In the words of Albert Einstein, “the world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
Nigerians in South Africa have been living in utter fear, muttering to one another whose turn will be next in the ongoing killing spree of black immigrants in the Rainbow nation. They are being slaughtered every now and again like cows, and in some cases even burnt alive without provocation, as if they live in a Hobbesian society (state of nature) where life is brutish, nasty, dirty and short.
These mindless killings of Nigerians and other black immigrants as well as the looting of their businesses had sparked a nationwide outrage. In fact, this man’s inhumanity to man has continued unabated in the very watch of the international community. The situation which has been allowed to fester has reached a crescendo and is calling for an immediate action by the Nigerian government, the African Union and by extension, the international community to stem the tide. This is, indeed, an emergency.
Xenophobia simply refers to an anti-foreigners’ sentiment felt by some locals and sometimes results in violence against immigrants. It is clear that xenophobia may not just be a problem of the poor. After all, the national survey of the attitude of South African population towards foreign nationals in the country by the South Africa Migration Project in 2006 found xenophobia to be widespread. According to Ebrahim Khalil-Hassen, a public policy analyst in Johannesburg, South Africans do not want foreign nationals to either trade informally with South Africa (59 per cent opposed); to start small businesses in South Africa (61 per cent opposed) or to obtain South African citizenship (68 per cent opposed).
It will be recalled that since 1994, South Africa has been a cesspit of sporadic xenophobic attacks against foreigners with Zimbabweans, Somalis, Mozambicans, Ethiopians, Kenyans, Angolans and Nigerians among others being the victims. In the case of Nigeria, the matter has been worsened by recurring police brutality and extrajudicial killings which in 2014 moved Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to describe a South African police brutality on a Nigerian caught on camera as “horror and particularly disturbing.” Tochukwu Nnadi, a 34-year-old Nigerian businessman was killed by the South African police on December 29, 2016 and was reported in the Vanguard Newspaper of February 21, 2017.
Similarly, in 1998, three foreign nationals were killed on a train between Johannesburg and Pretoria. In 2000, a Sudanese refugee was thrown down from a train on a similar route. All in all, the reasons adduced were the same: blaming foreigners for lack of jobs and economic opportunities.
Nigerians had yet to recover from the shock of these killings when one Clement Nwaogu was recently burnt to death. Witnesses said, the victim beckoned for help from the police to intervene and help him, but they turned a blind eye. In what can be described as “quick succession,” there was extrajudicial killing of another Nigerian, ThankGod Okoro, aged 30, by the South African Police Flying Squad.
An authoritative source said, “14 Nigerians who had merely protested the killing of a fellow citizen in that country’s North West Province in an ill-fated month of February are still languishing in detention; whereas, the police officers who murdered a Nigerian on December 17, after they had failed to extort money from the victim, had since been released on bail. What an irony! Have the South African authorities given a tacit endorsement to these barbaric killings? We do not need a soothsayer to explain this absurdity.”
At this point when Nigerians in South Africa have been killed in droves, and businesses looted with impunity, in complete contrast back at home, Nigerians continue to queue to DSTV, MTN and Shoprite, all owned by South Africans and pay billions of naira to them; thus resisting the temptation of a reprisal or revenge. Even when it was public knowledge that Nigerians and their business interests in South Africa were in absolute danger, an eye for an eye may make the world go blind, they have reasoned.
Records have shown that no fewer than 118 Nigerians have been killed in South Africa between February 2016 and today.
Amazingly, the South African government on its part has refused to label the violence as ‘xenophobic.’ The former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the very end of his second term in office said, those who wanted to use the term were “trying to explain naked criminality by cloaking it in the garb of xenophobia.”
“When I heard some accuse my people of xenophobia, of hatred of foreigners, I wondered what the accusers knew about my people, which I did not know… and in spite of this reality, I will not hesitate to assert that my people are not diseased by the terrible affliction of xenophobia which has in the past, led to the commission of the heinous crime of genocide,” Zuma noted.
Perhaps, intolerant South Africans may have to learn a few things about unity from Nigerians. They need to be reminded of the pivotal role Nigeria played in empowering South African citizens and ultimately liberating the country from the firm grip of the apartheid regime.
“In 1976, Nigeria set up the Southern African Relief Fund. This fund was to be used to alleviate the plight of the victims and refugees of apartheid oppression and to promote their education and general welfare. The Nigerian government made compulsory deductions from public servants’ earnings towards establishing this fund. Government employees had to pay directly from their monthly salaries, this was widely known as “Mandela Tax,” reported Ulrich Janse Van Vuurem in his article titled: “Nigerians Are Not Our Enemies.”
The then military administration of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo apparently contributed $3.7m to this fund. According to an article published by the South African Institute of International Affairs, “by the end of apartheid, Nigeria had contributed an estimated $61bn towards the apartheid effort.”
Besides, South Africans were given free Education in Nigeria. The Nigerian government provided scholarships to many students from South Africa who were displaced by the scourge of apartheid. Akin to this, those South Africans who were denied travel documents out of the country were also issued hundreds of passports by the Nigerian government. These students were provided the opportunity to study at Nigerian schools and universities for free. I think all these and many more contributions not captured in this piece should not be forgotten in a hurry.
One cannot agree less that xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa are the ultimate result of ignorance and lack of action by the South African authorities. Nevertheless, we must stand against those responsible for xenophobic attacks and support the victims.
The South African authorities must rise up to the occasion and exonerate themselves of complicity. Frantic efforts must also be made to end the killings and bring Nigeria’s invaluable contributions to it during the heyday of apartheid to the knowledge of their citizens. This will avail the citizenry the opportunity to better understand and appreciate the fact that no man is an island.
The Nigerian government must also rise above rhetoric and match words with action. This is because the primary purpose of any government is the protection of its citizens and their business interests abroad. Why should Nigeria maintain an excellent diplomatic relations with South Africa, if the country is not hospitable to Nigerians residing there? The Nigerian lawmakers have in the recent past visited their counterparts in South Africa over killings of Nigerians, but to no avail. Enough of this growing sense of helplessness. We cannot continue to lose our citizens in South Africa to these senseless, barbaric and satanic attacks.
It is high time we ruptured our diplomatic relations with South Africa by recalling our High Commissioner and declaring theirs a persona non grata with a stern directive to quit the country within 48 hours. This, in my view, is the last resort to achieving lasting end to these recurrent killings. Enough is enough!
- Ikemitang wrote in from the Federal Ministry of Information & Culture, Abuja via [email protected]
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]