Editorial: The xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa

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Despite the big-brother role Nigeria played to end racial segregation and bring down the white minority apartheid regime in South Africa, and the gratuitous support accorded South African businesses to thrive in Nigeria; it is curious and indeed unacceptable that Nigerians are still being viciously attacked and mindlessly killed in South Africa. And despite strong condemnation from all over the continent, there seem to be no end in sight to this grotesque barbarism. Amid mounting concern for relations between South Africa and Nigeria, the Federal Government’s decision to recall its diplomatic envoy; in the wake of the latest rash of attacks and demanding accountability and compensation for all Nigerians affected by the attacks in South Africa is a step in the right direction. It was high time Abuja spoke truth to Pretoria because definitive measures must be taken to stop once and for all, these acts of aggression and criminality against Nigerians in South Africa. Enough is enough.

In the face of the latest xenophobic assault on Nigerians in South Africa, the FG said it will begin the evacuation of Nigerians willing to leave the country. Beginning today Friday, September 6, 2019, the Proprietor of Air Peace Airlines, Chief Allen Onyeama, has offered to send an aircraft each day to evacuate Nigerians who may wish to return to Nigeria, free of charge. The decision came after deadly attacks on foreign-owned stores in Johannesburg triggered reprisal assaults on South African businesses in Nigerian cities. At least five people have been killed and 289 arrested since the violence flared on Sunday. Dozens of shops have been destroyed in Johannesburg and nearby Pretoria. Trucks suspected of being driven by foreigners have also been torched in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa is a major destination for economic migrants from neighboring Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. But others come from much farther away, including South Asia and Nigeria. The influx has led to sporadic outbreaks of violence against foreign businesses, sparked by the perception that jobs are being taken away from South Africans. In 2008, xenophobic violence left 62 dead, while in 2015; seven people were killed in attacks in Johannesburg and Durban. According to reports, since 2016 till date, about 200 Nigerians have been killed. The recent being the mysterious and unresolved death of Deputy Director-General of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, Elizabeth Ndubuisi-Chukwu, who was found dead in her room at the Emperors Palace Hotel on June 13, 2019, where she lodged. Coming on the heels of the killing of Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu, was that of Dennis Obiaju, a 17-year-old Nigerian high school student who was shot dead in Johannesburg on Saturday, July 21.

Similarly, in 2015, South Africans unleashed mayhem on African migrant workers in KwaZulu-Natal. The attacks were likened to a wild bush fire, spread to other cities and provinces in the country, especially Johannesburg where many migrants - Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans, Ethiopians and Nigerians among others, were attacked and had their shops and property looted. At that time, the loss to Nigerians alone was put at about 1.3 million rand (N21 million). The 2015 attack appeared to have been ignited by the Zulu King, Godswill Zwelithini, who told foreigners to “pack their bags and leave,” a hate-phrase  re-echoed by former South African President’s son, Edward Zuma, indicating a subtext of official complicity. Many foreigners herded into refugee camps for safety; while home countries of the affected migrants went on street protests amidst calls for reprisals; and the governments of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe moved to evacuate their citizens, while Nigeria took steps to shelter hers.

Essentially, xenophobic attacks in South Africa are not new; as history shows us that it had been on the increase since the first major outbreak in 2008. However, the pertinent questions are: what is the motive behind these attacks? And what are the causes? These puzzles require unraveling if the xenophobic attacks would be properly understood and reined in before they destroy the enduring African solidarity any further. Owing to economic hardship, the post-apartheid era has seen a wave of immigration of Africans into South Africa, a relatively more prosperous place. Despite efforts by successive governments to promote social cohesion, however, violence against foreigners has become a norm. What is more, a significant narrative for this crisis is the socio-economic condition of the ordinary South African. Nearly one in three South Africans are unemployed.

But this still begs the question: specifically, what have Nigerians done to merit this treatment? Needless to say, the attacks were misplaced aggression, especially from people who owe a debt of gratitude to a continent that stood for them during the trying times of apartheid. Furthermore, it’s a show of envy, lack of confidence and phobia for the giant strides by successful Nigerians in South Africa. The reality is that Nigerians are vilified because they supply the manpower needs of South Africa. Doubtless, Nigerians are strong, dynamic, prosperous, creative entrepreneurs and willing hands; unlike their lazy assailants. Hence, most often than not the South Africans single out Nigerians to attack and punish.

From the above, it would seem that the fellow feeling of the African and his communal lifestyle articulated and lived by the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela are being thrown into the Indian Ocean, leaving Africans alienated from one another. This is a monumental tragedy. Also, these cases of xenophobic hostilities, particularly against Nigerians make the South African government somewhat inept and ungrateful; as the response of the government has been a curious lack of courage. So, the FG should no longer tolerate the senseless killing of Nigerians in South Africa.

Against the backdrop of the relationship between South Africa and Nigeria, there should be mutual respect for each other. And South Africa should respond swiftly to the concerns of Nigerian citizens. Therefore, the South African government should carry out a thorough investigation into the death of Mrs. Ndubuisi-Chukwu and other Nigerian citizens in such suspicious circumstances in the country.

As for the barbaric incidents, they advertise the absence of a certain sense of history on the part of South Africans. Perhaps, the current generation of South Africans should be taught the history of their liberation and be reminded that Nigeria was a major part of the frontline states that freed them from apartheid. The present generation need to know that Africans never left South Africans alone. Such education must also emphasize the African personality in which Africans see themselves as brothers and sisters irrespective of location.

Furthermore, the South African government must address the deprivation of its citizens, who have, since the Dutchman set its foot on Table Bay, been dehumanized. The post-apartheid government of South Africa must continually address the issue of education, unemployment, housing and food for its people. It must undo the apartheid superstructure that still drives the economic process and unleash a redistribution of the wealth of the nation in such a way that leaves no one behind. The South-African media should also sensitize their citizens to realize that fellow Africans are not responsible for their deprivation but their government.

Correspondingly, African governments must also face up squarely to the task of revamping their national economies to curb the illegal migration of their citizens. Again, the xenophobes must be told in whatever language they understand that, under the iconic Mandela, South Africa’s prestige soared and her voice was heard as well as respected on every issue that mattered in global governance. As such, Mandela and South Africa were a source of pride to every African who acclaimed him and his country.

Similarly, Mandela never saw borders in Africa since the whole continent won freedom for him and his country. Above all, it is, however, incumbent for Africans to speak for and to Africa on this matter. Man’s inhumanity to man stands condemned anywhere, but Africans’ bestiality towards their fellow Africans is particularly ignoble and must be recorded as a disgrace to the continent. And the message should go out loud and clear to the bigots in South Africa and elsewhere: Never again!