by Tayo Ogunbiyi
The images were frightening and at the same time mind-boggling. If not for the credibility of the cable news platform where one was viewing the image, it would have been wished away for a make belief. But then, this is real and by no means a scene from any popular horror movie as fierce looking men with murderous instinct surrounded a hapless man. With the precision of a mad lion ready to tear its prey into pieces, these vicious looking men, clutching various objects, pounced upon the ill-fated man hitting him hard on every part of his body. Intermittently, the unlucky man tried to make an attempt to resist his attackers until he lost every strength in him. By now, he had resigned himself to fate as he lay down with blood gushing out of his body like water from a running tap. He was vulnerable and helpless.
Welcome to the horror world of xenophobic South Africans! In the colonial era, it was normal to see whites brutalizing and oppressing blacks as epitomized by the atrocious Trans Atlantic slave trade. Colonialism has since ended in Africa and Africans could walk freely in their continent. But then, the chilling news from the rainbow nation, the country of the Madiba himself, has made nonsense of this hypothesis of freedom for Africans in Africa. In South Africa, the equation has changed. Brothers are now killing brothers. The hapless man in the scene described above is a Zimbabwean immigrant living in South Africa. The ferocious men who attacked and dealt mercilessly with him, to the point of death, are chauvinistic South Africans, who have been on rampage, pouncing on African immigrants living in their nation.
What complicates the whole matter, giving it a rather dangerous dimension, is what could be termed as the complicity of some South African security personnel. In the ugly scene described above, it is amazing to observe that all the security personnel that were around simply chose to look the other way while the humiliation and dehumanization of the poor Zimbabwean immigrant lasted. It is quite curious that he received no help from the law enforcement officers whose primary duty was to protect him from the deadly grip of the savage and barbaric South African xenophobic monsters. Could the indifference of these South African security personnel be considered as official approval of the dastardly acts of the heartless and crude South Africans?
Although the South African government has vowed to crack down on xenophobic violence, only a few would actually believe the sincerity of this declaration. Just a few days ago, South African President, Jacob Zuma, visited a refugee camp in the port city of Durban after a fresh outbreak of anti-foreigner violence. While at the camp, Mr. Zuma told those who had fled the violence that it went against South African values and that he would bring it to an end. But, rather than applauding Mr. Zuma for this statement, he was jeered by some in the crowd who accused him of acting too slowly, just like his country’s security personnel.
Conservatively, more than 1,500 people have been displaced after violence against foreign nationals flared up in the country’s coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal, whose capital is Durban. The attacks soon spread inland to the country’s financial hub, Johannesburg, in Gauteng province. From official reports, the death toll in the latest wave of attacks on foreign nationals in the country has risen to twelve. This, perhaps, explains why the crowd did not take Zuma’s assurance to bring the situation to an end seriously.
Victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa are from various African nations, including Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Somalia and Ethiopia. As it is usually the case with such predicaments, the victims are already counting their losses. According to Nigerian Consul-General, Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke, the loss by Nigerians included looted shops, burnt shops, two burnt mechanic workshops, 11 burnt cars and two stolen cars, among others. Okeke further revealed that Nigerians have compiled damages to their property and it is totaling about 1.2 million Rand or N21 million. Similarly, shops and homes owned by Somalis, Ethiopians, Malawians and other immigrants in Durban and surrounding townships have been razed, forcing families to flee for safety.
The genesis of this current crisis could be traced to the issue of migrants, mostly from other African states and Asia, who have moved to South Africa in huge numbers since white-minority rule was terminated in 1994. Many South Africans have accused these immigrants of taking the available jobs in a country where the unemployment rate is 24%. Indeed, many have accused Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, of using the unemployment situation to spur his people against foreigners when he said at a recent gathering that foreigners “should pack their bags and go” because they are taking jobs from citizens. Shortly after his comments, violence against immigrants erupted in the port city of Durban.
Sadly, the king’s comment and the violent reactions that followed it are contrary to the African spirit of brotherliness and hospitality. They are also contrary to the spirit behind the formation of the African Union, AU, which encourages freedom of movement and other related activities among African nations. According to the vision of the founding fathers of the AU, Africans should be able to seek legitimate livelihood anywhere in the continent.
Many analysts have claimed that the xenophobic attacks in South Africa are a reflection of the crisis of governance in Africa as reflected by the worsening poverty and unemployment rate in the continent. In Africa, the practicality of poverty is quite frightening as most Africans live on less than a dollar income per day. Perhaps more niggling is that, with 34 out of a total of 49, African countries account for a greater proportion of the Least Developed Countries, LDCs, in the world.
This, perhaps, explains why poverty indicators such as extreme hunger, malnourishment, homelessness, diseases, high crime rate, slums, lack of opportunities, low productivity and illiteracy are higher in the continent. The African poverty situation is further compounded by the failure of governments across the continent to properly harness human, natural and material resources for the common good of all.
Though the poverty and unemployment situation in the continent should not be an excuse to justify the evil being perpetrated in South Africa, it is, nevertheless, a clarion call for African governments to tackle poverty. For instance, if there are enough opportunities for gainful employment in our country, most Nigerians that are being traumatized in South Africa and, indeed other nations across the world, would certainly have stayed at home to eke out a living. After all, it is often said that there is no place like home.
Meanwhile, the AU should prevail on the South African government to take immediate measures to protect and safeguard the lives and properties of African migrants and, indeed, all nationals resident in South Africa and ensure that real compensations are paid to the families of all who lost their family members and relations and also for the loss of properties.
The whole of Africa rose up against apartheid regime in South Africa. The South African government, therefore, has a moral responsibility to protect all Africans living on its soil.
– Tayo Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit Ministry of Information & Strategy, Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.