“We of alien looks or words must stick together.” ― C.J. Sansom
According to Wikipedia “Xenophobia is the unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an in-group towards an out-group, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity.”
Until recently, my perception was that Africans have always lived in peace and unity. I never thought it possible that one African ethnicity would think of attacking fellow Africans simply for the excuse that those others are from other countries. I saw Africa as simply one big continent of the same people merely subdivided into co-called countries for administrative convenience only.
The growing incidences of xenophobic attacks on other Africans in South Africa is highly unfortunate against the backdrop of several Nigerian youths who have made that country “a home away from home”.
Xenophobic attacks, one must admit though, is no longer novel in South Africa and it is not limited to the mobs we see on television and pictures uploaded on various online media platforms, the attitudes depicted from the images and video clips have shown that xenophobia in South Africa is more rampant and deeply rooted than previously believed. It also cuts across all sections of society. Violence against foreign nationals is currently a daily reality.
In 2012 alone, 238 incidences of violence against foreigners were reported with 120 people killed, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. An estimated 7,500 foreign nationals were displaced that year.
There are discordant tunes even from political and traditional leaders in the country. For instance, President Jacob Zuma was quoted at a press briefing to have said that, “Those perpetrators do not represent us. South Africans are not killers. Let us have television and radio programmes, let writers write and educate people about South Africa.”
On the other hand however, Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini who has largely been blamed for fuelling xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), which has led to the loss of lives including that of a Ghanian, at a ceremony asked foreigners living in South Africa to go back to their respective countries saying, “we are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries.” He has however turned round to accuse the media of “misinterpreting his words and distorting them to sell newspapers.”
Meanwhile, according to the Executive Director of the African Evaluation Association, Samuel Braimah, the xenophobic attacks go beyond the pronouncement of King Zwelithini. Brimah has cited three major reasons as causes of the protest relating to the words of the King which instigated the attacks on immigrants:
1. Attitude of resentment: Braimah attributed the ongoing violence to the attitude of South Africans towards other Africans. He recalled that one of his sons at age 17 was attacked in High School by Zulu boys for being unable to respond to them in the Zulu language. “It’s an attitude of resentment towards other Africans. I can say they really hate other African with a passion. That hatred is there so any statement that is made will spark off anything,” he explained. He was however quick to add that there are black South Africans who can be very friendly.
2. Educational System: Braimah also indicated that the South African Educational system has given rise to the employment rate in the country. According to him, the educational system during the apartheid regime was limited to that of an education which was largely not employable. However, after apartheid system, the new system introduced by their leaders has not made much of a difference. This system, he said, “perpetrates the production of black young people who have degrees but who are not employable.” As a result, their attitude of resentment coupled with graduates who are unemployable “creates an atmosphere where a single statement can spark a xenophobic violence.”
3.Culture of violence: He also listed the culture of violence existing in South Africa due to the years of struggles and inhumane treatments blacks received during the apartheid regime. “All that they have known is violence and therefore, if they want to express something, they express it in violence…so this is the background for the violence,” he observed.
From the aforementioned three reasons, present leaders of South Africa would not want to shoulder all the blame for the unfortunate attacks even though they cannot be exempted either, as they must take responsibility for issues arising in their society. It is also their duty to enlighten their fellow citizens on the need to change their negative attitudes towards other Africans since the country has substantial interests in other countries that could be greatly hurt should other countries decide to retaliate. MTN, Multi Choice, Shoprite are just a few of South African companies raking in billions from Nigeria and other African countries but which are not quoted on the stock exchange of their hosts.
The bilateral relations between Nigeria and South Africa has been sorely tested by these perpetrators of evil and violence who are portraying South Africans as haters of black immigrants, who are betraying the love Nigeria demonstrated in its efforts towards ending the apartheid regime in a devastating manner.
Nonetheless, I would advice fellow Nigeria youths not to engage in any forms of reprisal. It is a fact that South African citizens who are scattered around Nigeria are excelling in various businesses and are being protected by our government. We should still maintain our mutual relationship with those who are in support of peace and pray for an end to the xenophobic attacks, as very many Nigerians are also beneficiaries of South African businesses located across the Giant of Africa.
Gidado Yushau Shuaib is with the Department of Mass Communication, Baze University Abuja.