We didn’t know post-apartheid South Africa would be like this. If anyone had foretold, 30 years ago, that black South Africans would engage in riots to kill fellow Africans and destroy their businesses, no one would have believed them. My generation is unfortunate to have witnessed this unexpected turn of events.
A brief post I read on social media on Friday quotes a son of President Jacob Zuma as saying that they were grateful for the help they had received from other Africans, but it was no excuse for us to take advantage of them. I take that as a confirmation that the authorities in South Africa are really behind the recurrent xenophobia in that country. Were it not so, the South African government would have been able to prevent the first attack on a Nigerian or any other African. Just as Nigeria, though notorious for inaction, has been able to stop its own young people from attacking South Africans and their interests in Nigeria.
The rioters in Pretoria and Johannesburg, I presume, are young people who were not born before 1990 or were too young to experience what life used to be under apartheid South Africa. But don’t they have parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents who should have told them why South Africa is a rainbow nation?
These attacks started after Nelson Mandela’s death. But Mandela couldn’t have been the only good South African who appreciated Nigeria’s sacrifices. Many other freedom fighters, including former President Thabo Mbeki, lived in Nigeria for a long time. I had a South African, Clarence Quinanah, as classmate; we graduated just before apartheid collapsed. There were other South Africans who were here on scholarship or were gainfully employed, but we never complained that they were taking our jobs. But for Nigeria and other brother African nations, South Africa probably wouldn’t be free even now. There would have been no jobs for the protesters in the first place, and there would have been no “foreigners” to take non-existent jobs.
Elderly South Africans ought to have also told the protesting youngsters that foreigners couldn’t have introduced prostitution and drugs to their country; the evils have existed in every country for centuries. And it’s South Africans who engage in prostitution and patronise the drug dealers. In any case, those being attacked are not the criminals.
Here in Nigeria, foreigners have been the greatest beneficiaries of our oil wealth; nobody has taken up arms against foreigners employed in the oil industry. Even the militancy that started recently was not against foreigners that have taken “our jobs” but against the unjust Nigerian state. In Nigeria’s oil industry, a white man earns more than 10 times what his Nigerian counterpart earns. Some oil companies import casual labourers who earn five times what qualified Nigerian engineers earn. And this situation has existed for more than 50 years.
Nigeria has been accommodating to other Africans too. It’s true that “Ghana must go” happened in the early 1980s. However, Ghanaians were not harmed nor were their businesses destroyed. Today, Nigerians are forced to pay huge fines even before they set up shop in Ghana. The number of Malians, Nigeriens, Chadians, Sierra-Leoneans, Senegalese and other Africans living in Nigeria like “citizens” may never be known because they immigrated a long time ago and carry the Nigerian passport. Currently, some foreigners are the herdsmen who collude with other Nigerians to kill farmers and destroy their farms – in Nigeria.
The protesting youths of South Africa are like the hunter’s dog (in an Igbo adage) that suddenly goes mad and turns on its master. They are biting the fingers that fed them. Apart from the resources committed to the struggle for South Africa’s freedom from the Boers, Nigeria and other African nations lost many of their citizens. The Cold War era was not rosy at all! The thought of black South Africans being oppressed on their own soil by settlers caused heartbreaks and heart attacks.
The current cycle of xenophobia is one too many. This time round, it must not go unreciprocated. I know the Nigerian government has no regard for its citizens – it can’t force Zuma to protect Nigerians in Pretoria and may even kill protesters seeking revenge in Nigeria. But the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has taken the challenge by giving South African businesses a 48-hour ultimatum: they should close shop and leave Nigeria.
NANS’ action is one that many ordinary people in Nigeria applaud. Closing South Africa-owned business will hurt Nigerians less. Indeed, the harm we’ve suffered in the hands of those businesses is unquantifiable. Is it MTN that took all the money in Nigeria through GSM in its first year here? Is it DSTV that has kept ripping Nigerians off by overcharging for nonsensical programmes like “Big Brother”? Eggs and vegetables imported from South Africa are still sold in Shoprite malls spread across Nigeria. What is worse, millions of Nigerian traders are being displaced by Shoprite at amazing speed. Yet, the mad dogs of South Africa are talking about losing jobs to foreigners.
Likely, NANS will be stopped by tomorrow or next. Shouldn’t we take personal steps to protest the killing of our compatriots in Pretoria and looting of their shops and burning of their homes? From tomorrow I’ll discard all my MTN SIM cards: no credit or data from the South African telecom provider anymore. As for DSTV, that’s fair game already: I’m directing my family to go for GOTV at once. Shoprite? It’s time to shop right. Since the recession, I’ve had no use for Shoprite. Perhaps it’s one of those selling garri imported from India!
Those South African businesses are dispensable. Let no one plead for Nigerians that may lose their jobs. More jobs will be created when they go. Luckily, none of them is a monopoly yet.
Is it not time for the leaders and government of Nigeria to feel ashamed? Nigeria is being destroyed by Nigerians. Let’s make Nigeria better so that hardworking Nigerians would stop seeking shelter in less-endowed nations like South Africa.
When I think about our people’s present ordeals in a nation we had helped to become free, I recollect the words of my lecturer almost 30 years ago. Once, Prof. S. A. Ekwelie railed at those seeking the end of apartheid. “[Pieter] Botha is right! Botha is right!” he bellowed in class. “What Botha is saying is, we can’t give you this thing (political power) because you will mess it up.” The professor was obviously expressing disappointment at the situation in African countries that had gained independence 25 years before. [I wonder how he would be feeling now.]
At that time everyone was incensed by white minority rule in South Africa. Now it’s blacks killing fellow blacks under majority rule. See the irony? As I have sometimes stated in this column, something is obviously wrong with the black man. Something is really wrong somewhere.
–By ANIEBO NWAMU
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