Say no to xenophobia: African lives matter

Oghenenyerhovwo Ogbodu reports on recurring xenophobic attacks on other African nationalities in South Africa.

In March 1960, 69 black people were massacred in Sharpeville, South Africa, by the white apartheid police. That same year, Nigeria successfully liberated itself from the grip of British occupation that had stretched for 160 years.

The years that greeted Nigeria’s independence saw the formation of the Southern Africa Relief Fund (SAFR) in the year 1976 which was designed and destined to bring relief to the victims of the apartheid regime in South Africa as well as provide educational opportunities to them and promote general welfare.

At the peak of the liberation movement in the 1970s, Nigeria alone provided the sum of a $5 million annual subvention to the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

In addition to the above, the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo contributed $3.7 million to the fund and all civil servants and public officers in Nigeria at that time had to make a compulsory 2 per cent donation from their monthly salary to the SAFR. Within six months, the monies realised had clocked up a whopping $10.5 million and this came to be widely known as the “Mandela Tax”.

Following these donations, the year 1976 witnessed the coming of 86 South Africans to study free in Nigeria due to the disruption of the South African educational system caused by the apartheid regime and the massacre of 700 students by the white police.

As a measure to ameliorate the sufferings of South Africans who had their passports seized by the apartheid system in place, the Nigerian government issued 300 passports to South Africans to ease their travel abroad.

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”

In light of the above, one would expect that such acts and good gestures would be reciprocated with some act of kindness, considering the role Nigeria played to bring the apartheid system to an end.

However, it has become crystal clear that such expectations of “repaying good with good” are farfetched and amount to nothing but a mirage. The late Nelson Mandela of blessed memory once said: “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

The above quote, however, raises some questions considering the incessant killings of foreigners as well as fellow Africans in South Africa.

Without mincing words, South Africa as a country seems not to be a safe haven for foreigners any more, most especially other Africans seeking greener pastures in the country. The year 2008 ushered in a string of attacks on African immigrants with many losing their lives as well as properties. One might be tempted to say that though apartheid had ended in the home country of the late Nelson Mandela, South Africans are yet to heal from the wounds.

In 2015, another wave of attacks on foreigners occurred, with other African nationalities being injured and killed. Properties belonging to Nigerians such as cars and houses were burnt, shops were destroyed, goods looted and women and girls were raped.

These dastardly acts led to the federal government of Nigeria as well as other African leaders calling on the South African government to find a lasting solution to the recurring xenophobic violence targeted at foreign workers especially those of African descent.

In 2015, a statement was issued by the public communication division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja. It stated that the Nigerian government henceforth would not tolerate any attack on its nationals in South Africa. The statement further called on Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, to put in place a policy that would prevent future occurrences, saying no one had the right to take away innocent lives.

With a series of talks held with representatives of the affected countries, emotional, mental and physical wounds healed faster than expected and relationships that appeared to be on the decline between South Africa and those countries affected started returning to normal.

One would have thought that the 2015 xenophobic attacks by South African citizens on other African immigrants marked the end of such attacks, considering the talks by representatives of the affected countries. However, it becomes somewhat surprising that despite the peace talks in previous years and most recently 2015, South African nationals would still go ahead to unleash mayhem on foreigners in what can be termed the mother of all xenophobic attacks.

It has become fashionable for some South African nationals to blame the recurring attacks on the influx of foreigners which they claim has resulted in job loss by South Africans as well as resulting in a high rate of unemployment among South African youths. Another reason stated for the recurring attacks is that some South African nationals believe that foreigners have introduced drug trafficking and prostitution to their country.

On the other hand, some South Africans express a feeling of superiority in relation to other Africans and as such they believe other Africans and foreigners not of South African extraction should not been seen to dominate the scene in whatever form.

But considering the big-brother role played by Nigeria as well as some other African countries that saw the end of apartheid in South Africa and in turn snowballed into the independence of South Africa, foreigners should not be treated in a hostile manner but rather should be welcomed with open arms.

As has been opined, “No man is an island ”, and in the same way that foreigners are found in South Africa, South Africans can be found in other parts of the globe. The South Africa authorities should as a matter of urgency put measures in place that will bring about a lasting solution to this recurring menace.

Xenophobia is barbaric and must be condemned entirely.  

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