Opinion: Xenophobic people of the south By-LEKAN SOTE
The Chambers English Dictionary defines xenophobia as simply a “fear or hatred of things foreign.”
In that case, the killings, and destruction of the property, of Nigerians and other Africans by South Africans are more than xenophobia, they are massive destruction of fellow human beings.
Admittedly, it all started as “Black-on-Black crime of Black South Africans carrying out criminal acts against fellow Black South Africans.
Maybe some other Africans looked the other way, feeling, if “goyim killed goyim, you cannot come and hang the Jew,” as former Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, would have put it.
Now, other Africans, especially Nigerians, resident in South Africa, are at the receiving end of the redirected Black-on-Black crime turned really nasty.
(Some Nigerians too are killing other Nigerians in South Africa). Practically every person of any hue of Black, walking any South African street, is wary of the next bend, or blind alley.
But while Nigerian government officials have expressed the usual bland platitudes concerning the safety of Nigerians in South Africa, other Africans – Zimbabweans and Mozambicans– have taken matters into their own hands by burning vehicles bearing South African number plates that ply the roads of their countries.
They are sending signals of what to come if South Africans continue the killings and destruction of the lives and property of their nationals who have gone to seek their livelihoods in South Africa.
The economies of Southern African countries are intertwined. Lesotho is even an “island,” surrounded on all sides by South Africa.
Cooperation between the peoples of African countries took a new high when Nigeria, under the leaderships of Generals Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo, adopted Africa as the centrepiece of its foreign policy, and started overt campaigns and offensives against the apartheid regime of South Africa.
Many Nigerian university students recall having South African classmates in the 1970s – especially for the quantity of alcohol they quaffed in the batteries of the halls of residence, and for their amorous escapades with the opposite sex.
But it even dates back before then: This writer remembers South African classmates, and teachers, in the early 1960s in Dr. Tai Solarin’s Mayflower Junior School, Ikenne, in Ogun State, though there was no way little kids would know that the Matlos and Masenyas were exiles in Nigeria at that time.
As South Africans were receiving free tuition in Nigeria, several Nigerian professionals were taken on loan to some other African countries, like Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, and Zambia, to provide the manpower to run the bureaucracies of those countries, all of whom were just regaining their political freedom from British colonialism.
That is how Nigeria’s Justice Akinola Aguda became the first Chief Justice of Botswana. Reports indicate that many of the Nigerians who went to work in East, Central, and Southern African countries from the 1960s never came back to Nigeria. They were so well-received that some of them made those countries their permanent homes.
Someone suggested that these professionals got a warm welcome in these African countries because they were educated, and very likely conducted themselves with decorum, decency, and genteel disposition.
He thinks that the recent killings of Nigerians, in South Africa, occur because Nigerians, not only take advantage of South Africa’s public housing scheme and healthcare facilities, have also taken up the jobs that the uneducated, poor, and unemployed Black South Africans thought should belong to them exclusively.
This thinking may have been caused by the vestiges of British colonialism, as practised even in today’s Nigeria, whereby the Federal Government agencies in any state reserve positions between Level 01 and Level 04 –the cadres of clerical officers, messengers, security guards, and drivers – for indigenes of the state where they are located.
Though there is a sizeable number of Nigerian professionals in South Africa, there is a higher number of artisans, small business owners, and hustlers. Unfortunately, these are the loud, usually irreverent, in-your-face, Nigerians whom the South African males accuse of not only taking the jobs that they ought to be doing, but also taking their girls.
That is a real sore point, if there was any.
African-American males also have this same issue against swashbuckling, and free-spending Nigerians in the United States of America. Some Nigerians probably went into South Africa with a chip of superiority complex on their shoulders, and their Black South Africans brothers resent.
You will agree that some Nigerians can easily transit from ebullience to being a nuisance without quite knowing that they already crossed the line. A Nigerian who was smuggled into South Africa to undergo training in the heydays of apartheid reports that an Indian shopkeeper in a Johannesburg store observed to him, almost in a conspiratorial manner, that things could be a little bit slower in South Africa than in Nigeria. He found out they were – for him and his colleagues.
Another Nigerian, who recently returned from South Africa, reports that some Nigerians exported cultism from Nigeria to South Africa, and that colours the perception of South Africans who now think that Nigerians are ne’erdowells. They are sometimes genuinely surprised when they meet Nigerians who either come to study or teach in South African universities.
A friend, who worked in the commercial department of an OECD country in the 1980s, however, thinks that Nigeria failed to take advantage of its closeness to the Nelson Mandelas of the South African anti-apartheid movement; instead of encouraging Nigeria’s indigenous merchant class to invest in South Africa, it rather contracted its activities to diplomatic and consular issues.
He regrets that even the Nigerian-South African Chamber of Commerce caters almost exclusively to the matters that concern South African commercial enterprises in Nigeria. He regrets also, that Nigeria’s foreign service corps that has been serving in South Africa does not seem to know how to project a positive image of Nigeria to the South African publics. He probably has a point.
Nigerians, who remember the contributions of their government to the liberation of South Africa from apartheid are truly at a loss, and find it difficult to understand the level of hate and violence that their compatriots receive in South Africa.
When they remember the quantum of funds, materiel, and other resources that Nigeria put into the liberation struggle, they can’t believe what their eyes and ears are telling them.
Nigeria had done so much that, even though it was far away in West Africa, it earned the status of a Frontline State, together with states that were geographically coterminous with South Africa.
There is no doubt that there is a new Pharaoh in South Africa’s Egypt that does not know the Nigerian Joseph, and whatever he may have done for the previous Pharaoh of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle. As the Ijebu would say, “Baba lo’mere, omo o m’ere,” meaning that only the older contemporaries can appreciate each other.
Interestingly, very few South Africans of the older generation, who should know the history of Nigeria’s involvement in the liberation of South Africa are making any efforts to restrain the Young Turks.
Anyway, Julius Malema of South Africa’s Parliament has condemned the youthful exuberance, as the United Nations and the Africa Union opt not to cry more than the bereaved. Punch