Suleiman Dahiru is a retired career ambassador who served as a Nigerian head of mission in Sudan and other countries. In this interview he bared his mind to JOHN OKEKE on why Xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa persist.
What are your feelings about the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other African countries nationals in South Africa?
THE issues in South Africa have many angles. One, there is failure of leadership in that country. If that had not been the case, the xenophobic attack on foreigners wouldn’t have taken place. On one hand, we have the inciting comments by the King of Zulu, who said foreigners had taken away jobs that should go to the people of South Africa, but he forgot to make a differentiation.
The difference is that South Africa is still a class society. Years after independence or what we called black majority rule, the economic and commercial activities still in the hands of the white people. I don’t blame them because that was the system before apartheid was dismantled. After the collapse of apartheid, successive governments in South Africa should have made conscious effort to empower the black population, but it would appear to me that that was not done.
Two, it would also appear to me that the black South Africans are mentally lazy. You fought for independence, but after dismantling apartheid and you are now free, you never thought that becoming free has also its own obligation. You have to work very hard to raise yourself and your family. If you think that by merely dismantling apartheid that is the end of your predicaments then you are making a mistake. In every system, independence imposes a heavy burden on the citizens. They have to work hard to justify the independence they have got, but it would appear to me that the blacks in South Africa think that government would do everything for them, but no government anywhere in the world can satisfy the demand of its own people even America that is said to be the richest country in the world you still have homeless people who sleep in the streets. That is the United States, I served there, so I know what am talking about. For you in Africa to think government will do everything for you, to me, is a great mistake.
Then, we have the immigrants from other parts of Africa like Nigeria, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, who went there to eke out a living. They did not go there to sit down and do nothing, but went there to explore possibilities and to explore those possibilities with some reasonable degree of success and that is why they are able to run their successive businesses no matter how small those businesses are. The fact of the matter is that if black South Africans had been enterprising like the immigrants they are now taking their anger on, this problem wouldn’t have arisen.
Yes, I came to your country, but I did not come to steal — I came to work and I’m working very hard and I’m succeeding and I did not stop you from making your own effort, but for you to vent your own anger on me because am succeeding is totally unacceptable.
However, it is a combination of so many factors. But then, let me add that when you go to a foreign country and you are succeeding, there is need on your part to show a degree of modesty in whatever you are doing. If you start ostentatious lifestyle of showing, ‘yes I came to your country and I’m doing better than you,’ it has its own repercussion. I’m saying this because some years back when I was in Kenya, my Kenyan friends and colleagues in the diplomatic service were complaining that they see many Nigerians coming to Kenya without any visible means of livelihood, but within a short time you see them driving big cars. This is in Kenya, so if you do it in South Africa where the black population has been suppressed over the years the next thing they will ask is why is it that a foreigner will come and to our own faces becoming rich, successful and marrying our beautiful women? It is natural. That is why I say whatever you do in life, do it with moderation. In diplomatic service the operative word is moderation.
So, if our people do not show moderation in their lifestyle it is very easy to incur the anger of the black population that is struggling to survive. But to crown it all, I don’t approve of violence on anybody.
The African Union Charter preaches against discrimination of persons in the continent, do the attacks portray the efforts of the founding fathers to consolidate the unity of Africans?
The world has become inter-dependence. No country can be in isolation of the others. You have to mingle. And any country you go, you have immigrants and these immigrants are contributing their quotas to the development of the country where they find themselves. The black Africans that are being attacked, killed and their businesses looted, are the same people contributing to the development of South Africa. They are not parasites. There is freedom of movement and there is freedom to pursue their interests, provided it is lawful and legitimate.
Therefore, within the African Union there is no law that says that you cannot move to the other country, but wherever you find yourself, be a law-abiding citizens. If you are a law abiding citizen your stay should be protected. But what is happening in South Africa, since it is not the first time, it means that the state is not protecting foreigners and there is absolutely no justification for the black population to take it out on black immigrants. After all, why are people moving to South Africa? If a white man is going to South Africa and getting involved in white business, why do you target only black people? The black people are not taking anything from black South Africans. They are working very hard in their small businesses or they are professionals working in the universities and working in other places.
Therefore, we on the continent of Africa, should try as much as possible to emulate the western world. America is a country of immigrants. Immigrants built up America. America wouldn’t have been what it is today without the labour and sacrifice of immigrants. But why is it that we do not cherish the contribution of fellow black Africans simply because they think ‘why should they leave their own country and come to their own country?’ After all, we have South African companies doing very well in Nigeria and not only doing very well, sometimes, even going against laws of Nigeria. I read in the newspaper that South African companies are not allowing their Nigerian employees in the country to form workers union. It is wrong. Every establishment where you employ many people, there must be a union to protects the interest of the workers of the establishment. Whether it is DSTV, Multi-choice or MTN, there must be a union and if it gets so bad that Nigeria decide to take a retaliatory action, it means that DSTV, Multi-choice or MTN can be stopped from working here. They will have to leave. But Nigeria has been pragmatic by allowing people, who have something to contribute to come in, go about their legitimate businesses and anger should not be directed at Nigerian immigrants in South Africa.
If anything, the black South Africans should fight to imitate the immigrants out there. But if they choose to be mentally lazy or if they choose to sit down and think that government will provide them all that life requires, then they are making a mistake, but in making that mistake, they should not visit their frustrations on innocent immigrants.
How do you see the statement credited to South African President Jacob Zuma, that his government would help any immigrant, who wishes to return to his or her country, to do so?
If he said this, then it is an unfortunate statement. It is not the kind of comforting words you should hear from a leader. A leader should choose words carefully to comfort the immigrants, commiserate with the families of those who lost their loved ones and at the same time sympathize with those who lost their businesses and pledge to assist them to recover from their loses. But if you say those who want to leave the country will be assisted them to leave, it means that you have supported the xenophobic attacks.
What happened in South Africa is a criminal activity that should land those involved in long term sentences because they have no right to take any person livelihood without following due process. You have no right to burn and loot somebody’s properties. All these things are barbaric. They are uncivilized. I don’t want to bring the issue of what Nigeria did for South Africa. What Nigeria did I know my money went into the fight.
Nigeria fought against apartheid. Civil servants contributed. Students contributed their pocket money all for the efforts for South Africa to be free from the yoke of apartheid, but they have all forgotten or they are not aware. I remember a lecture I attended at the Transcorp Hilton, where Winnie Mandela was one of the guest speakers. She said that most South Africans didn’t know of contributions of Nigeria towards the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. But the issue is that whether they are aware or not, it is inhumane and barbaric to attack people who are legitimately living in your own country simply because you feel that they are doing better than you. They are doing better than you because they are more enterprising. If you have worked like them you will succeed.
What strategies do you think the South African Government should take to ensure that these attacks do not occur again?
It is very difficult because of failure of leadership failure of leadership on the part of the South African government. They have not educated their own people well enough to understand. The world is now a global village, you cannot be on your own, no. Even the apartheid that we fought against was brought to South Africa by the white people, but they came with their technologies. They built South Africa and it became like any European country but when they choose to discriminate against the black that became a problem. And now that you are free from colonialism and apartheid, there is a need for people to be given orientation from being guerrilla fighters, fighting against apartheid to lawful citizens of South Africa, who have all the rights and privileges South Africa can confer on everybody — whether white or black and then you are now encouraged to pursue whatever you consider appropriate for your own sustenance.
This is the problem, the black having gotten rid of apartheid they think they will live like the white man, but that is not so. These people have been there for centuries, you have to start making your own effort, of course with the government assisting you. Mandela saved South African from conflagration when he did not go for any revenge against the white people, but the black people should have made an effort to raise themselves.
So, the immigrants who are doing reasonably well are doing so because they are working very hard. If they had behaved like the black South Africans, they would not do well. So, the South African government has the responsibility to completely change the situation otherwise this xenophobic attacks will not stop. The moment the people feel that, ‘oh, there is a group of Nigerians and other nationals in that country doing very well,’ they will say ‘let us go and attack them.’ And they will go and attack them. So, all that Nigeria can do is to condemn gly and then ask South African government to take the responsibility of protecting foreigners living in that country. If I’m living in your country legitimately and in my living am paying my taxes and all the dues I am supposed to pay, there will be no justification for anybody to attack me. There is also the need for professionalism on the part of security forces. The police must not take sides. The government has absolute necessity to protect the blacks. They are not taking away their jobs they are only eking out a living.
Source : The Guardian