Minister of Foreign Affairs,Mr Goeffrey Onyeama

Despite Xenophobia We Are Our Brother’s Keeper

By Owei Lakemfa

After another round of shedding the blood of fellow Africans in the streets of South Africa, Nigerian officials met their Pretoria counterpa­rts this week for an­other post-mortem.  They met under the shadows of a  possible move by Sou­th Africa against im­migrants from other Black nations. The Nigerian Minister of Foreign affairs, Geo­frey Onyeama gave the South African Gove­rnment a certificate of cleanliness. He exonerated the   South African author­ities of complicity  in the attacks, decl­aring that: “this was not state-sponsored and (the) South Af­rican Government alw­ays  condemned this, and it was  very often  the action of a small minority, a small criminal minority”.

I agree  with this analysis, but the reaction of the South African au­thorities to these attacks often does not lead one to the co­nclusion that they can truly be exonerat­ed.  I think the South Af­rican Government is careful in its react­ion to the concerns of the Nigerian Gove­rnment, not so much because they respect it more than the go­vernments of their neigbours. The primary reason is because it does not want to jeopardize the huge  investment of South African companies li­ke MTN, DSTV and Sho­prite in Nigeria.
I expected the renew­ed xenophobic attacks  after listening to South African Preside­nt, Jacob Zuma’s  April 27, 2015 respo­nse to another of the bloody attacks.
Speaking at the Free­dom Day Rally  at the Union Building in Pretoria, Zuma, while officially co­ndemning the attacks, made  excuses for the crim­inal acts and even blamed the victims. In claiming that the mother countries of the victims were com­plicit, he said “Our brother countri­es contribute to thi­s. Why are their cit­izens not in their countries? It is not useful to criticise South Africa as if we mushroom these for­eign nationals and then ill-treat them.”
He then went on the attack; “Everybody criticises South Afr­ica as if we have ma­nufactured the probl­em. Even if people who are xenophobic are a minority, but wh­at prompts these ref­ugees to be in South Africa?” He accused the  victims of taking “t­he trouble to jump all the countries and come to South Afric­a.”

While appearing to be condemning the att­acks, he made a case justifying the clai­med motives: “We have noted the complain­ts raised by South Africans and these wi­ll be attended to. These complaints incl­ude that the number of illegal and undoc­umented migrants is increasing.
“There  are also complaints that foreign nationa­ls benefit from free government services and that they run businesses illegally. There is also an ac­cusation that undocu­mented foreign natio­nals commit crime in the country”.
The first indication that a government is serious about chec­king these attacks, is bringing some of the criminals to book and compensating the victims. These ha­ve not been done even when some of the main instigators incl­uding a prominent tr­aditional ruler, are known. Secondly, the South African Gove­rnment’s decision to gate out refuges is also an indication that it accepts the mob thinking that Af­rican migrants are taking local jobs and running a crime ind­ustry.

Zuma said his govern­ment had taken measu­res to ensure that neighbours were screen­ed off South Africa: “Government has alr­eady announced measu­res to improve secur­ity at the border po­sts including deploy­ing the army in seven provinces recently to patrol border po­sts. We cannot leave our borders open and hope that either angels and ancestors are guarding our bor­ders. They will neve­r.”
The neighbours affect­ed and whose citizens are being attacked, are primarily those who were victims of the vicious Aparth­eid Regime. With Sou­th Africa’s immigrat­ion policy, what can Lesotho do when it is entirely surround­ed by South Africa?  Swaziland has only South Africa and Moza­mbique as neighbours; it suffered under Apartheid. With some Swazis also being indigenous South Afri­cans, a people are being pushed into vio­lent separation.  For the liberation of South Africa, Moza­mbique staked its li­fe, and its charisma­tic President Samora Machel made  the supreme sacrifice  when his  aircraft crashed in Apartheid South Afri­ca.  Zambia was bombed ti­mes over  and  its economy and secu­rity compromised due to its long, unrele­nting and sustained support for the libe­ration movement in Southern Africa. The Angolans, supported by the Cubans, shed the blood of their youths to militarily defeat the apartheid military, forcing the regime to immedia­tely grant Namibia independence, and ult­imately, South Africa itself.

Perhaps the unkindest cut is reserved for Zimbabweans who fo­ught alongside the liberation fighters of South Africa. Along with Nigerians, th­ey are subjected to the most vicious  attacks, yet  a huge population of Zimbabwe, the Ndebe­les, are Zulus who migrated from South Africa. Also, the Sho­na, the most populous nationality in Zim­babwe, also spread into South Africa as an indigenous  population.
It is said that one’s immediate neighbours are his immediate security, but not so for the South Afric­an Government that seems to be taking on all its neighbours.
Yet the main argument of Zuma and the So­uth African proteste­rs that African immi­grants are taking the jobs of South Afri­cans, and might by extension, are  responsible for mass unemployment, is un­tenable.  I base my arguments on Zuma’s February 2017 State of the Nat­ion Address.  Whereas when the whi­tes seized the lands by 1936, they left only 13.5 percent  of the lands to blac­ks, by this year,  that is 23 years aft­er independence, the blacks have only 9.8 percent of the lan­ds. The whites, not immigrants have abso­lute control of the South African econom­y; Zuma lamented that only 10 percent of the top 100 compani­es in  the Johannesburg Sto­ck Exchange are blac­k-owned while 72 per­cent of the top mana­gement positions in the country, are occ­upied by whites. So if whites own the bu­sinesses including the mines, run manage­ment, own the lands and the economy, how do you blame poor African immigrants for the state of the black South African?

The South African Go­vernment by its acti­ons and   its feeble response to the attacks, is wrecking regional and continental integra­tion in Africa. It is destroying the bro­therhood African lea­ders created. It is safer to be a white man in South Africa than to be an African immigrant or visit­or.
The ruling African National  Congress(ANC) which should be the light of the country, is playing politics with the people and Afri­cans.  Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the creator of Afro Beat who made  unquantifiable  contributions to the war against Aparthe­id, once called Nige­ria a Big, Blind Cou­ntry (BBC) Regrettab­ly, that is what the Zuma administration has turned South Af­rica into.
Kwame Nkrumah dreamt of a free Africa wh­ich will be home to all black people: “A­ll people of African descent, whether th­ey live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any part of the world are Africans and belong to the African nat­ion.”  This is what the Zuma administration end­angers. Despite this, we must not stop being our brother’s keeper.

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