There is this uncomfortable feeling I have reading from the statements of the South African Consulate in Canada and the South African government concerning the xenophobic attacks on Africans in South Africa. It seems that the South African government is actually encouraging these attacks. Both the South African Consulate and South African government statements do not contain the word “Apology”. What both statements have done is to condemn the attacks and promise to repatriate those who want to return to their countries of origin. Isn’t this the reason for the attacks in the first place? The attacks were organized to intimidate Africans by killing “a few” so that “the many” would be forced to return to their home countries.
Repatriation is a synonym for deportation and bye- bye to your former host country. When a government helps to repatriate you to your country of origin, you no longer have any hope of ever coming back to that country, at least not legally.
Nigerians should not buy into this repatriation scheme. It is a planned government policy to get Nigerians out of South Africa, a convenient and ungrateful way to repay a colossal debt of gratitude. Nigerians should refuse to be repatriated. They must do all they can to remain in South Africa if they wish. The Nigerian government must not support or encourage the South African government to perpetrate this disgraceful evil on the entire black race.
In its recent statement the South African Consulate in Canada missed the opportunity to recognize the efforts of many African countries that contributed materially to the liberation of South Africa from Apartheid by naming some of those countries. In fact it should be clearly stated that without some countries like Nigeria there was no way South Africa would have secured its political independence when it did, no matter how high local Zulu people jumped and raised their sticks and arrows. The role of some African countries in the dismantling of Apartheid should form part of the History curriculum of South Africa which every Zulu teenager should be forced to study in order to graduate from High school. It should become an important requirement for their graduation since their current leaders have forgotten so fast of the sacrifices of other people that brought them to power which they are enjoying. Young South Africans should not for once assume that the fight for their freedom was solely achieved internally. Apartheid survived in South Africa for so long because of the inability of the indigenous people to confront it independently. It ended because of the mass campaign raised by many African people and I am compelled to briefly narrate part of that history here. Bear with me.
Until the 1960s, the African National Congress’s (ANC) fight against the Apartheid regime in South Africa was yielding very little results. The whole world was quite indifferent to the sufferings of black South Africans and the regime was still strongly supported by Western countries that provided technology transfer, intelligence and favourable trade agreements. Things started to change dramatically with the independence of African countries in the 1960s. The first leader to ever provide financial support to the ANC was Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Nigerian Prime Minister – the only Prime Minister in Nigerian history. From 1960 to 1995 Nigeria alone spent over $61 Billion dollars to support the end of Apartheid – more than any other country in the world, according to the South African Institute of International Affairs. During the struggle Nigerian citizens were asked to make tax-deductible donations to support the ANC. Students across Nigeria Universities and schools would sometimes forfeit their lunch to donate money to the ANC. Nigeria opened its elite secondary schools, Federal government colleges and Universities like Unilag, ABU, Universities of Ibadan, Nsukka, Ife and Benin to South Africans. Nigeria paid for many South Africans to be educated in Europe and North America. South Africans were unconditionally welcomed in all African countries. Even the current Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithin who is spearheading these recent attacks, was provided with Passport and financial aid by African governments to escape the apartheid regime and was exiled to St. Helena from 1968 – 1971.
In those days of South African struggle, Special Offerings were taken in many churches and Mosques to support this “All African Project”. South African cries and tears were Nigerian cries and tears. Characteristic of Nigerians, they were prepared to match to South Africa and physically fight for the liberation of their brothers and sisters. The liberation of South Africa was a task that Nigerians fully embraced and when it was achieved, Nigerians were even more elated and felt more liberated than the South Africans themselves.
We were all witnesses to these things and the role the Nigerian Government played in the South African struggle. In fact most of the current leaders of South Africa were domiciled in Nigeria during the struggle. Many of them benefited from the Nigerian Federal govt. scholarships at the time when many Nigerians were not even opportune to access these scholarships. Many South Africans were living and working like every other Nigerian in various parts of the country and nobody even called them foreigners. In fact they were recognized and treated with special interest where ever they lived and worked.
More importantly Nigerian musicians sang songs in the name and struggle of South Africa. We sang and danced to songs like “Papa’s Land”, Fire in Soweto, African Soldiers, Liberation etc. by Sonny Okosun .These songs brought the South African struggle to the door steps and living rooms of every Nigerian family. Sonny Okosun used his celebrity status and talent to drum into the ears of every Nigerian that the South African cause was a Nigerian cause. When Sunny Okosun visited Toronto in the early 90s all his shows were sold out and the audience was mostly Nigerians who came not necessarily because of the music, which of course was fantastic, but because the tour was organized – to raise fund and awareness to the South African cause. In fact some of us had hoped that South Africa would have awarded Sonny Okosun a medal of honour before he died. Nelson Mandela appreciated the contributions and roles Nigerians played when he was released from prison. But present day South Africans who probably are very ignorant of the sad history of their country have wiped away by these xenophobic attacks all the years of brotherhood that the sacrifices of their fellow Africans ensured.
Most Nigerians who went to South Africa immediately Apartheid ended did not go to establish any business. They went to set foot on this wicked apartheid country that has been liberated. They went to share in the glory of the conquest of oppression which they helped to achieve. Apartheid killed many Nigerians physically, psychologically, and emotionally and when it ended many Nigerians wanted to make a physical return to “Papa’s Land”. There was this special attachment many Nigerians had with South Africa which surpassed the quest for economic pursuit. When Sonny Okosun sang “Fire in Soweto, they are killing all my people”. “All my people” then was not limited to South Africans alone. All Africans identified with the deaths in Soweto as they identify with the victims of the current xenophobic attacks. After apartheid some Nigerians went with their money to spend in South Africa. Many South African Blacks did not have any money to spend in this newly liberated country. Many lived in the Townships and Ghettos – secluded from the developed areas of South Africa. It was the Nigerians who had money and the effrontery to confront the dreaded situations left by apartheid that penetrated into the economy of South Africa and opened doors for both indigene and visitor. There was no xenophobia then until Nigerians had established these businesses breaking every barrier. Now the “sons of the soil” have emerged, welding their sticks on the heads and limbs of their liberators just to cow them into leaving and abandoning their lucrative businesses. Foul! Nigerians are going nowhere. An Igbo proverb says: “If you kill your Native Doctor, those waiting to poison you are still available”.
Now many cynics will begin to assume that Nigerians contributed to these attacks by their “bad” behaviours in their host country. It is a lie. You don’t have to do anything offensive to attract the hatred and wrath of an oppressor. Africans did not offend anybody or contribute to their enslavement; neither did they invite the Europeans to colonize them. There is never a justification for a host to attack a visitor, or deport or repatriate them to a bridge head or threaten them with an unpleasant swim in the Lagoon. Evil is evil and should not be excused in any way. Blaming the victims will perpetuate and encourage the xenophobic killings and attacking visitors is not the best way to regulate immigration. People migrate for different reasons and many times money is the least consideration.
The South African attacks cannot be justified on the basis of poor or hard economic conditions of local South Africans. Most African people are even far worse in their own countries than the Zulus in South Africa, yet, they have not unleashed mayhem on their African brothers and sisters resident in their various countries.
Even when it became necessary that “Ghana Must Go”, ordinary Nigerians did not resort to physical attacks to achieve this objective. There is therefore no economic reason for the South African attacks.
Just recently the Nigerian government went to South Africa with more than $15million dollars to purchase arms. The South African government refused to sell and more annoyingly they seized the money up till today, all the explanations by the government of Nigeria notwithstanding. That was a very provocative action. The refusal to sell arms and seize the money had many diplomatic implications and consequences. It was an affront and a disdain treatment to the Nigerian government. In this disgraceful arms deal, the South African government was really laying the foundation for its citizens to start forgetting all the sacrifices Nigeria made to free them from apartheid.
Once the South African government severed the bond of brotherhood that binds our two countries together, it became easier for ordinary South Africans to emulate their government and deal with these “foreigners” in their midst. A government that does not respect the Nigerian government to the extent of seizing our money is definitely encouraging its citizens to do the same by destroying and looting their property. By seizing that money Nigeria lost both militarily and financially. By seizing that money Nigeria could not engage Boko Haram with full force. By seizing that money many more Nigerians were killed and displaced by Boko Haram. By seizing that money the Nigerian government was ridiculed for lack of will to confront Boko Haram. By seizing that money the President lost an important election, thanks to Boko Haram and to South Africa. Even a few white South African technical advisers who came to help the Nigerian army in the war against Boko Haram were exposed, sanctioned by the South African government and labeled “Mercenaries”.
Even if the youthful exuberance and ignorance of the Zulu people were to be accommodated, what excuse does the South African government many of who grew up in Nigeria and who have the full knowledge of their county’s history at their finger tips have for this betrayal of African brotherhood?
What can one tell the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithim whose kernel in exile was cracked by the benevolent goodwill of past African leaders who may be dead now, but who are watching these horrific xenophobic attacks. “Attention African Soldiers”.
Theo Nwaogu: BA,BED,MA,M.ED,PGD
Theo is a Political science teacher in Toronto Canada