By Douglas Anele
Last week, our discussion centred on the fall out of jealousy and resentment by some South Africans against fellow Africans living in their country. It is important to continue the discussions because of the complex aetiology of the sad events, which necessitates detailed analysis so that the causes and possible solutions can be articulated with clarity and depth. As I was saying, when a Caucasoid or white man verbally abuses, attacks or oppresses a black person, the former is rightly condemned for being racist. But when we are confronted with black-on-black violence like the recent Afrophobic attacks in South Africa, the problem assumes a more worrisome dimension; it also raises the question of what has happened to the communitarian spirit or orientation dominant in traditional African societies.
I have already alluded to Julius Nyerere’s concept of Ujamaa, a version of African socialism, humanism or brotherhood rooted in traditional cultures. African philosophers such as L.S. Senghor, K.C. Anyanwu, E.A. Ruch, C.S Momoh, S.B. Oluwole and others have in their writings celebrated the African spirit of solidarity which they claimed was the source of tolerance and peaceful co-existence in autochthonous African societies, based on the metaphysics of mutually interacting forces. In other words, Africans in the traditional setting believed in the reality of interlocking hierarchical spiritual forces that make them feel connected existentially and deeply with one another and strengthen the bonds of brotherhood to the degree unmatched by the individualistic atomistic weltanschauung lifeworld dominant in Western culture. Now, aside from the obvious exaggeration in the romanticisation of traditional living in pristine Africa and in the depiction of Western culture by these African philosophers, it must be pointed out that culture is dynamic and, as a result, the communalistic tenor of traditional African societies is gradually withering away and is being supplanted by a complicated blend of African and Western mode of living. As a matter of fact, given that capitalism with its associated individualism is the dominant economic system in the world presently,
Western lifestyles are replacing traditional African patterns of life at an accelerating pace, which means that contemporary Africans caught in the web of globalisation no longer feel the sense of brotherhood and solidarity prevalent in pre-colonial African communities. It is interesting to observe that, as an increasing number of African scholars are now using the Zulu concept of ubuntu (‘humanity’ or ‘I am because we are’) as an attractive ideology to showcase Africa’s version of humanism or universal brotherhood, South Africans who actually own the concept are not interested in practising it. Let us be clear on this: it is one thing to write papers extolling the humanistic philosophy of traditional African communities; it is a different thing altogether if the people themselves are not living according to its tenets. As things stand now, some erstwhile colonial powers, despite the sordid history of their interactions with Africa especially during the colonial era have been more helpful than African countries to Africans. In this connection, South Africans have failed their brothers and sisters from other African countries. So, the recent attacks provide an opportunity for Africans, beginning with members of the ruling elite, to engage in a critical examination of what it means to be “an African,” and come up with pragmatic ideas on how to build on the positive aspects of African culture to recapture the sense of brotherhood and solidarity so eloquently and competently formulated by Nyerere and others.
For Nigerians, the recent attacks are very traumatic because they were among the worst affected and considering the leading role Nigeria played in the struggle against Apartheid. Although criminality and showy exhibitionism by a handful of foolish Nigerians because they were more successful than their South African rivals in romantic affairs, business and jobs might have infuriated the latter and motivated then to take laws into their own hands, one must consider the psychology of entitlement and resentment as the prime mover of the recent violence. As I adumbrated earlier, after the collapse of Apartheid and power shift to the majority black population with Nelson Mandela as President under the aegis of the African National Congress (ANC), millions of poor and jobless black South Africans expected rapid improvement in their living conditions within a few years. Unfortunately, their hyperbolic expectations have turned out to be largely illusory up to this time, and their pent-up feeling of discontent just needed a trigger to explode. That trigger was lubricated by statements from some prominent South Africans which tended to cast aspersions on foreigners and criminals as the root cause of the social and economic problems in their country. For instance, the police minister, Bheki Cele, blamed the attacks on “criminal elements that are taking advantage of a volatile situation,” whereas his counterpart in the ministry of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor, while granting an interview to eNCA, a South African news platform, stated that his compatriots believe that Nigerians are harming their youths. According to Pandor, “I would appreciate the [security agencies] helping us as well to address the belief our people have and the reality that there are many persons from Nigeria dealing in drugs in our country.” The most disturbing and disappointing reaction in my view came from Thabo Mbeki, former President of South Africa, a man who, like Mandela, enjoyed Nigeria’s hospitality during the anti-Apartheid struggle. In Mbeki’s opinion, “The truth of the matter is that there are Nigerian criminals who are involved in drug dealing, and that’s true. There are Nigerian criminals who are involved in prostitution, and that’s true. And you will find, like this incident now, it was against criminals, not Nigerians.” Media reports also detail how several deceitful South African politicians accuse foreigners of taking jobs that ought to be for South Africans, without mentioning the fact that the foreigners in questions were hired because they possess the necessary qualifications. Now, the point has been made in the previous essay that any argument which blames the Afrophobic violence on foreign criminal elements is an admission that South Africa’s law enforcement and justice system has failed. Of course, every country has laws to deal with offences of all kinds, including illegal migration, irrespective of who is involved. Failure to enforce existing laws can never justify “justice” by the mob.
Expectedly, several prominent South Africans, including the President, Cyril Ramaphosa, have condemned the violence. There are reports that some South Africans have also apologised and staged protest marches condemning the shameful behaviour of their compatriots. That is good. However, beyond the symbolic gesture of apologies and public marches, right-thinking South Africans must support the call for appropriate compensation of the victims and prosecution of those involved in the violence. There is no doubt that sporadic attacks in any African country against African migrants is an index of incompetence and mediocrity which appears to be the stock-in-trade of Africa’s ruling class. Thus, what happened in South Africa indicates the crisis of leadership in that country. But the failure is not restricted to South Africa alone; it is also an index of leadership failure in the African countries from where the migrants came in the first place. Zimbabwe and Nigeria are two good examples in this respect. Bulimic corruption, incompetence, plain stupidity and wickedness among the people in power have fuelled unprecedented migration from these two countries to South Africa. In Zimbabwe, the late sit-tight maximum leader, Robert Mugabe, mismanaged the country so much through malignant corruption, high-handedness and radioactive economic policies to the extent that the country’s economy collapsed completely, which brought unprecedented hardship upon his people. In the case of Nigeria, a similar situation obtains, except that there has been, since 1981 when Mugabe assumed leadership of Zimbabwe, a succession of mediocre military dictatorships and civilian administrations that terribly mismanaged the country’s resources and created an oasis of obscene wealth among a small military cum civilian elite in the midst of debilitating poverty and hopelessness. Therefore, the influx of people into South Africa is the result of expanding concentric circles of wasteful mediocre leadership in the countries concerned. There is no doubt that increased migration from other African countries to South Africa has exacerbated the economic and unemployment crises in that country by putting pressure on available resources. But scapegoating and attacking fellow Africans is not the solution.