South Africa has a reputation for being hostile to foreigners, immigrants and pretty much everyone who is not South African that has dared to set foot in their beloved country. I am especially cognizant of their hatred for Nigerians. Nigerians are usually discriminated against and attacked by everyone from S.A immigration and nationals.Nigerians and other immigrants are blamed for unemployment and all the crime carried out in the country. I don’t know if it is the Xenophobia that incited these perceptions or if these perceptions created the Xenophobia. Accompanying the general hatred for Nigerians is a simultaneous love for Nigerian men by South African women. Unfortunately South African women married to Nigerian men are tainted by association and are not spared the mistreatment. The women have had to start a support group-United Nigerian Wives in South Africa (UNWISA). They occasionally protest for the to live with their husbands in peace.
In the past week, things boiled over when South Africans in Durban went on a Xenophobic rampage and started attacking foreigners. Not all foreigners though, just the Black African ones. Their businesses were looted, they were savagely attacked and kicked out of their residences. A lot of the displaced foreigners are now living in police stations. These attacks led to the hashtags “#Xenophobia, #XenophobiaSA”.
This is not the first time this has happened either. Apparently, these recent attacks started when a Zulu king allegedly made a comment about foreigners packing their things and leaving the country.The king has claimed that he did not say that, but it is too late. Foreigners in Johannesburg and other cities have taken precautionary measures by closing down their shops. Even though they are not physical participants in the carnage, a number of regular South Africans share the same sentiments.
As Black Africans, we face a lot degradation and discrimination from other parts of the world. It sucks to be attacked by anyone, but when it comes from a fellow black African, it is shocking and hurtful beyond words. Especially if those Black Africans are South Africans, who the whole continent came together to help during the horrible Apartheid period.
During the apartheid, Nigerians and other Africans contributed immensely to assisting Black South Africans gain their independence and freedom. Black South Africans were only too glad to accept that help. Nigerians weren’t smelly then, when public officers donated 5% of their salaries to the anti apartheid cause. South Africans were happy to accept the apartheid levy that Nigerian students had to pay to support the ANC and to provide an education for black South Africans. The Nigerian government spent billions of dollars in the fight and even issued South Africans with Nigerian passports to enable them travel. Amongst other things, Nigeria led a boycott of the 1978 elections in a protest against apartheid. Fast forward some years later, apartheid is over and suddenly South Africans are at the top of the totem pole and everyone else is scum unworthy of their attention. This amnesia from South Africans is saddening and maddening in equal measure.
I am not saying that South Africa owes us because of the help they received. My point is that everyone needs help sometimes and we should be willing to help each other. It is foul for South Africa to treat people in such an awful manner when it has received such ill treatment in the past and knows how it burns. Today South Africans may be living relatively well, tomorrow they could be back to needing help. Life is very uncertain and it is unwise to be so unkind. Even citizens of countries that did not help South Africa during apartheid do not deserve to be treated that way.
I like to be objective. I usually try to understand the point of view of citizens of a country that has become home to a lot of immigrants. Usually this country is England. I try to put myself in their place and understand their anger, but try as I might, I cannot accept the brutality meted out. Yes, it may be annoying seeing your country overrun with foreigners who perhaps do not make an effort to integrate into the existing culture. However, violence is not the answer, and will only lead to more problems if left unchecked.
As per the norm, the attackers are justifying the attacks by saying that these other Black Africans are stealing all their jobs. This is the same old score people have against immigrants. I have come to realise that it is a bullshit excuse. South Africa could get rid of all its African migrants and the lives of the Black South African attackers would still not improve.
In 1972, Ugandan president Idi Amin expelled all Asians, mostly Indians, from Uganda, accusing them of corruption. The influence of the Asians was pervasive, they dominated the trade industry and employed a lot of Ugandans. A lot of Ugandans were pleased with this decision, excited to finally be in charge of the economy. The businesses of the Asians were handed over to the Ugandans who had no idea what to do with them and proceeded to run them into the ground.
In 1983, The Nigerian government expelled all Ghanaians, based on the same tired accusation of Job stealing and committing crime. Nigeria had been going through its oil boom and Ghanaians were facing difficulties back home, so they had flocked to Nigeria. Some years later, oil prices were down and who was to blame for unemployment? The Ghanaians of course. Always blame the foreigners.
It seems that when a country has attained a high level of development and economic success, it develops a big head and begins to treat others like rubbish. The foreigners are then blamed for all negative occurrences.
Saying that a foreigner who started a thriving business in your country has stolen your chance at success is ridiculous. If you could succeed in that business, you would have already done that. What is stopping you from starting up your own business, seeing as you have a home advantage?
Here is a statement by the South African business minister Lindiwe Zulu:
“Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. A platform is needed for business owners to communicate and share ideas. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners,“
And there you have it. Ms. Zulu wants foreigners to stop being so stingy and share their secrets with the locals. Why stop there? Why don’t the foreigners run the businesses for the local business owners? Ms. Zulu goes on to say that Black South Africans have little business acumen because they were left out during apartheid.
The simple fact is that these people are jealous. The allegations of crime and job appropriation is just a cover, an excuse to loot businesses and to attack people who really have not done anything wrong. They see immigrants who may have come from impoverished backgrounds come into their beloved country and make it, while their lazy asses is waiting for something to be handed to you.
There are so many South African business thriving peacefully in Nigeria. So many foreigners, South Africans included, living happily in a status far above that they would have been accorded in their home countries. Yet we are never accorded that respect anywhere.
It just makes me so sad and angry. Why must we do this to each other? It is bad enough that we are not always treated nicely by other races, but to be persecuted by your own people is unbearable.
“GO back to Africa” they say; and when you do, your fellow Africans yell “Go back to your country.” It’s madness.
These photos were shared on twitter by Jeremy Weate who claims they are from a letter circulating in South Africa.
Some countries have already started evacuating their citizens from South Africa. I wonder if this madness will ever come to an end, or if the xenophobia will just go on and even get worse. I hope a way is found to peacefully resolve these issues. Nobody deserves to be treated with such hostility.
Check out a collection of first hand accounts from those who have experienced Xenophobia in South Africa here http://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2015/xenophobiasouthafrica/index.html