The eerie scream of the young man who had been set ablaze, jolted me out of my semi-snooze. The blazing figure ran hither and thither in search of succour as the jeering mob continued to rain stones on him. One beastly figure stepped out of the mob and slammed a wooden board on the victim. That brought him down and he continued to roast on the ground, a human barbecue.
That was the video clip playing on my phone. I had dozed off while waiting for the erratic network to sort itself out. Blackman roasting Blackman! Chicken pecking at the entrails of fellow fowl; Native victim victimising migrant victim.
“People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts,” says Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “no animal could ever be so cruel as a man….”
The South African is still my brother and sister, even after that xenophobic rage. Not all South Africans are xenophobic, just as it is a fallacy to say, as some South Africans have done, that all Nigerians are drug pushers. Is the South African government indicting itself for its inability to arrest and bring drug gangs to justice? Has the government handed over power to street mobs?
The logic of the mob is espoused by the xenophobic former Minister of Police (31 March 2017 to 25 May 2019), Mr Bongani Mkongi: “How can a city in SA be 80% foreign nationals?…We fought for this land from a white minority. We cannot surrender it to foreign nationals….”
The 48-year-old Mkongi was but a child when this writer, as an undergraduate, and millions of Nigerians made untold sacrifices for the liberation of the entire Southern Africa region. Last year, in Harare, I met with former minister SK Moyo who had lived in Lagos together with Thabo Mbeki in the 70’s. (We used to collect anti-apartheid literature from them for distribution to tertiary institutions.) Minister Moyo and I shared fond stories of the good old days. If I had to do it all over again, I would still support the liberation struggle!
Apparently, Bongani Mkongi has not been told the full story of his country’s liberation. He should ask his father.
South African and UN statistics show that about 30,000 Nigerians live in South Africa. Of that number, 127 Nigerians have been killed in three years, while 13 out of these were reportedly killed by South African police, with 10 deaths in 2019 alone. The latest attacks targeted all black immigrants who owned shops or were otherwise self-employed. Zimbabwean, Malawian, Tanzanian, Zambian and Somalian drivers were not spared.
Reprisal and protest marches followed in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia among other countries. But that is not the way to go. If South African xenophobia is wrong, so are reprisals in the form of mob actions against South African businesses abroad. One mob is not holier than the other. Thankfully, words of wisdom flowed from the same South African roots in the shape of talk show host, Trevor Noah.
“If you feel underserved in wealth distribution, please research again who controls that wealth and it has nothing to do with some Nigerian, Zimbabwean or Mozambican working in a restaurant or an Ethiopian running a small shop, or a Ghanaian mechanic working hard in the sun,” Noah said. “Yours is a complete misplaced anger, prejudice and xenophobia built up out of inferiority complex created by decades of apartheid and oppression.”
Or does the instigating hand belong to the secret apartheid intelligence network of yore?
Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah saw black on black savagery coming: a In his book, “Class Struggle in Africa”, he said:
“In neocolonialist states where there are immigrant workers, and where unemployment is rife … the anger of workers is surreptitiously fomented and directed by the neocolonialist puppet regime not so much against its own reactionary policies as against the “alien” workers. It is they who are blamed for the scarcity of jobs, the shortage of houses, rising prices and so on. The result is that the African immigrant worker is victimised both by the government and by his own fellow workers.”
Stormy petrel of South African politics, Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), agrees. “Our anger is directed at wrong people. Like all of us, our African brothers & sisters are selling their cheap labour for survival. The owners of our wealth is white monopoly capital…” he tweeted, to the anger of his critics who dubbed it racist.
But one can’t help asking, when is the South African government going to implement serious programmes for mass access to education and skill acquisition to life the poor masses out of poverty?
The ink on the freshly signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement has hardly dried but the two largest economies on the continent are already at the barricades with one country issuing red cards to nationals of other member countries tagged “Makwerekwere” (foreigners). The xenophobic rage took the shine off the World Economic Forum held in Johannesburg. Some Nigerians have taken advantage of Air Peace’s generosity and returned home. East or West, home is best. It could be much worse elsewhere!
It is a sad day in Africa. But after these crimson clouds of gore will come the rain of brotherhood and understanding. South Africa must acknowledge that it has a problem of xenophobia before it can solve it. Hiding under the finger of wild allegations of criminality against foreigners is not clever at all.