South Africa, one of the largest countries in Africa is expected by now, to stop the frequent attacks on foreigners in the land. One expects the people and the government of South Africa to follow every issue bothering on foreigners in the country with a diplomatic approach and consultation rather than attacking them indiscriminately, destroying lives and properties.
The recent case of xenophobic attacks on black foreigners that took place in South Africa is worrisome. In the latest spate of attacks, which began around the end of March, black foreigners in Brits, located in North West province and Durban, located in Kwazulu-Natal province of South Africa have faced hostilities by locals.
The hostility has been targeted at persons and their businesses, in the same manner, the attacks have always been since 2008. Nationals of different countries are forced to seek refuge at the police stations or at their different embassies.
In 2015 there was the widespread bloody violence that erupted in South Africa after divisive remarks by Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, stirred racial sentiments amongst the black population. The attackers have always cited competition for jobs and incursion of criminals from other parts of Africa as reasons for their xenophobic outbursts against black foreigners in the country.
The Nigerians in South Africa have been severally accused as being behind the majority of the activities that fueled the attacks, with places like the notorious Hillbrow area of Johannesburg fingered as the den of “Nigerian criminals”.
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The Nigerian government has claimed that hundreds of Nigerians have been killed in South Africa in the past few years alone.
A 44-year old Nigerian man was killed in eastern Pretoria, on March 15. The South African authorities confirmed the report and a manhunt was launched for the man’s killers. Despite the repeated attacks and killings of Nigerians and other African nationals in the country, the hostility has never been contained. The attacks have continued, sometimes with the alleged complicity of South African police and even public figures, as in 2015.
The response of the Nigerian government has always been measured, and many would say, ineffective so far. What we have on our hands is a crisis which could trigger retaliatory attacks all over Africa.
The governments of African countries like Nigeria, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and others, who are usually caught up in the xenophobic episodes, have been too soft on their South African counterparts. Finding a lasting solution to the severe anti-African sentiments that bubbles beneath the surface amongst the black population has now become a matter of great serious concern to all.
However, the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa on April 1, condemned the latest attacks, reminding his countrymen of the sacrifice of African countries towards the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. His message can be seen as an “April fool” joke because the president himself has been credited with statements that could have incensed the xenophobic sentiments.
It is also clear that the election season rhetoric amongst South African political leaders, has stirred up those ugly sentiments. Black foreigners are the usual scapegoats for the high level of crime and economic strife suffered by the lowest rung of the South African people.
In looking into the targeted attacks on Nigerians and others in South Africa, one must realize that there are some bad eggs among Nigerians all over the world, who have been giving the country a bad name.
Just recently, The United Arab Emirate apprehended five Nigerians who allegedly were involved in a daring robbery of a money exchange house in Sharjah.
Within the same period, news of the execution of a Nigerian woman in Saudi Arabia for drug-related offenses was still in the news. This led to a plea made by Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Senior Special Assistant to the president on Diaspora, for Nigerians to adopt good conduct when abroad.
She said the woman executed in Saudi Arabia was the eighth Nigerian executed there in recent times, while another 20 are on death row in the kingdom.
The image of the country is suffering a battering in many places. Even one of our closest neighbors, Ghana, recently deported some Nigerians who were reportedly subjected to inhumane treatment during the process.
The trouble of wide-scale emigration from Nigeria is not a surprising thing as the country is still struggling to provide the much needed basic amenities and job opportunities with a growing population. It is often said that the generation of Nigerians below 45 years of age are afraid of living in Nigeria because they can not see any stable future for them.
As Nigerians go in search of better systems and opportunities in foreign countries, the hardworking and focused ones are quietly assimilated into their new environment without ceremony, while the antics of the bad crops are publicized and magnified until it becomes a snare on the image of the country.
The significant number of Nigerians migrating to other countries creates the impression that “Nigerians are taking over”. With the large population in Nigeria, the size of our emigrants is also substantial, especially in an underperforming economy.
Thus, our size, which can be a strength, is working to our detriment in places like South Africa, where locals with xenophobic tendencies find the numbers of our countrymen uncomfortable, despite the advantages they may be having in their economy which in no douth exist.
Being the most identifiable African immigrants, because of their industry and numbers, Nigerians bear a great portion of the brunt of South Africa’s hatred.
The South African political leaders and authorities also contribute to instigating the xenophobic attacks as they irresponsibly point at the African immigrants, through obvious accusations and subtle hints, and through inaction at times of xenophobic attacks even neighborhoods predominantly populated by South African native accuse the African Immigrants.
The weak response to the indolence of South African authorities is also a contributing factor that is, perhaps, the most unfortunate for the victims.
Nigeria and other African countries need to explore all avenues available to pressure South African into taking responsibility and standing up to the dangerous fire of xenophobia burning within its borders.
No better avenue than the African Union (AU), for an open discussion and adoption of measures to protect Africans in South Africa.
As South African elections draw nearer, there is a greater danger to Nigerians and other foreigners in this period. It will be wise for the Nigerian government to secure the assurances of the South African government that there will be consequences for inciting violence against Nigerians and others.
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In a continent that requires greater peace and collaboration than ever before in its history, this seemingly small matter of xenophobia in South Africa can lead to far greater consequences for African unity if it is not dealt with decisively. A few high profile prosecutions will go a long way to reassure African countries of South Africa’s commitment to peaceful co-existence, to which it has only paid lip-service so far.
The great statesman of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, would be consumed by grief if he could behold what some South Africans are doing today. He wanted one Africa. He always sued for tolerance, peace, and equality, even in dealing with South Africa’s former oppressors.
Mandela’s foresight saved South Africa from the fate of many African nations today, and he never lost sight of what a strong Africa could be in the world. South Africans need to be reminded of the example laid down by their most revered statesman. Particularly, the political leaders in South Africa need to remember the achievements of that visionary leader, which he earned through collaboration and tolerance.
For Nigeria, the plight of our countrymen in these foreign countries should be an indicator of that popular saying: “there is no place like home”. Nigerians should not have to flee their homes in search of basic comforts in a foreign country.
Also, for whatever reason that a Nigerian has left this country, the government owns it as a duty to protect every citizen wherever he or she resides in the foreign country where they have gone to seek for better living. The government is responsible for the welfare of its citizens, wherever they may be. The truth is that we must get it right at home before our government can be composed enough to protect its citizens abroad.