerians in South Africa?’
After admitting that, after African-Americans, Nigerians are perhaps the most visible black people in the world, Chigumadzi answered, “The xenophobia experienced by Africans in South Africa must be understood as anti-black violence deeply rooted in South Africa’s long colonial history beginning in 1652 and current unresolved socio-economic issues that mar our country. This context is important. Otherwise, we’ll only be dealing with the symptoms and not the root.”
The last few weeks witnessed the condemnable attacks of African immigrants in South Africa. Video claps replete with looting, arson, murder and the like in Johannesburg shocked the world. Over the years, Somalis, Zimbabweans and Mozambicans have been victims to the country’s xenophobic attacks. However, this month’s attacks strained tensions between South Africa and Nigeria—the continent’s two largest economies.
In spite of these dehumanizing attacks, some South Africans are happy about it. Zweli Ndaba and his Sisonke People’s Forum group, who to ignite the latest attacks, said, “Enough is enough, on selling of drugs, on property theft, and on our work being taken by foreign nationals.” Vusumuzi Sibanda, the chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum, said his organisation handed some flyers containing some xenophobic messages to the police days before the attacks happened. But, no action was taken to curtail it.
Savo Heleta, in an article titled ‘Xenophobia and Party Politics in South Africa’, stated that through blatant lies and scaremongering, foreigners are blamed for many of South Africa’s woes and social ills, adding that “South Africa isn’t overwhelmed with immigrants, with some 2.2 million international migrants (about 4% of the population) in the country in 2011. Stats SA Community Survey 2016 puts the number of foreign born people at 1.6 million, out of the population of 55 million at the time.”
Recently, one South African was reported to have said, “We need to take our fight to the Nigerians because they are the ones who are destroying us.” The worst came from South Africa Minister of International Relations, Grace Naledi Mandisa Pander, who said, “I would appreciate them in helping us as well to address the belief our people have and the reality that there are many persons from Nigeria dealing in drugs in our country.” It is obvious that Mandisa Pander is in support of the attacks and is advocating for jungle justice.
This nature of comments made Adekeye Adebajo, a Nigerian academic who leads the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg, to say that these recent xenophobic attacks are partly as a result of the economic frustration many poor South Africans have endured after apartheid, adding that many South Africans resentment is: ‘We suffered all these years—now that we’re free, we’re not really benefiting from what we fought for.’”
It is not surprising that such remarks and reactions are coming from South Africans, Nigeria spent millions of dollars rescuing from apartheid. This is a country where a majority of the people love luxury but cannot work for it; a country where citizens killed their fellow citizens during the apartheid regime. If an average South African could perpetrate these crimes on themselves, who are other nationals that they could not attack?
However, there is no country without challengers. Bad leadership and governance, soaring unemployment, insecurity, terrorism, political tensions, and the inaction of the government and the leaders to address them have caused many Nigerians to loss hope in Nigeria. The only way out, to many, is to leave the country by all means—by good or bad ways—sometimes illegally through deserts and seas. Worst still, the inability of Nigerian government to protect its citizens in Nigeria not to mention its citizens abroad, is becoming increasingly worrisome. The government is still struggling to protect Nigerians from Boko Haram, bandits, kidnappers, marauding herdsmen and the like. If the government has serious problems protecting the people in the country, it is Nigerians abroad they could protect? In fact, it is easy for Nigerian government to protect foreigners in the country than Nigerians in the country or other countries.
So when one hears that South Africans are killing Nigerians and destroying their properties, it is because both countries have failed to address their common challenges and their leaders have failed to deliver their mandates to their people. Frustratingly, is the way President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is handling the matter. It looks like the president is handling this pressing international matter the way he is handling marauding herdsmen and bandits terrorising the country. Xenophobic mobs have been assaulting Nigerians, all that the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Geoffrey Onyeama, had to say is that no Nigerian was killed in South Africa.Nigerian government has made the lives of Nigerians almost unbearable. Ghana, Libya, Saudi Arabia, India, Singapore, South Africa, ad infinitum—all the countries that once looked up to Nigeria for hope have now outpaced it in terms of economy and technology. These countries are where almost all Nigerians want to live if given the slightest chance.
However, the fact that Nigeria and these countries’ paths have crossed demands some level of respect. And if any sort of attack, be it xenophobia or Afrophobia, are meted to Nigerians in the diaspora, then the Nigerian government should seek compensation, reparation and justice. It is time Nigeria showed Africa and African that it matters in the comity of nations.
No one is saying that reprisal attacks should be meted to South Africans or their business in Nigeria, but the Nigerian government should re-strategize and be proactive in dealing with South African government and leaders. It is expected that by now, Nigerian government should have helped Nigerian xenophobic victims to sue the South African government or even sue that country to international court for the injustice done to its people.
Achille Mbembe, in an Africa is a Country Article titled ‘Achille Mbembe writes about Xenophobic South Africa’, noted that no African is a foreigner in Africa, notwithstanding the foolishness of boundaries, adding that “Impunity breeds impunity and atrocities. It is the shortest way to genocide. If these perpetrators cannot be brought to book by the South African State, isn’t it time to get a higher jurisdiction to deal with them?”
Xenophobia is not a problem that would go away overnight. For it to go away at all, the world and Afric ashould hold South Africa accountable for the deaths and damages it has caused its fellow Africans. Though South African president has apologised to those affected, it is not enough. Strict measures should be put in place to avoid reoccurrence of these attacks in the future. Nigeria, if truly it is the giant of Africa, should make sure that its citizens are safe wherever they are in the world .If this is not so, it should ensure any country or government violating this, are strictly meted with justice.
Alumona writes from Lagos