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Devil in South Africa Featured

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Shocking pictures and videos detailing the amount of barbarism unleashed by South Africans on their fellow brothers and sisters from the same continent in utter disregard of Madiba's words of wisdom above flooded the media in April. This incidence made not only Africa but the world at large tremble.

Nevertheless, Africa was shocked the most. What keeps happening in South Africa in a form of xenophobic attacks is uncalled for and definitely uncivilized in every sense of the word.

While violent conflict on the African continent is not a fresh development, the kind seen in South Africa repeatedly has a whole, different and annoying dimension, and propels thoughts with different perception of Africanism. In Nigeria particularly and across the 'Dark Continent', a feeling of brotherhood by virtue of African heritage is an attitude instilled in us by the exemplary past leaders. Late Gen. Murtala Mohammed was among the front liners in liberating South Africans from all sorts of inhumane treatment that was characterized by apartheid.

Conflicts in Africa generally take religious dimension such as those seen in Nigerian states of Plateau, Kano and Kaduna. In Central Africa, ethnic issues lead to clashes as witnessed almost all over the continent and particularly in South Sudan. Sometimes politically motivated crises are also seen throughout the continent. These are the norms when it comes to conflict in Africa, but xenophobia or 'Afro-phobia' as a South African termed it, away from the South African cities and villages, is such an uncommon occurrence in Africa.

The recent attacks on foreigners in South Africa was not the only  one in the history of the former apartheid country, but the one that unfortunately involved Nigerians in April of this year seemed to pronounce to the whole world that primordial attitude toward strangers is not leaving the country so soon.

Crowds started setting immigrants' businesses ablaze as attacks against foreigners spread from Durban to Johannesburg. Chanting and singing, machete-armed residents burned down shops owned by foreigners, including a Nigerian dealership in the nation's largest city - Johannesburg.

Violence targeting immigrants' shops started recently in the port city of Durban in early April. Residents have accused African immigrants of taking their jobs and committing crimes. The unemployment rate in South Africa is 25%, according to government figures, and the unemployed youths have been showing signs of becoming violent even before the April attacks.

Among the reasons South Africans give to flush immigrants out of the country by the sharpness of their machetes is that immigrants commit crimes in the country. President Zuma tends to tacitly agree with that by saying, "While some foreign nationals have been arrested for various crimes, it is misleading and wrong to label or regard all foreign nationals as being involved in crime in the country."  Jean-Pierre Lukamba, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo said, "They are using us as scapegoats. Every day, immigrants are living in this fire. It's not just attacks. It's institutionalized xenophobia. The government must do something. Those people aren't just mad for no reason. They want electricity, they want jobs, and they want water. They don't understand the history of Africa, this is perhaps the spine of it all.”

Perhaps this is what Nigerians find more relevant in the unfortunate incidence in South Africa – ignorance. Nigerians are proud that they were friends to the apartheid South Africa and went through a lot to help those affected out of it. President Zuma's comments were not reassuring at all, and at this point it feels like everyone (including the president) wants these unfortunate immigrants to leave for their home countries. Could it be that their leaving is the primary goal in the first place? Immigration concerns in South Africa have contributed to this suspicion. The government recently clamped down on immigration into the country, with work permits for foreign university staff not renewed and a refusal of visas for family members visiting foreign workers there. Xenophobia in South Africa appears to be more than gang craziness. Immigrants also accuse police of not doing enough to protect them as they were attacked and their businesses smoldered. What is not right in South Africa?

According to a 1998 Human Rights Watch report, immigrants from Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique living in the Alexandra township were "physically assaulted over a period of several weeks in January 1995, as armed Bantu gangs (the same people that carried out the April 2015 attacks) identified suspected undocumented migrants and marched them to the police station in an attempt to 'clean' the township of foreigners." The campaign, known as "Buyelekhaya" (go back home), blamed foreigners for crime, unemployment and sexual attacks. At some point even AIDS pandemic in South Africa was blamed on the foreigners.

A 2004 study based on a citizen survey across member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) found that Bantu South Africans expressed the harshest anti-foreigner sentiments, with 21% of South Africans in favour of a complete ban on entry by foreigners and 64% in favour of strict limitations on the numbers allowed. By contrast, the next-highest proportions of respondents in favour of a total ban on foreigners were in neighboring Namibia and Botswana, at 10%. Another study in the same year by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) of attitudes among Bantu police officers in the Johannesburg area, found that 87% of respondents believed that most undocumented immigrants in Johannesburg are involved in crime. This could be seen as a sign of bottled-up xenophobia within the police and the society that have been brewing in that region a long time ago.

On 30th May, 2013, 25-year-old Abdi Nasir Mahmoud Good was stoned to death. The violence was captured on a mobile phone and shared on the internet.

A report, 'Towards Tolerance, Law and Dignity: Addressing Violence against Foreign Nationals in South Africa' commissioned by the International Organization for Migration, found that poor service delivery or an influx of foreigners may have played a contributing role to the growing xenophobia in the country, but blame has also been placed on township politics for the attacks led by the people.

These past attacks were allegedly sparked by community leaders and this one was not different. Local media outlets say violence flared up in Isipingo, near Durban, after comments made by Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, who said in a speech that foreigners are not welcome and must leave South Africa. Migrant workers from other African countries are seen by many as a threat to social and economic prosperity in a country where 54 percent of the population live on the poverty line, according to the World Bank. 

Though this is the first time Nigerians in South Africa are officially affected by the Bantu xenophobic attacks in the country, it enrages Nigeria to the extent that many want to stop patronizing any South African business here in Nigeria, if the South African government doesn't do something worthwhile on the condition of Nigerians attacked in its country. President Jacob Zuma did not help matters with his comment that he doesn't think South Africans are xenophobic, and that if they were, there wouldn't be so many foreign nationals living in the country. He echoed comments made by Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, who said the attacks are Afro phobic. “It is African-on-African. It is not on other nationalities,” he said. There surely has never been anything like 'Afro phobia' in Nigeria, that's why Nigerians alongside other nationals from other countries whose brothers and sisters were affected by the devilish dance of South Africa could not understand this reasoning, and want nothing but the safety of their fellows countrymen.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” …Nelson Mandela

Bashir Kabir

Bashir Kabir, a graduate of B.Sc. Physics from Bayero University, Kano (BUK) is an occupational artist, graphist and writer by choice. Married and residing in Kano state, speaks English and Hausa fluently and also communicate in Arabic and French effectively. Reading, writing, creating and designing stuffs have never been a problem to him.