Xenophobia is the new racism in Africa.
This is a near-valid statement as this can be assessed in the recent spate of xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa, specifically parts of the administrative capital: Pretoria.
Xenophobia is defined by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) as, “attitudes, prejudices, and behavior that rejects, exclude and often vilify persons, based on the perception that they are outsiders or foreigners to the community, society, or national identity.”
In other words, xenophobia can be linked to new racism which is based on the discriminatory treatment of the ‘other’, on the basis of the other’s national origin or ethnicity. Xenophobia literally means fear of foreigners (strangers); originated from two Greek words: ‘Xenos’ meaning stranger, foreigner and ‘phobos’ meaning fear. There are past cases to this subtle attitude of South Africans to their ‘fellow brothers’.
In December 1994, and again in January 1995, armed youths in Alexandra Township ( a farming town in Eastern Cape Province) carried out attacks against illegal aliens – destroying homes and property and marching suspected men to a local police station demanding their immediate and forcible removal. Also, in May 2008, xenophobic attacks took place in locales across South Africa.
More than sixteen thousand people including Nigerians living in Guateng (commercial and industrial province of Johannesburg & Pretoria) alone were forced to find alternative accommodation. It is disheartening to know that the violence, was to a great extent carried out against migrants from other African countries, especially Nigerians and not all foreigners in general. I beg to ask, Where is the spirit of 21-century Pan-Africa?
A recent attack started on Tuesday, 21 February in Pretoria West. According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mr. Ikechukwu Anyene, President, Nigeria Union South Africa (NUSA), in a telephone call from Pretoria confirmed attacks on members and looting of Nigerian-owned businesses in Pretoria West on Saturday.
In his words, “As we speak, five buildings with Nigerian businesses, have been looted and burned by South Africans. One of this was an auto-mechanic garage with 28 cars under repairs, with other vital documents, were burned down. This attack in Pretoria West is purely xenophobic and criminal because they loot shops and homes before burning.” He said the union had reported the incident to the Nigeria mission and the SAPS (South African Police Service)
The rising cases of xenophobia in South Africa is an urgent problem rooted in high rate of unemployment ( about 30% as at 2003) and mounting poverty. Honestly, this can engender a xenophobic attitude in its citizens. I believe that Xenophobic attacks by South Africans against Nigerians are borne out of the fear of entrepreneurial ambition of the latter and their alleged tendency to dominate a given environment. There is a growing socioeconomic frustration among that results in the belief of foreigners stealing their jobs.
There has also been a failure of Government to provide quality service delivery for blacks in several parts of SA. This frustration of its citizens has promoted this form of xenophobia. It is noteworthy to mention that there have been ‘seeds of discord’ sown by leaders, in the form of political perception that migrants are responsible for the rising unemployment, rising crime wave or ridiculously the spread of diseases in South Africa.
A perfect precedent is the statement of the monarch of Zulu nation King Goodwill Zwelithini in 2015. He said: “We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries. The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country’s struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals. I know you were in their countries during the struggle for liberation but the fact of the matter is you did not set up businesses in their countries."
In the words of Senator Shehu San (Vice Chairman, Senate committee on Foreign Affairs), “They are more into us than we are into them”. Its business relations with us is grossly skewed in its favor. Enough is enough of such wrongdoing; I use this to reflect the character of ‘unrequited love’ of Nigeria in its Foreign Policy. An immediate solution which I feel is realistic is to mandate the Zuma-led administration to put in place proactive and unbias security mechanisms to guarantee the safety of South Africa, those plying their trade specifically.
The resultant fear of resurgent attack cannot be fully extinguished, but we are a strong and steadfast people.
Written by Oladapo Olawale