Omoniyi Salaudeen And Daniel Kanu
As outrage continues to trail the fresh bout of violence on foreign nationals in South Africa, including Nigerians, some experts in international relations and diplomacy have expressed divergent views on the possible ways the Federal Government can forestall future xenophobic attacks on its citizens.
Following the recent wave of attacks, the Federal Government in demonstration of its indignation against the unprovoked violence on its nationals has recalled its High Commission in South Africa in addition to boycotting the ongoing World Economic Forum for Africa (WEF) holding in Cape Town.
According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Muhammed, who made the announcement, other additional punitive measures are also being considered by the Federal Government.
However, as negotiation between the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphoza, and Nigerian envoy is still ongoing, some eminent Nigerians of good standing in international diplomacy have suggested ways to forestall the recurring incident of losses Nigeria had always suffered each time there was xenophobic attacks.
A renowned scholar at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof Fred Aja Agwu, told Sunday Sun that it would take a long time to rid South Africa of the menace of xenophobia, which, according to him, had its roots on the hangover of years of traumatic experience of apartheid.
He observed that while apartheid was being dismantled, South Africans had been given an erroneous impression about other Africans, particularly Nigerians.
He blamed the trend on the inability of successive governments in South Africa to document the contributions of Nigeria to the dismantling of apartheid and then pass on the information to succeeding generations.
On the part of the Nigerian government, he said certain key issues had been ignored by the leadership during the years of struggle against the minority rule in South Africa.
His words: “The problem comes from both sides – Nigeria and South Africa. From the South African point of view, you know that ANC was not a political party, it was an organization. So, most of the things they got from Nigeria were not fully documented and passed on to future generation to adapt.
“But more importantly, the white minority regime didn’t like the way apartheid regime collapsed. So, they had created the impression in the minds of South African black that they were more privileged under apartheid regime than other African parts of the continent.
“They had told them that after apartheid, South Africa will be swamped by peoples from other parts of the country. They had created an estrangement in the minds of the black South Africans that felt they were more superior to Africans from other parts of Africa.
“The impression of hate they planted was such that after the fall of apartheid, Africans from other parts of Africa would come and envelope their country. That is what you see happening today. It is a reaction to what they have been feed with.
“On our part, after the fall of apartheid, there was no detailed policy towards South Africa. All we did was to ensure the fall of apartheid. The moment apartheid collapsed; there was nothing that we have taken to South Africa, just like they have their Shoprite, MTN, and banks etc, here. So, Nigerians going there are seen as people coming from a very poor background, who are coming to benefit from the wealth of South Africa. They believe that Nigerians are so poor in their own country and couldn’t cope.
“All that we spent for dismantling of apartheid was not documented in a way that other successive governments will see what had been done and show it to present generation of South Africans. The ANC couldn’t do that. In all, South Africans were dispossessed, they lost economic power. All they have is political power. So, they think that it is Africans coming from other parts of Africa that are taking their positions. They don’t know that it is the white that have taken their positions and only gave them political power to be president. Their political class, their presidents, some of them used these things as campaign gimmick when they were contesting elections in other to garner votes.”
Suggesting the way forward for Nigeria, Agwu said that urgent steps needed to be taken to ensure high-level diplomatic discussion between the two countries. “The two countries have to meet bilaterally to sort the problem out. South African government should police the place very well so that Nigerians are not attacked further. South African government must also make sure that those who attack foreigners are punished,” he added.
He maintained that the Federal Government’s decision to recall its High Commissioner may not be the right answer to the problem, warning that it would make Nigerians more vulnerable to attack.
“Telling our envoy to come back may not be a good solution to the problem. We did it in 2015. It is the South African envoy you may ask to go home. If he (Nigerian envoy) comes back, who will monitor the affairs of Nigerians in South Africa? Diplomatic representations must be kept at a high level in situations like this because if it is very low, there is a place a lower person cannot enter like where a high commissioner will enter,” he said.
Also speaking in the same vein, another renowned scholar, diplomat and former Minister of Education, who was one-time staff of the United Nations, Prof Tunde Adeniran, urged African leaders to rise to the occasion and halt the diplomatic drift, saying the development was unacceptable.
He said: “What is happening is unfortunate because black people shouldn’t be doing this to their fellow black people. Our leaders must rise to this challenge and ensure that things are done the way they should be done.
“What is on ground has degenerated to an unacceptable level, but then, it still has to be handled both at the diplomatic level and political leaders’ level also. But more importantly, Africa must rise and see this as a serious challenge to its integrity.
He pointed out that the trend depicts a negative image for the black people of the African Continent. “Our image as Africans is involved and anything that leads to loss of lives is bad enough not to talk about the scale of what is happening now. Africans attacking Africans is unacceptable”, he declared.
For a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, Nigeria should break-up diplomatic ties with South Africa over the attacks.
In his radical approach, he said it was time Nigeria nationalized South African companies in the country, saying it would send a strong message to South African authorities that if they continue, Nigeria would declare war on them.
Fani-Kayode said in his tweeter handle: “The only way to make the South Africans appreciate that Nigerians cannot be killed like chickens is not by sending envoy, but by breaking off diplomatic relations and nationalizing all South African companies in Nigeria. If they do not stop after that, then we should declare war”.
He said that if he were the president of Nigeria, no South African company would feel safe at this point.
Also, a former Special Assistant (SA) on Political Matters to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr Gbolade Oshinowo, expressed the same anger over incessant violence meted out on Nigerians, suggesting a tit-for-tat approach to the issue, adding that a sovereign nation does not protect its sovereignty by begging.
“In international diplomacy, this kind of attack should have been tit-for-tat. And there is precedence during the era of former President Goodluck Jonathan when a number of Nigerians were expelled from South Africa without any provocation. What the Federal Government did at that time was to also expel South Africans. And that brought the desired results, as Nigerians were recalled. A sovereign nation does not protect its sovereignty by begging. They should have taken a definite step to preempt that kind of attack,” he posited.
South Africa has a population of 58 million people. The immigrant community is put at four million, representing just seven per cent of the population, an insignificant figure to dominate its labour force. Questions have, therefore, continued to be asked as to why South Africans seem to be hateful of foreign nationals, especially their fellow brothers from sub-Saharan Africa.
Most experts have linked the answer to the apartheid regime in that country. The most reference point of that regime was segregation on education instituted in 1953 through the Bantu Education Act. The act prescribed that Black South Africans would only receive the education that would prepare them for the labour class, while their White counterparts were prepared to provide leadership. That varied system also meant that the government spent 10 times more for a white kid than a black kid.
Mandela and his concerned comrades protested the new regime, saying the system would only produce angry and rebellious Black South Africans. But the government was unwavering as it stuck to its gun.
In Mandela’s seminal work, Long Walk to Freedom, he recalled meeting some of the people the Bantu Education system created in prison. He said they were hotheads, rebellious and confrontational with the prison officials. They disobeyed simple tasks like filing out for headcount or dressing properly. They were simply monsters created by the state.
Even Mandela got a piece of their mind. They derided the leaders of the Africa National Congress (ANC) as too soft for accommodating non-blacks in the freedom struggle.
And once apartheid was crushed, this same group blamed other nationals for their economic poverty. And like Mandela said in his epic book, they have learned to hate.
Political observers say it’s time to de-poison their hearts and re-programme it with love as well as letting them know from where they are coming from.