Harshly criticised for its slow response to days of murderous attacks on innocent foreigners, South Africa says it has now contained the crisis. But if the government was more painstaking in curbing arrogances among its citizens that encourage xenophobia, the damage to lives and relations would have been avoided. Vincent Obia
It was with a heavy heart that the world received the news about the recent bloody attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa. Yet, it is with a feeling of great relief that Africa and the world have viewed the absence of reprisals in countries whose citizens have fallen victim to the xenophobic violence in South Africa. This, no doubt, is humanity’s way of trying to deescalate the crisis and make the best out of the bad situation inside South Africa. Ironically, this is a country that ought to be Africa’s bulwark against extremism and racist discrimination after suffering about a century of racial segregation, first, in colonial times under Dutch East India rule, and then, under the apartheid policy of the Afrikaner-dominated National Party.
Nigerians are perennial victims of the xenophobia in South Africa. Many have been affected by the latest attacks, though, no Nigerian is among the about 10 foreigners killed in the nearly two weeks of violence that targeted Africans and Asians, who came to South Africa after white-minority rule, apartheid, ended in 1994.
In different parts of Nigeria last week, there were protest marches to drum up national condemnation of the racist violence that is fast settling into a culture among South Africans. Students of the University of Lagos on Monday staged a protest at the South African Consulate in Lagos, while in Enugu on Tuesday, members of the Youth Action for Success took their anger to the streets. The UNILAG students demanded that the South African government should end the crisis within 24 hours or face a boycott of South African products and businesses in Nigeria. And the protesters in Enugu gave the South African authorities 48 hours to stop the attacks on foreigners or risk attack on South African companies in Nigeria.
Though, South Africa closed its consulate in Lagos in the wake of the anti-xenophobia protests, it was clear from the tone of the protesters’ demands that no one had the intention of expelling South Africans or threatening their interests in Nigeria ab initio. The protests were to call on the South African authorities to take sincere and proactive steps to redress the violence against Nigerians and other foreigners. What the world needed was a reassurance that the government of South Africa was able to stop the crisis and that it was doing its best to stop it.
The least the South Africans can do in the circumstances is to demonstrate that they are not operating at cross purposes with the rest of the world and Nigeria, in particular. But comments, like the one last week by managers of the South African company in Nigeria, MTN, do not show that the South Africans are really on the same page with Nigeria and other affected countries on the need to deescalate the needless race violence and prevent its repercussions in Africa and beyond. MTN Nigeria on Monday warned that Nigeria could suffer a backlash of job losses if its facilities were attacked and it was forced to close shop.
“If people go ahead with their threats to attack our facilities, what that means is that we may be forced to close down the business in Nigeria and about 6,000 Nigerians that make up 99 per cent of our workforce will be unemployed,” MTN Nigeria’s corporate Service executive, Mr. Wale Goodluck, boasted at a time when the Nigerian government and leaders of the continent were trying to calm widespread feelings of anger and anxiety over the xenophobic onslaught in South Africa. It was a boast that heightened annoyance among Nigerians, who viewed it as arrogant and unfeeling.
Add the attitude of the South African firm to the perfunctory response of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini to allegations that he fuelled the xenophobic violence with remarks he made last month, you perhaps get the picture of a people that are not keen on finding a lasting solution to the persistent attacks on foreigners. Zwelithini said at a rally on Monday in South Africa, “If it were true that I said foreigners must go, this country would be up in flames.”
Reading Zwelithini’s lips, it seems the about 10 people killed and millions of rand worth of foreigners’ investments and property destroyed were ‘not enough’ punishment for those who had come to ‘displace’ South Africans and take up jobs meant for them.
What the xenophobic sentimentalists in South Africa fail to recognise is that most of the ‘prosperous’ foreigners whose success they enviously look at have earned their prosperity by dint of foreign capital injection or hard work inside South Africa.
“It is a rather unacceptable situation a sad one that at this stage, South Africans still feel insecure locally when we know for a fact that foreigners contribute to expanding their economy and lifestyle,” president of the Nigeria-South Africa Chamber of Commerce, Folusho Phillips, was quoted as saying, while reacting to the effect of the violence in South Africa on bilateral trade on the continent.
The people of South Africa must begin a necessary rethink of how they see and treat those who come to their country for business, leisure, or in search of the legendary Golden Fleece.
Representatives of Nigeria, South Africa, and other African countries have signed a peace accord setting out processes for a peaceful resolution of differences arising from the latest wave of xenophobia in South Africa and discouraging the menace. The pact initiated by Nigerians In Diaspora Integration Agency was signed on Thursday in Abuja with the South African High Commissioner in Nigeria, Ambassador Lulul Mnguni, as observer.
But for a lasting solution to the recurrent outbreak of violence against foreigners, especially Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa, the South African government needs to give a boost to subjects and courses in history that would expose younger South Africans, who might not have witnessed their country’s horrendous past of racial discrimination, to the efforts made by foreigners to secure the political freedom they have.
Source : This Day