By Ezeali (Sir) Jonas Udeji.
In South Africa, it has become a culture to shift blame in order to either divert attention from the real issues on the ground or look for someone, public servant or a political party, to make a scapegoat. Sometimes, one would expect political leaders to speak on the merits of any issue which affects the lives of the people rather than look for where to shift blame.
The anti-drugs and prostitution marches by communities in the two metropolitan councils of Johannesburg and Tshwane are not all about the xenophobic statement allegedly made by the Executive Mayor of Johannesburg, Councillor Herman Mashaba, who was reported to have said that all criminal foreign nationals would be cleared out of Johannesburg. Rather, they are born out of accumulated anger of the communities at both the illegal drug peddlers and the failure and/or alleged complicity of law enforcement agents to curb the menace.
Over the years, and on several occasions, I have been part of organising a meeting between the host community, the African National Congress (ANC), South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO), the Community Policing Forum (CPF) and Nigerians in the southern Johannesburg suburb, to devise a way of curbing the societal threats of rampant drug peddling and illegal brothels where girls from the age of 12 years are being abused in the prostitution businesses which are operated in about 20% of the total houses in Rosettenville. Those meetings yielded little or no results as the perpetrators of these crimes continued to trade more openly on the illegalities with arrogance and total disrespect and disregard for the devastating effects on the children and families in the community.
The Nigerian Union South Africa and Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo South Africa have been trying to redirect a few of our own who are involved in the illegal drug trade to come out of it completely. This is because we know very well that those of our people who are allegedly involved in this unholy trade could do better if they channeled their efforts and energy into genuine and legitimate businesses. We have confidence and pride in our entrepreneurial skills, resilience, and hard work. This has been acknowledged by well-meaning members of the host community, including the honourable Minister of Home Affairs, Comrade Malusi Gigaba. Some members of the immigrant community have been honoured with outstanding service awards, including Nigeria’s Mr. Kenneth Ayere, an employer of labour who established what is considered the first authentic African restaurant, the Homebaze African Cuisine Group, in South Africa.
The host community genuinely has a case – if the fights against illegal drug trade are not diverted to xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals. As Nigerians living in South Africa, we can hardly deny the fact that a few individuals in our community are amongst the drug peddlers in South Africa. But we refuse to accept that the actions of those few individuals represent us as a community.
Just like any other nationality, the actions of the few criminal elements in our midst do not and can never define us; hence we have continually encouraged the South African Police Service to do their work without fear or favour. We have equally warned that the mistakes of blanket judgment against Nigerians in South Africa will not only divert attention but will surely defeat the intentions of the genuine cause of war against illegal drugs trade.
Restricting the fight against illegal drugs trade in South Africa to only Nigerians would only be a diversion which will never yield results. I believe that only a holistic approach devoid of restricted targets of a particular nationality will convince all, irrespective of nationality, to join the fight against crime.
Criminality has no race or nationality, as crime affects all and not only “citizens”.
Ezeali (Sir) Jonas Udeji is the traditional Prime Minister of the Igbo Community in South Africa. He was at various times an executive member of the Hillbrow Community Policing Forum, Chairperson Business Sector of Hillbrow Community Policing Forum and Voting District Coordinator of the African National Congress Elandspark VD. He was elected and invested Deputy Grand Knight at Council 35 of Catholic Order of Knights of Da Gama and he is a member of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights. Sir Udeji was recently conferred with the honour of ‘Advisor on Cultural and Social Cohesion In Africa’ by the Independent Pan-African Youth Parliament, in Partnership with the UNESCO Center for Global Education.
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