By Victoria Ojeme
Diplomats are expected to defend their home countries both in word and deed. But Lulu Mnguni, the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, needed more than the finesse of diplomacy to talk his country out of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in his home country. Personal conviction was required.”Mob attacks defile South African values for respect for human life, human dignity”, Mnguni said last Wednesday. “We condemn the violence in the strongest possible terms. Our struggle against apartheid was a struggle against dehumanization of people; it was a struggle for human rights. And given the basis of our Constitution, our foreign policies revolve around human rights,” he added.
‘There is enough market for everybody’
The envoy was emphatic in driving home the point that the attacks were not instigated by the alleged taking of South Africans’jobs by Nigerians. “On the issue that foreign nationals are taking over South African businesses, there is no such thing”, he said.
“We believe that there is enough market for everybody and it is even important that we encourage people, both Nigerians and other nationals in South Africa, to engage in business partnership so that they can see that working together is more beneficial to South Africans and foreign nationals. Like we say, I am because you are. I cannot realise my full humanity without you realising your own, and also no amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals, even this issue of people saying because of unemployment, because of poverty, then they have to engage in such things. Now we say that government must try and address issues of development, issues of job creation.
“He continued: “Issues about development and even issues about business, we say why can’t South Africans engage in small businesses and Nigerians and other Africans come together and form some partnerships and come to see actually how advantageous it is to work together as people from different countries in doing business just like the big businesses.
“When South Africans come here to Nigeria, they form partnership and they thrive in business. Look at MTN. It was formed by South Africans and Nigerians and now it is one of the best companies in the world, even competing with companies from Europe.
“So let them work together, and many nations that are actually working together, that is of benefit to all. Business is business; so let them work together and, by so doing, they can be an example. They must work within the context of our time tested relations which worked so well that we were able to defeat the strongest enemy. Let us learn that we can even defeat hunger, unemployment by working together.
“We are not condoning this, we will not condone this, it is has not given a good reflection of Africa. It is undoing our history, all that we have worked and striven for. And some of these problems must be viewed as a South African problem or a Nigerian problem. Sometimes we have to work together to see how best we can contain this because the issue of our development is a South African thing; most of the people who have left their countries to come to South Africa did so because of our development, and it is because of poverty, it is because of unemployment.
“So we need to work together to see how we can address this issue of hunger, underdevelopment, unemployment, etc. We have said no amount of frustration or poverty could be used as an excuse to engage in these attacks. We need to always work together.
“People need to see that there is something that is threatening our cohesion, our unity and we have to say how can we be doing this? Even if it happens, it can happen in Nigeria and in any other place; it is our challenge as Africans and we must see how best we can deal with this.
“There is no responsible government, not even the ANC government that can feel comfortable when such things happen. Our people were given places when we were being chased and hunted like chicken. We had to come to countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, Angola etc”.
Safe haven for every national
Mnguni was very strong on the point that South Africa is safe for every national.
“All residents of South Africa including Nigerians and other Africans or even people from Europe are supposed to be protected when they are in South Africa, but some times we may not be there when some of those things happened. But when we know that this thing is happening, we deploy our people. If you watched television, you will see that the police were actually using rubber bullets to defend foreign nationals”.
“The patriotism in his voice was unmistakable as he pointed out: “It is just like myself. When I am in Nigeria, I am under the protection of the Nigerian government; so anybody who is in South Africa must not have this fear of being attacked, must be protected by our government and that is why we deployed the ministerial delegation to go and talk to those people that “we cannot do this, that even if you suspect people of being engaged in criminal activities, the police are the ones who are supposed to deal with the matter; you cannot engage in these attacks’. And that is what we are saying and we will do our best.
“And that is why we never stopped talking about this because we want Nigerians to know where we come from with our relationship and that even South Africans must know so that whenever some few misguided individuals engage in this, even ordinary citizens must tell them and say ‘you cannot do this’, because we feel very much embarrassed and ashamed that this happened. We feel strongly about our good and strong relations with Nigeria and for some time now things have really calmed down. We want to know if there is a hidden hand involved in this and we are trying our best to make sure that these things stop happening”.”
My country’s stand
Mnguni insisted: “So our country stands firmly against things such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism. We are against anybody being discriminated against because of his gender, country of origin because our Constitution clearly states that South Africa belongs to all irrespective of where they come from as long as these people respect the laws of the country and our Constitution.”
He added: “Our government has dieployed a ministerial delegation to areas that are affected, led by our Minister of Home Affairs, to engage on issues affecting communities in particular, matters around policies and the alleged activities of illegal migrants.
“Our government has instructed the emissary for safety and security to try and make sure that the police listen to the cries of the people and at the same time address issues around migrants”.”The envoy was insistent that the recent attacks did not come up because perpetrators of previous attacks were not arrested and prosecuted.
“For instance there was a Mozambican that was killed during a particular xenophobia attack. The people involved were given 17 years. In Cape Town there was one Nigerian that was killed and one of the police man involved was found guilty and given a sentence. The one who was sentence admitted that he actually was involved. The other one denied. So the last time I heard of it, the case was still on.
“But he could not tell how many police has been tried. I cannot tell you how many have been tried but what is of importance is that our government, through its structure, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), is always involved in trying any police man or woman involved in matters that involve the public.Even on the matter of this person who died in Cape Town, the IPID is involved in the investigation and of course we have made sure that postmortems were conducted and proper investigations carried out on what actually caused the death”.
Mnguni was confident that the punishment meted out to those found guilty in previous attacks ought to have served as a deterrent to other perpetrators. “If we say the people involved in the death of the Mozambican were given 17 years, can we say that sentence was lenient or not? And of course if the police were found guilty in the death of a person, obviously they will be sentenced.
So, many of the victims have the right to sue government as far as that matter is concerned”.”Did the envoy agree with the feeling of many Nigerians that the xenophobia had not been handled very well by the South African government and that South African government had not been able to tell their people that Nigeria is an ally? He answered: “We are telling them but you see it is a very complex matter.
Many people say we have a serious problem. It is an emotional matter; there are lots of Nigerians who have been living in South Africa for many years. Nigerians have not been attacked even once; because these people are just saying there is prostitution, young children are being taken into prostitution. There is a problem of tax and we have reported the matter to the police but the police have not done their job”. He explained that it was not a question of Nigerians being targeted, as the South African government does not want people to take the law into their hands.
“That is why I said no amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals. We are not supportive of it. You cannot take the law into your hands. And that is why the police fired rubber bullets and arrested some of these people; some were injured because they were trying to protect the foreign nationals.”
Advice to Nigerians
Mnguni had a parting word for Nigerians. “Sometimes Nigerians ask me: Ambassador, when I go to South Africa, what is expected of me? I say nothing much except that you respect the laws of our country, if you do that, then you will be okay. All we can say is that the government instructed the security life guards to ensure that these matters are resolved to the satisfaction of both South Africans and foreign nationals and we have deployed our security forces in those areas; yes of course you find that when you are looking this way, things can be happening in another direction. But we say also foreign nationals when they are in South Africa, they must respect the laws of the country and our Constitution, they must not engage in illegal activities especially things such as drugs and of course not taking young girls into prostitution.
“Our government is involved in establishing rehabilitation centres for those addicts because a lot of our young people, our youths that we regard as our future, are experiencing such things. We are appealing to the communities to help the police identify those people who are involved in this so that they can be arrested and of course be charged.
“And of course there are lots of people who have lived in South Africa for many years even before we got our independence and even now who are not experiencing challenges. But we will not condone these attacks on foreign nationals; nobody must take the law into his hands”.
And his last words should leave lasting impression: “Nigerians, like other Africans, are part of us, they are the people who shared our pains with us and they must be treated with respect. But we say also, let us not be opportunists, because sometimes, opportunists take advantage of whatever things that are of concern, for instance, the situation of violence.”