Frank & Fair

September 7, 2019

South Africa’s xenophobia: A gathering of many demons

south africa, Nigerian

File: Xenophobia

By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

South Africa has a social problem. Many demons have gathered. The black population suffered untold hardship during the apartheid days. They longed for freedom. They were told  democracy would bring dignity and prosperity. Apartheid was abolished.

File: Xenophobia

Power fell into the hands of ANC and the blacks. Arrival of freedom was announced. But neither prosperity nor human dignity has been seen in the black communities . And it’s been 25 years.

There is no justification for the violence against Nigerians and other African nationals in South Africa. There is no justification for xenophobia. There can be no justification for black on black violence. But the social tensions that have led to xenophobic flares are unlikely to disappear any time soon. The demons that have gathered have to be dispersed first.

Wealth has remained in the hands of the whites. Land that was seized from blacks have not been redistributed. Swathes of black lands are filled with ambitious but idle jobless youths. Nothing has been done to definitively integrate black south Africans, who were excluded for a whole century, into the economic mainstream.

(UPDATED): Xenophobic attack: Telecom, MTN workers beg Nigerians against reprisal attacks(Opens in a new browser tab)

The poverty that belonged  to the black communities of the apartheid era has remained and worsened. Pervasive corruption in governance has not allowed efficient use of public resources. The confidence of the public in the government has not been helped by tales of government capture and economic mismanagement.

This has left a toxic mix of dashed hopes, frustration, anger and hunger on the streets. There is no justification for xenophobia, and none for any black on black violence but these volcanic emissions have to be understood to be solved.

The problems of  exclusion and poverty on the streets of black  South Africa have been compounded by the gradual crumbling of sub Saharan African nations. Zimbabwe is in tatters. Zambia is sick. Mozambique and Malawi are punch drunk. Nigeria hasn’t found its giant  feet. Africans have become economic refugees. Their preferred destination is the West. But for many anywhere outside their home countries would do.

South Africa has had to absorb many African nationals. Many of these youths come with hunger and  bare hands. The impact has been a proliferation of black job seekers at the bottom; at the bottom where disillusionment  has already taken a firm position.

With more idle hands and more desperate minds  have come criminality. Whole sections of the underworld in South Africa are now run by Nigerians , Tanzanians, Ethiopians etc.  It can’t be denied. And there is no where in the world where locals would welcome such a development. Foreign African nationals have contributed massively, disproportionately,  to drugs trafficking, gun running, gangsterism and general social nuisance in South Africa.

It is true that the actual impoverishment of black South Africans cannot be blamed on other Africans. It is not Nigerians and Malawians that seized the lands and  appropriated the mines, and stole the opportunities.  It is not Nigerians and Zambians that dominate the finance, mining, agricultural, educational, law and order,  and media industries of South Africa to the detriment of the black majority in South Africa. It is the  descendants of Europeans and Indians that  are in control. The Nigerians and Tanzanians are in there only for the crumbs. But that is the problem.

The fight for the crumbs is often the ugliest, the most ruthless.

The average angry disillusioned black  South African doesn’t see the rich son of the Indian immigrant everyday. He sees the loud  Nigerian who lives next door . The corruption of the white European immigrant could cost him billions in rands but it doesn’t stare at him. He sees Nigerian drug dealers reveling at night clubs, thumping noses at him, telling him that he is lazy. Everyday he sees Idle Zimbabweans loitering in the alleys of the backwaters of Johannesburg.

He is bound to become apoplectic someday. It could be the day he hears that Nigerian gangs made people abandon their cars and run  while they slaughtered themselves on the street. Or it could be the day he hears that Tanzanians are selling narcotics to school children in the school he once attended.

There is a social fact. The street is soaked with anger  against other African nationals. When that  South African minister for police affairs spoke, he actually incited the public. And he should be punished. But it must be understood he spoke the minds of the majority of South African youths. And what wasn’t said by the minister could be seen from the attitude of the South African police. In many places they just stood and watched  while protesters looted shops of African nationals.

Xenophobic attacks: Ex-Zambian president Kaunda calls for end(Opens in a new browser tab)

There is deep-seated frustration and it’s widespread. Many black African nationals in South Africa live decently. But those who have taken to criminality and nuisance are enough to cause public outrage. Nothing is being exaggerated. The anger of the locals is being channelled wrongly. It should be channelled to their police and immigration services. They should use their votes well.

Black South Africans feel that the other foreign African nationals have come to destroy their country after fleeing their native countries which they have ruined. They are not to blame for being emotional. But neither morality nor law permits them this their new-found penchant for easy recourse to violence.

There is no justification for Xenophobia. And none for violence on innocent people. But any hopes that the upheavals in South Africa will not recur  is perhaps misplaced.  Speeches alone won’t work. The  social tensions that birthed them must be understood and resolved first.

The demons  that have congregated must be dislodged.

The South African government must bring the violence to an immediate end by firm law and order protocols. After arresting and prosecuting vandals, the government  attempt to assuage the local population. It must check criminality amongst foreign nationals. Foreign  criminal gangs must be crushed. Then it  must teach and re orientate young South Africans. African nationals are their  brothers, not rivals or enemies.  But it won’t end there.

It must begin comprehensive social engineering of the country. The economic exclusion that apartheid constructed must be dismantled.