Not many South Africans are aware of the role their African brothers played in liberating them from the shackles of the oppressive apartheid regime, more so the youths who are mainly responsible for the brigandage attending the current xenophobic violence in South Africa. This has led to a number of observers questioning the real motive(s) behind the recurrent killing, burning and looting, with foreigners at the receiving end each time.
One is therefore compelled to ask South Africans: Is this how to repay those whose forebears fought for your freedom, championed the international leg of the anti-apartheid struggle, provided sanctuary and free education to your compatriots who escaped and got to West Africa, nationalised assets of countries who supported apartheid and provided money and materials to Umkhonto We Sizwe? Did Madiba not tell you this? Didn’t Oliver Tambo? Or Zuma? President Cyril Ramaphosa sure knows. Those doing this betray the spirit of Ubuntu that Madiba preached. They bring shame on themselves and their country. Sad. Very sad indeed!
I have just watched the video of a foreigner set on fire by South Africans and burning to death. You can see the huge population of young men who did this and were enjoying the spectacle. Even after the guy had fallen with flames blazing, when you expected normal humans to recoil and show remorse for the outcome of their bestiality, one of them, a grandson of Belzebub, threw a dry piece of cardboard to supply more fuel to the inferno! It doesn’t get more evil, heartless and sickening than that. Even animals don’t do this to other animals. It’s not allowed even by the rules of war!
If they must know, indeed if they are capable of knowing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, even when they decided, justifiably, to take up arms against the evil apartheid regime, carefully ensured they targeted and attacked only the economic and military bulwarks that sustained the regime. They carefully planned and executed bombings in a way to ensure people were not killed. That was war fought to throw away an evil system that made black South Africans slaves, landless and second class citizens in their own country. If people of that era didn’t fight those wars sensibly, it is arguable if South Africa would be free today or out of fratricidal turmoil.
Now, we all know about the evil that the Jews were subjected to under Nazi Germany. Every Israeli today knows that history and they know who helped them in their time of sorrow and pain. Africa refuses to educate majority of its huge population. Many of these young men neither know their history nor have the skills to get ahead. And the employment opportunities are just not there. This mix of circumstances combined with drug addiction and high rate of alcoholism and breakdown of family cohesion as a result of high rate of single parenthood has given rise to the combustible social milieu South Africa is grappling with. The authorities have either failed to realise this and address it or are deliberately living in denial.
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Seeing fellow Africans start petty trading and making it big in a few years while their local counterparts stay idle, smoking and drinking all day, have led to jealousy of unimaginable proportions. It must be conceded too that some of our compatriots do carry on as if they own the manor, living loud and flamboyant lifestyles in the midst of excruciating poverty and joblessness.
Does this justify the killings of foreigners, especially Nigerians? Do our people deserve this after all we did for South Africa? Would Mandela have sanctioned this murderous horde looting businesses of Nigerians and other fellow Africans and killing their owners? Why will it take President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose business interests run across the whole of West Africa and milking billions out of Nigeria annually wait till after so many days of mayhem before calling these marauding beasts to order?
The Nigerians doing genuine business in South Africa who are being killed are merely making a little daily to keep body and soul together. They would not be in South Africa if home conditions were very clement. They are economic migrants. Killing them will not improve the condition of these lunatics. Becoming a murderer does not improve your economic situation. We have not been told any of them has set up shop to replace the Nigerian shop owner they killed and provide the service that earned the Nigerian his deserved returns on investment.
It is appalling to see the police stand idly by and watch these killings and arson take place. They are complicit and it is not improbable that they would have joined in the burning and looting but for the uniforms on their backs! Besides, there are strong indications that policemen not only connive with, but also facilitate the illicit drug business of a few lazy miscreants, for which the majority of honest and hardworking Nigerians are castigated and stigmatised. This is highly condemnable and unacceptable.
The President of South Africa today virtually owns MTN. That company made, in their first 6 months of operation in Nigeria, the profits they estimated to make in two years! They repatriate billions of dollars in profits yearly. Multi-choice has a virtual monopoly in the cable TV business and charges whatever they like; pushing all would-be competitors out by hook or crook. I can go on and on. We are not arsonists and Nigerians must never let the evil happening in South Africa to define us. In the words of Michelle Obama, let’s go high each time they go low.
Our government must respond in a way that leaves South Africa in no doubt that it is capable and willing to protect the lives of its citizens anywhere in the world. The time for niceties is over! How many of these hoodlums are in jail for these murders? How many arrests? If it was here, police would have been using live bullets by now. They are hardly even carrying out mass arrests in South Africa. Instead, some police are standing by and watching, even enjoying, the ‘entertainment’.
Isn’t it time to peacefully picket all South African businesses in Nigeria and other countries whose citizens are victims of this unjustified inferno? Paid demonstrators are said to be right now in the UK and the Irish High Commissions in Abuja picketing them for the $9bn debt hanging on our nation because of the mismanaged P&ID failed contract. Yet, no one considers this fate of Nigerians abroad important enough to justify picketing of South African business interests! If you don’t value your citizens who else will? Our people say if you call your home a junkyard others will bring their refuse there.
On the other side, who will tell South Africans that they are playing into the hands of the same forces that held them captive for ages? Isn’t it rather simplistic to be chorusing “foreigners must leave” when the big business and land owners are the real foreigners that they still bow and tremble before? Can’t they see that black on black violence has turned to entertainment for these forces that benefit when the bonds holding Africans together are torn asunder? Do they ever stop to think of the huge value foreigners add to their lives through manpower and intellectual development facilitated by the countless foreign professionals in the country?
Back home, the Nigerian government owes it as a sacred duty to the people to put the necessary structures in place to checkmate the exodus of its youths to foreign lands at the risk of their lives.
Finally, crime has no nationality. The criminal elements in South Africa, and in Nigeria for that matter, must be smoked out and put behind bars where they belong; no matter their nationality.
Nigerians deserve better treatment from their South African brothers and South Africans require serious introspection to figure out on which side their bread is buttered.
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Austin Isikhuemen is a Lagos-based public affairs analyst.
NP: The views expressed in this article are those of the author. You may post your feedback in the comments section of this page.