By Tayo Ogunbiyi
In the colonial era, it was normal to see whites brutalizing and oppressing blacks as aptly epitomized by the atrocious Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and other similar obnoxious acts. Although, colonialism has effectively ended in Africa, but the chilling news from the Rainbow Nation simply shows that the equation has changed.
In South Africa, whites no longer brutalize blacks. Rather, it is blacks that are maiming blacks. How sad! Brothers are now killing brothers. Iconic Reggae maestro, late Bob Marley, legendary Afrobeat singer, late Fela Anikulapo Kuti and many other departed black singers who have variously sang about the unity of Africa would be whimpering in the grave. Why not? Africa has failed her illustrious sons.
What is currently going on in South Africa is contrary to the traditional African spirit of brotherliness and hospitality. It is also contrary to the spirit behind the formation of the African Union, AU, which encourages freedom of movement and other related activities among African nations. According to the vision of the founding fathers of the AU, Africans should be able to seek legitimate livelihood anywhere in the continent. Unfortunately, that laudable vision is being dealt a deadly blow in South Africa.
In what has now been termed as xenophobic attack, reports have it that nationalists of other African nations have become targets of crude attacks by South Africans. Victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa are from various African nations, including Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Somalia and Ethiopia. In the last three years, about 127 Nigerians have been reportedly killed. Intriguingly, 13 out of these were allegedly killed by South African police.
What actually complicates the whole issue is the perceived complicity of the South African Police. From January to June 2019, 10 Nigerians were reportedly killed, either by South Africans or by members of the South African Police Service. It is quite worrisome that most victims of xenophobic attacks do not usually receive swift help from the police. Could this seeming indifference be considered as official approval of the dastardly acts of some heartless and crude South Africans?
Without sounding like a prophet of doom, if the issue is not quickly addressed by the concerned authorities, it could snowball into a serious crisis between the two countries. Lots of Nigerians are aggrieved at the uncivilized manners our compatriots are being treated in South Africa and they are already demonstrating their resentment through several means.
Recently, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) picketed branches of South African telecoms giant MTN, and those of supermarket chain Shoprite, turning away staff and customers. Their intention is to draw attention of the Federal Government and, indeed, the whole world to the barbaric happenings at South Africa.
But then, in dealing with the sad subject, one doesn’t really approve of any action that doesn’t portray civility. In-spite of obvious provocations, NANS and other such groups should toe the path of courteousness. Indeed, on the long run, we are not likely to profit from any crude action against South African business interests in the country. Attacking business concerns such as MTN, Shoprite, MultiChoice, and the many other South African companies in the country could have adverse effects on our already struggling economy as well as our staggering unemployment situation.
While it is logical to disapprove of what is going on in South Africa, our compatriots need to exercise patients and have faith in the ability of the governments of the two nations to diplomatically sort out the issue. According to reports, the leaders of the two countries are scheduled to meet in October in South Africa and chief among what they are billed to discuss is “issues relating to the wellbeing of citizens of both countries”.
According to experts of South African politics, the genesis of the attacks is traceable to the issue of migrants, mostly from other African states and Asia, who have moved to South Africa in huge numbers since white-minority rule was terminated in 1994. Many South Africans have accused these immigrants of taking the available jobs in a country where the unemployment rate is 24%.
Thus, the attacks in South Africa cannot be divorced from the worsening poverty and unemployment rate in the continent. In Africa, the practicality of poverty is quite frightening as most Africans live on less than a dollar income per day. Perhaps more niggling is that, with 34 out of a total of 49, African countries account for a greater proportion of the Least Developed Countries, LDCs, in the world. This, perhaps, explains why poverty indicators such as extreme hunger, malnourishment, homelessness, diseases, high crime rate, slums, lack of opportunities, low productivity and illiteracy abound in larger quantity in the continent. The African poverty situation is further compounded by the failure of governments across the continent to properly harness human, natural and material resources for the common good of all.
Though the poverty and unemployment situation in the continent should not be an excuse to justify the evil being perpetrated in South Africa, it is, nevertheless, a clarion call for African governments to tackle poverty in the continent. For instance, if there are enough opportunities for gainful employment and better life prospects in our country, most Nigerians that are being traumatized in South Africa and, indeed other nations across the world, would certainly have stayed at home to eke out a living. After all, it is often said that there is no place like home.
Meanwhile, the AU should prevail on the South African government to take immediate measures to protect and safeguard the lives and properties of African migrants and, indeed, all nationals resident in South Africa and ensure that real compensations are paid to the families of all who lost their family members and relations and also for the loss of properties.
The whole of Africa rose up against the deadly apartheid regime in South Africa. Indeed, Nigeria was in the forefront of the struggle to liberate South Africa from the evil of apartheid. Ordinarily, this ought to place a huge moral burden on the South African government to protect all Africans, and especially Nigerians, living legitimately on its soil.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja