By Owei Lakemfa
AFTER another round of shedding the blood of fellow Africans in the streets of South Africa, Nigerian officials met their Pretoria counterparts this week for another post-mortem. They met under the shadows of a possible move by South Africa against immigrants from other Black nations.
The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geofrey Onyeama gave the South African Government a certificate of cleanliness. He exonerated the South African authorities of complicity in the attacks, declaring that: “this was not state-sponsored and (the) South African Government always condemned this, and it was very often the action of a small minority, a small criminal minority.”
I agree with this analysis, but the reaction of the South African authorities to these attacks often does not lead one to the conclusion that they can truly be exonerated. I think the South African Government is careful in its reaction to the concerns of the Nigerian Government, not so much because they respect it more than the governments of their neigbours. The primary reason is because it does not want to jeopardise the huge investment of South African companies like MTN, DSTV and Shoprite in Nigeria.
I expected the renewed xenophobic attacks after listening to South African President, Jacob Zuma’s April 27, 2015 response to another of the bloody attacks. Speaking at the Freedom Day Rally at the Union Building in Pretoria, Zuma, while officially condemning the attacks, made excuses for the criminal acts and even blamed the victims. In claiming that the mother countries of the victims were complicit, he said: “Our brother countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries? It is not useful to criticise South Africa as if we mushroom these foreign nationals and then ill-treat them.” He then went on the attack; “Everybody criticises South Africa as if we have manufactured the problem. Even if people who are xenophobic are a minority, but what prompts these refugees to be in South Africa?” He accused the victims of taking “the trouble to jump all the countries and come to South Africa.”
While appearing to be condemning the attacks, he made a case justifying the claimed motives: “We have noted the complaints raised by South Africans and these will be attended to. These complaints include that the number of illegal and undocumented migrants is increasing.” “There are also complaints that foreign nationals benefit from free government services and that they run businesses illegally. There is also an accusation that undocumented foreign nationals commit crime in the country”
The first indication that a government is serious about checking these attacks, is bringing some of the criminals to book and compensating the victims. These have not been done even when some of the main instigators including a prominent traditional ruler, are known. Secondly, the South African Government’s decision to gate out refuges is also an indication that it accepts the mob thinking that African migrants are taking local jobs and running a crime industry.
Zuma said his government had taken measures to ensure that neigbours were screened off South Africa: “Government has already announced measures to improve security at the border posts including deploying the army in seven provinces recently to patrol border posts. We cannot leave our borders open and hope that either angels and ancestors are guarding our borders. They will never.”
The neigbours affected and whose citizens are being attacked, are primarily those who were victims of the vicious Apartheid Regime. With South Africa’s immigration policy, what can Lesotho do when it is entirely surrounded by South Africa? Swaziland has only South Africa and Mozambique as neighbours; it suffered under Apartheid. With some Swazis also being indigenous South Africans, a people are being pushed into violent separation.
For the liberation of South Africa, Mozambique staked its life, and its charismatic President Samora Machel made the supreme sacrifice when his aircraft crashed in Apartheid South Africa. Zambia was bombed times over and its economy and security compromised due to its long, unrelenting and sustained support for the liberation movement in Southern Africa. The Angolans, supported by the Cubans, shed the blood of their youths to militarily defeat the apartheid military, forcing the regime to immediately grant Namibia independence, and ultimately, South Africa itself.
Perhaps the unkindest cut is reserved for Zimbabweans who fought alongside the liberation fighters of South Africa. Along with Nigerians, they are subjected to the most vicious attacks, yet a huge population of Zimbabwe, the Ndebeles, are Zulus who migrated from South Africa. Also, the Shona, the most populous nationality in Zimbabwe, also spread into South Africa as an indigenous population.
It is said that one’s immediate neigbours are his immediate security, but not so for the South African Government that seems to be taking on all its neigbours.
Yet the main argument of Zuma and the South African protesters that African immigrants are taking the jobs of South Africans, and might by extension, are responsible for mass unemployment, is untenable. I base my arguments on Zuma’s February 2017 State of the Nation Address.
Whereas when the whites seized the lands by 1936, they left only 13.5 percent of the lands to blacks, by this year, that is 23 years after independence, the blacks have only 9.8 percent of the lands. The whites, not immigrants have absolute control of the South African economy; Zuma lamented that only 10 percent of the top 100 companies in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are black-owned while 72 percent of the top management positions in the country, are occupied by whites. So if whites own the businesses including the mines, run management, own the lands and the economy, how do you blame poor African immigrants for the state of the black South Africans?
The South African Government by its actions and its feeble response to the attacks, is wrecking regional and continental integration in Africa. It is destroying the brotherhood African leaders created. It is safer to be a white man in South Africa than to be an African immigrant or visitor.
The ruling African National Congress, ANC, which should be the light of the country, is playing politics with the people and Africans. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the creator of Afro Beat who made unquantifiable contributions to the war against Apartheid, once called Nigeria a Big, Blind Country, BBC. Regrettably, that is what the Zuma administration has turned South Africa into.
Kwame Nkrumah dreamt of a free Africa which will be home to all black people: “All people of African descent, whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any part of the world are Africans and belong to the African nation.” This is what the Zuma administration endangers. Despite this, we must not stop being our brother’s keeper.