After weeks of unrelenting attacks on nationals of other African countries, especially Nigerians, the authorities in South Africa, over the weekend, finally rediscovered themselves and began to do what their successors ought to have done 20 years back, namely: stopping their blood-baying citizens from hunting fellow Africans like game, and taking definitive steps to reassure the world of their resolve to make their country safe for whoever needs to domicile or do business there.
President Cyril Ramaphosa sent special envoys to placate the countries that are hurting from the latest xenophobic, nay Afrophobic attacks, and apologise for his people’s devious behaviours. Maybe because Nigeria is the hardest hit in this whole mess that started decades back, Ramaphosa sent a big man, Jeff Radebe, his 66-year-old minister of Energy, also an ex-minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, to President Buhari, to express his country’s regrets; and seek forgiveness.
Yes, forgiveness is one virtue that makes the world go round, and to forgive is to gain a victory. But matter at hand goes beyond one-stop apology and a syndicated show of remorse. The cancer of xenophobia is too deep-seated for superficial reconciliation and a shaku-shaku or umqombothi fiesta. It happened repeatedly under Thabo Mbeki and he said sorry. It happened again, more Nigerians either got killed maimed, and Mbeki begged again. Jacob Zuma, who took the baton from Mbeki, also said sorry after each attack but rather than stop, the problem worsened. Under Ramaphosa, xenophobia rose, like a phoenix, and unleashed more devastating venom. Unlike his predecessors, his initial reaction was that xenophobia was an alien word coined to stain his country’s immaculate garment. Then, it burst again like a sudden storm.
Even when everybody thought there would be a lull, deviant youths struck again on Sunday, September 8, 2019, waving fighting sticks, improvised spears and shields, as they marched the streets of central Johannesburg. Like a rampaging army, they sang Zulu war clarions as they attacked brother Africans, chanting: “Leave our country”, “Go to your country”. As they did at the onset of the current madness, they wilfully damaged businesses owned by fellow Africans. They plundered and looted every shop on their path. They even attacked a mosque and clobbered two people dead. At the last count, 10 precious souls had bitten the dust.
By the barbarism exhibited by the South Africans, they have clearly shown the world that they learnt nothing from decades of brutality and oppression that turned them to slaves in their own land. They have demonstrated, very strongly, too, that the huge sacrifices by brother African nations, who helped them cut their chains and put their bars of iron asunder, meant nothing.
By their sanguinary, and the stomach-churning tales of atrocities that oozed out of the former apartheid enclave, the South Africans have rubbished the spirit of brotherliness, dignity of man, and sense of community that distinguish Africans from other people on the planet. By their murderous campaigns, they have projected the image of a people behaving like slaves who adore their chains.
Even when, on Wednesday, September 11, our people wanted to flee the hell that the country has become, through the patriotic gesture of Air Peace airline which pledged to airlift voluntary returnees free of charge, the South Africans still erected obstacles on their path.
The evacuation of the traumatised Nigerians was delayed by 24 hours by the South African Immigration Service. First, they claimed their system broke down. Shortly after, they knocked the bottom off their own lie by arresting some of the voluntary evacuees, insisting they must prove how they entered the country in the first place.
When the evacuees were finally cleared, only 187 (including 87 children) of the first batch of 320 could be airlifted from the Oliver Tambo International Airport. The obstacles were re-installed this week as Air Peace got landing permit only Tuesday afternoon when they should have been half way home.
Babanla nonsense, the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would have sung were he around to witness the horror. On one hand, you said Nigerians should leave your country. On the other, you said no, they can’t quit. Which kind wahala be dis? Fela would snarled in righteous indignation.
Right now, the face of South Africa is contorted, twisted by its xenophobic infamy. Its face is as ugly as that of a mirror that falls off a wall and breaks into innumerable pieces, with each piece making its awkward reflections. It is the ugly face of a system that mouths Viva Africa in public and turns the other way as their unruly youths hunt and slaughter their so-called brothers like animals. It is the face of Afrophobia. South Africa will need more than its present pancake (diplomatic shuttle) to level the contours and remove the warts. It is not the face that Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Joshua Nkomo, Julius Nyerere, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Kenneth Kaunda, Thabo Mbeki, Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma fought for, and were ready to die for.
Xenophobia, or Afrophobia, is not a recent development. It is almost as old as modern South Africa itself. According to Wikipedia, prior to 1994, when the country gained its freedom from apartheid, with Dr. Nelson Mandela emerging as its first democratic president, immigrants from other countries had always faced discrimination and violence. In spite of the great promise held by the legend’s philosophy of reconciliation, justice, equity and equality for all South Africans, and good brotherliness and unfettered access to other Africans, xenophobia has festered, recurring every five years.
For instance, between 2000 and March 2008, at least 67 people died in xenophobic attacks. In May 2008, a series of attacks left 62 people dead even though 21 of those killed were South Africans. Between 1994 and 2018, there were 529 documented incidents of xenophobia, with 309 deaths, hundreds injured and displaced, and 2,193 businesses plundered. But it was year 2015 that witnessed the most shocking nationwide spike. Though Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Kenya and Ghana have had their fair share of deaths resulting from these attacks, Nigeria has been worst hit.
True, all deaths are painful but one death that shouldn’t have occurred is that of Mrs Elizabeth Obianuju Ndubuisi-Chukwu, Deputy Director-General of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, CIIN. The mother of two had left Nigeria in June to attend a conference of the institute in Johannesburg. Conference over, she attended the farewell dinner on Wednesday, June 12. On June 13, the day she was to return to Nigeria, her colleagues never saw her at the airport. A frantic search followed. Then, security men broke into her suite at the sprawling Emperors Palace Casino, Hotel and Convention Centre in Johannesburg. She was found stone dead.
At first, the authorities seemed hesitant about conducting preliminary investigation into her death. The management of Emperors Palace Hotel would not hand over the CCTV footage to the South African police. After so much uproar over Ndubuisi’s death, the Director-General of the Department of Health released an autopsy report. Dated June 27, 2019, the report stated categorically that the 53-year-old insurance executive died of “unnatural causes consistent with strangulation”. She was strangled to death. Till date, the result of the investigation still remains closely guarded secret. And, nobody has been charged for the murder.
At least 10 people were killed in the latest barbarism. Mercifully, no Nigerian life was lost. The orgy of violence began in the morning of Sunday, September 1, 2019, following reports that a taxi driver was murdered by an alleged drug dealer in Pretoria. The rumour mills pinned the crime on a Nigerian, and within minutes, hell came down. South Africans went wild, razed a building in the Jeppestown area of Johannesburg, and killed two people. They attacked whoever they perceived, in their warped imagination, to be a Nigerian. They looted and fire-bombed businesses and properties of foreigners especially Nigerians, Zambians, Zimbabweans, and Kenyans.
The Johannesburg attacks sparked a reprisal in Lagos as protesters, infiltrated by hoodlums, attacked South Africa’s flagship businesses in Nigeria, especially MTN, and franchises like Shoprite. The businesses are still counting their losses. When the dust settled, at least one person was confirmed dead. The Nigeria Police Force profiled 125 hoodlums arrested for looting, vandalism and arson.
Analysing the xenophobic crisis, financial analysts said the violence drastically affect the volume of trade between Nigeria and South Africa; and both countries will lose a staggering $60 billion. Some even asserted that the losses may be more blood-chilling than predicted if the two countries don’t take decisive action to kill the beast.
The Nonsense About Job Snatching
True, the great expectations that the black majority had when Mandela took power in 1994 have progressively waned over the years. True, a new black middle class that has a world of possibilities sprawling before them has emerged. But, despite the benefits of the government’s Black Economic Empowerment Programme, the population of the unemployed and the unemployable spirals by the minute. The ranks of the rural and urban poor also swell by the day. The poor feel excluded and see little or no hope in their country. This is why they are constantly on edge and explode at the slightest provocation.
But that does not justify venting their frustrations on brother Africans with their cataclysmic campaigns. Rather than come with guns blazing against foreigners, accusing them of taking their jobs, South Africans should face facts and heed the advice of Julius Malema, the maverick president of the far-left political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF.
The reality, according to Malema, is that no Nigerian, no Zimbabwean, no Tanzanian, no Sierra Leonean and no Ghanaian, would travel thousands of kilometres to come and snatch jobs in South Africa. They are in their jobs because somebody (organisations) in corporate South Africa found them competent, qualified and well-equipped for the attainment of their corporate goals.
The situation is not significantly different with blue collar jobs. If natives shun jobs they consider ‘demeaning’, and foreigners jump at them, why should anyone cry blue murder? If Nigerians, Zambians, Zimbabweans, etc. do not consider jobs in restaurants, farms, retail outlets, cleaning jobs, ticketing in buses, trains or trams, and the hospitality sector demeaning, why should anyone unleash hell on them? Like Malema said, “They [foreigners] are being offered jobs; they don’t take [them]. The owners of means of production are white people.”
Crime As Alibi
Job snatching aside, most South Africans also blame their African brothers for the infestation of crimes in their country.
Agreed, there are a few rotten apples in the bunch. There are those who smear their countries’ good names doing drugs, and taking to sundry crimes. That is not sufficient ground to tar every African with the same brush, and classify them as criminals. It is immoral, if not ungodly. Most non-South Africans living in the rainbow nation-Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Zambians, Kenyans, Ethiopians, do clean businesses and make significant contributions to their host country’s gross domestic product. Many of them have stayed so long they have adopted South Africa as their country. Many are married to South Africans. And they are all doing their level best to contribute to South Africa’s progress. Their reward should not be gruesome death, plundering of their businesses, and dehumanising them.
Rather than paint fellow Africans black, South Africans must look beyond their frustrations, and tackle their internal problems squarely. If any foreigner, black or white, tramples the law, use the law to deal with him or her. The authorities have been doing exactly that. About 250 Nigerians are in South African jails for drug offences. Some are in the slammer for lesser violations. Though in prison, the authorities must respect their rights and treat them as humans.
A Word For Ramaphosa
The diplomatic offensive embarked upon by President Cyril Ramaphosa, last weekend, was smart. Asking for forgiveness, giving assurances of safety, and promising an end to xenophobia is good. But weighed against the enormity of the situation, it is tokenistic, and somewhat cosmetic. It is like making up an unsightly face with pancake. In the short term, it may cover the hideous features-the contours, the blackened and sunken eyes, the warts and all. But in no time, the repulsive form would return.
The solution to xenophobia is in South Africa. First, the Ramaphosa government must embark on aggressive enlightenment and re-orientation campaign to educate and re-orientate citizens on the evil and consequences of xenophobia. The administration must evolve an institutional framework that would outlaw xenophobia and prescribe stiff penalties for offenders. Like the Biblical Prophet Isaiah did, Ramaphosa must counsel his people never to lift up their swords against their African brothers and sisters again but “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4). In short, Ramaphosa must provide iron-cast guarantee that South Africa is, and will remain a safe haven for foreigners and their businesses.
Equally important, the South African authorities must listen more to the voices of the poor and not tell them, literally or actually, to return to their caves. They must double their efforts at proffering solutions to those problems that make life unbearable for them. Ramaphosa must quickly address the crisis of poverty and bridge the widening gap between the rich and the poor. He must evolve programmes that would make their youth employable and competitive in the world of opportunities spread before them.
…And for President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari has responded well to the current xenophobic challenge. But he needs to do more when he goes to South Africa on state visit from October 3. He must go with a comprehensive package for President Ramaphosa. The package must include: iron-cast guarantee for the safety of Nigerians living in that country; diligent prosecution of the deviants who killed our people; payment of compensation to Nigerians whose businesses were wilfully destroyed; provision of free and comprehensive treatment for Nigerians injured in the crisis.
Buhari must press his host nation to make its immigration laws more Afrocentric, treating other nationals, especially black Africans, as brothers, making them feel welcome at all times; deepening bilateral relations between the two countries on the basis of equality and justice; and any such things that would ultimately help South Africans move away from their notorious antecedents and ruinous path, and improve their behaviour.
Back home, the president needs to do more on those priorities which absence forces our people to flee to countries where they are treated like sub-humans. The issue of graduate unemployment spirals every year. Of the about 500,000 graduates our tertiary education system produces yearly, excluding diaspora graduates who would or should come home to compete for jobs, about half are unemployed. Some are unemployable due to the low quality of education delivered by Nigeria’s tertiary institutions which are over populated and starved of funds.
Since there is a nexus between unemployment and insecurity, also between unemployment and brain-drain, this administration must increase funding to tertiary institutions. And as Jobberman, an employment agency with tentacles along the west coast, recently prescribed, the government must also focus on “creating secondary skills development and acquisition programmes,” as well as increasing investment in job creation schemes. These are priorities this government must face with strong determination to stop our youth from fleeing to countries where they are treated as sub-humans.
Since the famous Murtala Mohammed/Olusegun Obasanjo military regime of 1976 to 1979, Nigeria has always made Africa the centre of its foreign policy thrust. In that regard, we spearheaded the liberation struggles of South Africa, Zimbabwe (then, Southern Rhodesia), Zambian (Northern Rhodesia) Angola and Namibia, as well as the internecine war in Liberia. In the West African sub-region, Nigeria remains the oxygen that sustains most of the countries in the axis.
Yet, most of them often reward our compassion and large-heartedness with raw hatred. They interpret our industry and honest hard work as aggression and crookedness. They suffocate our businesses in their lands, sometimes, kill our people. Yet, our country continue to foolishly play Santa Claus with little or no consideration for our strategic interests.
Henceforth, Nigeria’s strategic interests must top other considerations in our relationship with other countries. For so long, we have made huge sacrifices for our brother-African countries without commensurate goodwill from most of them. For so long, we have listened to them, and even hurt our economic interests to please them, without a scratch to show for our generosity. Now is the time to please ourselves. Henceforth, it must be Nigeria first. No more, no less.
Shola Oshunkeye is the CEO of Omnimedia Nigeria Limited, and executive director of the non-profit, Sustainable Development and Transparency Foundation.