Legal Nigeria

Xenophobia: Threatened South Africans behind attacks, says envoy

Nigerians residing in South Africa and black immigrants from other African countries have been at the receiving end of attacks by their hosts. Assistant Editor JIDE BABALOLA writes on the motive behind the South African xenophobic attacks. Nigeria, South Africa set to raise anti-xenophobia monitorsA  JOINTLY RUN “early warning” centre to track and deter xenophobic attacks against Nigerians living in South Africa is to be launched soon, the Federal Government and South Africa have hinted.
The Foreign Affairs ministers of Nigeria (Geoffrey Onyeama) and his South African counterpart ( Maite Nkoana-Mashabane) met yesterday in Pretoria in a bid to diffuse soaring tensions over a recent string of attacks on migrants living in the rainbow nation.
“The early warning centre would allow us keep each other abreast of issues and help prevent violence”, Nkoana-Mashabane was reported by AFP as saying.
There were several incidents last month of South African locals attacking migrants from Africa and elsewhere and their businesses in both the administrative capital Pretoria and the commercial capital Johannesburg.
Many locals have alleged that the targets were brothels and drug dens being run by migrants from all over Africa, including Nigeria.
More than 20 shops were targeted in Atteridgeville, outside Pretoria, while residents in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, attacked at least 12 houses.
The new violence-busting forum will meet every three months and will be made up of representatives from both countries and include immigration officials, business associations and civil society groups.
Nkoana-Mashabane said it was untrue that “the attacks on foreign nationals were targeted at the Nigerians”, adding that citizens of other countries were also affected.
Onyeama said he had received assurances that Nigerians in South Africa would be able to live in peace and called for an end to “mass attacks”.
According to the Nigerian Union in South Africa, there are about 800,000 Nigerians in the country, many of them living in Johannesburg.
Onyeama added that groups in Nigeria calling for the retaliatory expulsion of South African residents and businesses “do not speak on behalf of government”.
Attacks against foreigners and foreign-run businesses have erupted regularly in recent years in South Africa, fuelled by the country’s high unemployment rate and rising poverty levels.
In response to the violence, about 100 demonstrators gathered on February 23 outside the offices of two South African companies in Abuja – telecoms giant MTN and satellite TV provider DSTV – to protest the upsurge in attacks.
Last month, the Federal Government urged the African Union (AU) to step in to stop “xenophobic attacks” on its citizens in South Africa, claiming that 20 Nigerians were killed last year. 
South African authorities have declined to confirm the figure which may have been the result of other criminal activity, not just anti-immigrant violence.
A protest march against “migrant crime” was held in Pretoria on February 24 and resulted in violent clashes between crowds of young South African men and migrants from other African countries, including Nigerians and Somalis. 
President Jacob Zuma responded by condemning the wave of xenophobic unrest and called for calm and restraint. He said that migrants should not be used as a scapegoat for the country’s widespread crime problem.REPEATED attacks on Nigerians living and earning their meal tickets in South Africa by their hosts have put a question mark on the fortune the Federal Government invested for the liberation of South Africa in the apartheid era.
The emancipation of African ‘brothers and sisters’ had been the centre piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy since independent in 1960. The Federal Government spent billions of dollars in Liberia, Sierra-Leone, several years after its prominent role at ending the oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa.
Besides investing huge resources in the anti-apartheid struggle, Nigeria hosted at least two post-apartheid era South African Presidents – the late Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. Several South African companies from South Africa have adopted Nigeria as their operational headquarters.
But rather than show gratitude to the roles played in their country, gangs of black South Africans have always been eager to transfer aggression against Nigerian immigrants in the xenophobic rage documented across the world.
The latest of such attacks was on February 24. The number of the casualties has not been determined. Some were killed, many maimed and others violently dispossessed of all they labored to acquire over the years. Their homes, businesses, cars and other properties were aggressively vandalised in what many described as transferred aggression by irate South Africans.
According to reports, the police in some places looked the other way with some measure of indifference. The police in Pretoria reportedly expended stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the attacking arsonists.
The word ‘xenophobia’ has its root from a combination of the Greek words – xenos, meaning “strange” or “foreigner”, and phobos, meaning “fear”. Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an in-group towards an out-group, including the fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity.
Over the years in South Africa, xenophobia has attained the worst violent. Nigerians, Somalis and other African communities bear witness to this. However, such violent South African xenophobic reactions do not find expression against South African whites or any other group of white people – this offers further insight into the psychological condition of the rampaging hordes.Climate of fear

On the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Nigerian-born Emeka Uhanna’s profile is one of those used to illustrate the climate of fear and other implications of xenophobia in South Africa. With all his life savings invested in a restaurant/liquor business, 47-year-old Uhanna and his South African wife earn honest living in Randburg, South Africa.
Though the couple has no criminal record or affiliation since 1997 when they moved to Randburg, the Uhannas now live in fear of the prevailing xenophobia. They have also expressed concern for their two children, aged 16 and 14.
Uhanna said: “My wife is worried about what future our children will have if the xenophobic attacks become the norm. We don’t know how to explain the hatred against Nigerians to our families, to our children. This is the third round of attacks against foreigners; one was in 2008 where people were killed, again in 2015.
“I now get calls from home; my family members wanting to know if we’re safe; they see the stories in the news. I do feel safe, I feel safe because I live in the suburbs away from where the unrest and violence has been happening, but I don’t know if I could say that if I was living in a poorer area.
“There are parts of this city that are no-man’s land; where the police have no control over what happens and where there are no consequences for wrong-doing. That unfortunately is where the xenophobia has thrived.
“There is just lawlessness from all sides; by all nationalities and that sort of environment is a time-bomb. Life is different in the suburbs but I do worry about my fellow Africans who become victims of these incidents. They have nothing to do with crime.
“I love this country, I consider it my home and it breaks my heart to see what is happening. The government needs to seriously address the concerns people are raising – both South Africans and foreigners,” Uhanna said.Hateful stereotypesIn the 1960s, Nelson Mandela lived in Nigeria and Thabo Mbeki spent was in Nigeria in the 1970s. Many South African citizens passed through federal tertiary institutions not only in the country but on Federal Government scholarships.  In those days, South Africans, who actively participated in the struggle against apartheid, saw in Nigeria a bastion of hope.
But overtime, a growing population of mostly unemployed and largely envious bands of black South Africans, see Nigerians and other hardworking immigrants as people who rob them of ‘opportunities’.
In his book, “Struggle with no borders: Capitalism, nationalism and xenophobia in South Africa”, Dale T. McKinley, alleges that “African state has constructed and fed the idea and practice of xenophobia. At its conceptual heart, xenophobia is a fear of the ‘other’, with the ‘other’ most often being defined by differential (contemporary) nation-state ‘membership’.
To some extent, leaders at different levels of the African society incite aggression, hate and xenophobia and sometimes, they inspire violence and bloody conflicts.
According to Antonio Tabucchi, “Xenophobia manifests itself, especially against civilisations and cultures that are weak because they lack economic resources, means of subsistence or land. So, nomadic people are the first targets of this kind of aggression.” This comes close to the observation of Robin May Schott in “Feminist Interpretations of Immanuel Kant” where she stated that “Xenophobia is a fear of individuals who look or behave differently than those one is accustomed to.”
Basically, simple but hateful perpetuation of stereotypes helps to drive aggression. In social psychology, a stereotype is a thought that can be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things. These thoughts or beliefs may or may not accurately reflect reality.
Wikipedia explains further: “Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are understood as related but different concepts. Stereotypes are regarded as the most cognitive component and often occur without conscious awareness, whereas prejudice is the affective component of stereotyping and discrimination is one of the behavioral components of prejudicial reactions.
“In this tripartite view of intergroup attitudes, stereotypes reflect expectations and beliefs about the characteristics of members of groups perceived as different from one’s own, prejudice represents the emotional response, and discrimination refers to actions.”Transferred aggressionBen Ephson, the Managing Editor of Daily Dispatch newspaper in Ghana thinks that xenophobic attacks occur because Black South Africans are “lazy” and “jealous” of the wealth that foreigners make in their country, thereby making such foreigners in places like Johannesburg and Pretoria to lock themselves up in their homes – unable to go about their normal business activities.
“Essentially, when people are poor, they feel frustrated and they want to vent their anger on innocent people,” he stated as he explained reasons he thinks they are frustrated as a result of their poverty caused by their own lazy attitude towards work.
“You live in a community with people who have come there looking for opportunities. They work maybe 18 or 20 hours a day and you see them buying things and shipping it home or the guy has gone to buy a motorbike or has gotten a second-hand vehicle he or she is using and you begin to think: ‘I live here (but) I don’t have these things, why should they have it?’ forgetting that you are being lazy.
“Maybe you are not prepared to take 200 Rand an hour. You are asking for 400 Rand an hour and he (the foreigner) coming there knowing what he or she wants to do is taking 200 Rand. So, they (South Africans) decide to go on a looting spree. Something needs to spark them to do this and it’s more of poverty, need and jealousy, he added.”
A Nigerian immigrant asserted that he and his fellow Nigerians have been working hard in South African.
The Nigerian who pleaded for anonymity said: “People here are saying that Nigerians are bringing in drugs and promoting prostitution. But can I tell you something, while I don’t condone crime, Nigerians are not the only ones involved in crime here.
“It’s all too easy to profile one group and that is not right. It’s also dangerous and puts people’s lives in danger; it’s important for South Africans to know that not all of us are criminals, the same way not all South Africans are engaged in crime.”
In an online publication quoting a study by The Economist, states that as a matter of fact, many South Africans are lazy. It referred to a data compiled by The Economist, using information from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Journal of Public Health. Painting South Africans as being among the laziest in the world, the data states that nearly 50 per cent of South African adults have “sedentary” lifestyles while the global average is 23 per cent. South Africa was also ranked as the fifth most inactive country in the world, behind Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia.”
Despite efforts by the government, many South Africans lack access to housing, water, land and other essentials of life but President Zuma who rejects any suggestion of South Africans being xenophobic has had cause to describe his people as lazy lots.
In a March 25, 2015 report, South Africa’s The Citizen newspaper, in a report titled: “Zuma slams lazy South Africans” quoted President Zuma as saying that his people are lazy and that dictatorial fiat may be needed to effect a change of attitude.
“Our people are waiting for the government. Our people are not used to standing up and doing things. These ones (foreigners) are not expecting any government to do anything, so they get here, see opportunities and exploit them”, the paper stated.
The South African High Commissioner to Nigeria Lulu Mnguni traced the attacks by South Africans on their guests to the belief that their means of livelihood was under threat.
President Jacob Zuma has condemned the attacks and warned that he would not condone the situation. Mnguni also assured that his country does not hate but feels threatened somewhat.
The envoy said: “The root cause can be viewed more as social challenges that exist when some people find out that their businesses are being threatened. When we were growing up, we had businesses that were run by our own people but now they feel that outsiders have taken over.”In search of truceApparently tired of living in fear, Nigerians in South Africa urged the Federal Government to diplomatically address their challenges.
The row that ensued between the Senate and the House of Representatives over which of the chambers should raise a fact-finding team to South Africa was laid to rest with the withdrawal of the Red Chamber.  Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu announced the Senate concession.
According to the list announced on the floor of the House by Deputy Speaker Lasun Yusuff, the delegation to South Africa would be led by House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila. In the team are: Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnena Okeje (PDP, Abia); Sadiq Ibrahim (APC, Adamawa); Henry Nwawuba (PDP, Imo); Nasiru Daura (APC, Katsina) and Shehu Musa (APC, Bauchi.
The House resolved that its delegation and officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry should engage the parliament of South Africa and Nigerians in South Africa on the xenophobic attacks with a few to stopping such attacks and preventing any future occurrence.
Not a few Nigerians condemned the attacks on Nigerians by their South African hosts.
Lagos-based lawyer Femi Falana wrote to President Jacob Zuma, threatening to take a legal action against South Africa at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians continue.
In his letter, the rights’ crusade and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) urged the South African authorities to identify perpetrators of the attacks, prosecute them and ensure compensation for victims of the attacks.
Falana noted that since 2008, xenophobic violence and other criminal acts had continued across South Africa, claiming lives, leaving countless victims injured and robbing them of their property.
The letter reads: “We are writing to request you to use your leadership position to urgently identify suspected perpetrators of criminal acts and xenophobic attacks against Nigerians and other Africans living in South Africa and to bring them to justice promptly.
“We also urge you to promote and ensure access to justice and the right to effective remedy and reparations to victims. We believe that it is the failure of your government to bring perpetrators to justice and protect the victims of the xenophobic attacks that has resulted in a vicious cycle of attacks and impunity.
“These xenophobic attacks and violence are not only human rights violations but also criminal acts, and the persistent failure to proactively address the problems is a serious affront to the rule of law, and directly breaches your government’s international human rights obligations including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, particularly Article 12 on the right to movement.”
Many believe the masterminds of the February 24 attacks would be fished out and sanctioned to serve as a deterrent and to forestall such attacks.Source: The Nation