The wave of violent attacks on foreign population living in South Africa has generated local and international condemnation. This article examines the core issues of racial intolerance and dislike for foreigners particularly Nigerians in South Africa within the broader framework of the apartheid regime and indeed the post- apartheid socio- economic relations which has over time shaped the existential notions of false
community, vague entitlement and empty sense belonging amongst a number of black South Africans. It further highlights and provides fresh perspectives to addressing reverse migration and building positive foreign policy template on the part of Nigeria that promotes genuine national pride, national interest and above all, the provision of a national welfare scheme at home for the average Nigerian citizen by the Buhari led administration will help to restore hope for young Nigerians waiting to brave the journey of no return and at least would not be caught with up xenophobic attacks in South Africa or death sentence in obscured Asian countries.
Indeed the issues of xenophobia in contemporary South Africa discourse in my view are deep psychosomatic carry – over and the blatant negative product of the apartheid regime that cannot be wish away from the collective consciousness of the people of the South and the attendant dispossession of their personal pride has often blur the spirit of the African brotherhood. The despicable and repugnant apartheid regime also bruised the ego and sense of humanity of this great Africans who became vulnerable and exploited in their own land and the reality of these historical facts has continued to obstruct the wheel of progress and development. The political crisis of that dark era led to social dislocation which in turn affected their economic means, educational levels attainment or the required skill sets that would have prepared them for high level jobs and proper integration.
Xenophobic violence is not a new phenomenon in post- apartheid South Africa. Indeed the sudden explosion of violence has been attributed to a combination of factors which include local political pressures over time, increases in prices of basic goods, high levels of unemployment which stood at 25% and the growing concerns and frustrations about the South African government under incumbent President Jacob Zuma to provide essential services to poor people and the resultant economic hardship and tensions surrounding crime and competition over scarce resources by non- national population. The continued socio- economic issues are pushing the average South African into extreme poverty in the midst of plenty and there is a high level of dissatisfaction with the scheme of things after the fall of the apartheid regime.
Indeed, it should be recalled that in May and June 2008 there were 135 separate violent incidents that left 62 people dead, at least 670 wounded and unfortunately, dozens were carnally assaulted and many properties destroyed and looted. Therefore, Nigeria’s international diplomacy should not dwell much on the criticism of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, but rather much attention should be placed on understanding the dynamics of international politics which is a game of selective morality, outrageous paradox and double standard. Hence, concrete efforts should be made at home to create an enabling environment that would create jobs and livelihoods for the common people in Nigeria and South Africa.
Also, the South Africa domestic environment has been hostile to non- nationals particularly undocumented migrants and there is also implicit culture of impunity which encourages mob justice in most communities. What is more, the violence of black’s inhumanity to other Africans particularly Nigerians is also fueled and supported by the wide spread corrupt and institutionalised xenophobia like the police, immigration services and other state structure also lack requisite knowledge and respect in handling legal and policy framework for dealing with non- nationals in the area of conflict management.
It is important to note that people migrating in search for safer and more prosperous living conditions is as old as man and the right of any person to leave any country is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination respectively.
While it is not possible to completely eliminate social tensions in any country, it is expedient on the part of the South Africa government and its nationals to respect universal and regional treaties, declarations, norms, protocols and conventions rather than barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of Africans and indeed Nigerians. Indeed the unwholesome of politicisation of migration as an excuse for xenophobia in South Africa must be addressed by diplomatic means by both countries. The issues and factors of migration that include increased unemployment, poverty and greed must be top in re-tooling the new Nigeria- South partnership. Both countries must promote and sustain protection mechanism for human rights and conducive environment for decent work by migrant workers and their families whether documented (economic) migrants or undocumented migrants.
Sadly, one major challenge in the Nigeria South – Africa relations architecture in my view and indeed many Nigerians over years beyond the recent violent attacks on Nigerians and other Africans is lack of mutual diplomatic and tactful reciprocity on the part of the South Africa government and non state actors alike for the strategic role Nigeria played in the struggle against apartheid and the robust and unrestricted business environment and investment regime that the people of the rainbow nation has enjoyed and continue to enjoyed and on the other hand, Nigeria must also forge strategic business alliance in South Africa emerging markets to balance business relationship equation.
Furthermore, beyond the existing skewed bilateral and economic relations in favour of South Africa businesses in Nigeria, there is an urgent need for both countries to initiate a liberalised migration regime and a robust migration management capacity towards enhancing and strengthening the strategic role of Nigerians in diaspora as development partner and factoring their contributions to the overall Africa development agenda for sustainable peace and security. Indeed South Africa and Nigeria governments must play a leading role in driving a green revolution that would provide food security thereby contributing significantly to overcoming hunger and social tensions that has characterised African Migration.
It is imperative for the new government under leadership of Buhari to escalate and mainstream key external relations that is mutually beneficial in Nigeria economic ties with South Africa, while respecting all treaties and obligations on persons and related matters. The two countries in my view are not exploiting their leadership and governance roles in sustaining the African dream and indeed the drive for poverty eradication through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Crucially, sustained job creation particularly for youths at home and positive image – building abroad would enhance the respectability of Nigerians in the diaspora and indeed address the negative perception from the way the world see us as people and a nation. Furthermore, our government at home must understand the relationship between poverty, irregular migration and the overall issues of xenophobia which is not new in South Africa.
Nigeria’s relevance within the global system depends on relative strength and control at the domestic level and our continued relevance within the Africa continent and indeed the changing world. Against this backdrop, Nigeria’s international communication and reputational image – building mechanisms must be hinged on diplomatic caution and decency to safeguard our nationals wherever they are in the globe beyond xenophobic realities in South Africa.
Also, the African union (AU) has not been alive to its continental responsibility for the emancipation of Africans from the clutches of poverty in the last 50 years of cheap talk and not walking the walk of development for its people across the continent is to be blamed for the unfortunate and painful tragedy of African migration and international migration that has continued to claim the lives of Nigerians and indeed other Africans in multitude every year. Indeed it is a sad reality of leadership failure and the resource grab mentality that has held us down as a nation.
Fundamentally, it is the responsibility of the Nigerian state to protect its citizens at home and abroad, therefore it is imperative for skillful and pragmatic diplomacy that would enable us project positive image and influence in the international arena and more importantly, doing the right things to promote respect for Nigerians in diaspora. In my view, it is now absolutely necessary to adopt the diplomacy of selective engagement and promote informal diplomacy for the sustenance of our national interest while not compromising our collective identity within and outside Nigeria.
All things considered, Nigeria’s international engagement strategy should be done with diplomatic finesse and dexterity and above all, pragmatic efforts should made to improve on our foreign relations mechanisms particularly on the issues of cross- borders migration and Nigeria should desire to play by the rule of international obligations in spite of its visible failings at home in providing basic social welfare and essential services for majority of Nigerians who live on less than one dollar a day. The challenge of xenophobic attacks again is a wake up call for the Nigerian government to put his house in order by fine- tuning existing foreign policy documents to take aantage of the emerging realities of diplomatic practice.
Source : Daily Independent