By: Israel Umoh
At last, they arrived. In their fatherland. To the embrace of many. Shouts of joy filled the arena. Chills of bad memories forgotten albeit temporarily. Huge reliefs of pains and losses still in their minds. Harangues of sympathy engulfed the parched air. Tears dripped hotly from their swollen eyes. “Yes, we are free. If we die here, we will be happy instead of dying in a foreign land,” they soliloquised.
This was the pervading atmosphere. Indeed, the effusion of emotions that thawed the 187 Nigerians who returned from South Africa and landed at Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos on Wednesday, September 4. The nostalgic returnees sang Nigeria’s National Anthem in appreciation to Federal government and other philanthropic Nigerians for freeing them from internecine war.
Again, the second batch of 314 Nigerian evacuees from South Africa arrived at the same airport at 7.22 p.m. on September 17, 2019. On hand were Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Nigerians in the Diaspora; Allen Onyema, the Chairman of Air Peace Airlines, head of Nigerian Custom Service, Nigerian Immigration Service and other security agencies to accord them a rousing welcome. Sleep-filled eyes and wearied bodies and tired feet trod the airport. Little children escorted by parents clutched their returnee parents unmindful of their trauma.
Before South Africa’s independence, apartheid like a hostile nightfall walked in the land like a marauding beast gnawing the ‘lesser beings.’ The whites- Caucasians, Mongolians- dealt deadly blows on the Negroid (people of black race) residing in the country. Generally, the blacks were the endangered specie. Apartheid was the thumb of rule. It was apartness that the South Africa’s minority whites doled out discriminatory policies against the majority non-whites. The massacre of 69 blacks in Sharpville in 1960 and the killing of 700 school children in Soweto in 1976, among others together with many brutalities further fired the aspiration of South Africans and their fellow Africans and concerned Europeans to press hard for their political independence.
For instance, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Soviet Union provided military support to African National Congress, ANC, and Pan Africanist Congress, PAC. Nigeria played big brother roles to the dismantling of apartheid. She nationalised Shell Petroleum, SP, to African Petroleum, AP. Nigeria lobbied for the exclusion of South Africa from Commonwealth after Nigeria provided $5 million annual subvention to ANC and PAC.
Moreover, Nigeria set up the Southern Africa Relief Fund (SARF) and used proceeds from the fund to provide scholarships for about 300 South African students in Nigerian universities.
The military administration of General Obasanjo contributed $3.7 million to the fund. Moreover, General Obasanjo made a personal donation of $3,000, while each member of his cabinet also made personal contributions of $1,500 each. All Nigeria`s civil servants and public officers made a 2% donation from their monthly salary to the SAFR. Students skipped their lunch to make donations, and the fund netted $10.5 million.
Beyond welcoming 86 South African students and exiles, Nigeria had also accommodated renowned South Africans like Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela. For South Africans, who could not travel abroad because the apartheid regime had withdrawn their passports, Nigeria`s government issued more than 300 passports.
In addition, the country contributed $39,040 to the UN Educational and Training Programme for Southern Africa, a voluntary trust fund promoting education of the black South African elites and refused to sell oil to South Africa for decades in protest against the white minority rule, thereby losing approximately $41 billion during that period.
Above all, Nigeria was the only nation worldwide to set up the National Committee Against Apartheid (NACAP) in the 60s.
Yet after being freed from apartheid, South Africa has hugged Afrophobia or xenophobia. It is compared to a cruel nightfall, a daytime or night when a mob of blacks gang up, club to death, set ablaze houses or good of foreign black nationals. It is use of tribal slur by the South African blacks against their fellow Africans- the prime target. These are the ones who are afraid to look at the whites eyeball to eyeball. Like a dog eating its vomit, the people have forgotten easily the captor’s chain they left. The 501 Nigerians who arrived their fatherland from South Africa fled over xenophobic attacks on them. The Nigerians are the few of more than 600 others willing to return home and turning to quarries to their fellow blacks not whites for staying there to eke a means of livelihood.
Xenophobia is seen as a function of insularity- lack of interest in others’ culture, outside their own experience borne on the fact that the country was a pariah state for many years. The country internalised intolerance of difference, hence its social disorientation and suspicious of foreigners as aliens. It has put the country’s moral authority in Africa at risk.
It symbolises terror. It is black man’s inhumanity to fellow blacks. It is sadism on human life and insecurity to life and property. It is barbaric act, daylight schizophrenia, cannibalistic behavior, cruel attitude and ingratitude of the highest order. It is fear, killings and looting. It is the unseen death of pan-Africanism which borders on integration of black race. It is burial of past, killing of present and annihilation of the future by the blacks against the blacks.
Above all, xenophobia negates the spirit of pan-Africanism especially the common ideal that Africans share a mutual bond and brotherhood regardless of their geographical location. This is firmly anchored on African philosophy of Ubuntu (Africanism) which decrees that I am because we are.
To stem the tidal wave of the vicious menace, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa heckled during the funeral service of ex-Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe had intuitively apologised and later dispatched envoys to seven African countries including Nigeria over the attacks.
Yet, the effort and what looks like face-saving diplomacy is daubed by some cynics as monkey business. Some are still canvassing and singing the slogan ‘foreigners must go.’ It is alleged that some South African locals in cahoot with some privileged South Africans in government and in the private sector support the ‘game.’ For example, the country’s foreign Affairs minister, Naledi Pandor described xenophobic attacks as Afrophobia. Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and former deputy minister of police Bongani Nkongi encouraged the latest attacks on Nigerians and foreign nationals. Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba said it is unnecessary for SA to apologise to other African countries for the recent xenophobic attacks, saying that they were ‘bound to happen.’ “The country owes apology to million unemployed South Africans who are today without jobs as a result billions of counterfeit goods being brought illegally into the country, killing local manufacturing,” Herman said.
During apartheid, the white policemen allegedly killed thousands. But in xenophobia, South Africans have killed hundreds of blacks and plundered their property. Some Nigerians have been repartriated. Malawians have been repatriated.
Encouraging or being in complicit with xenophobes is opening the doors of spiritual, economic and physical slavery for the Rainbow country. Unlike the 1976 Soweto massacre of school children by the whites, xenophobia in the post-apartheid South Africa is another nightfall.
Though some South African locals and authorities believe that their fellow blacks have taken over jobs in the land, peddle hard drugs, perpetrate criminalities and covet their female folk, it is not enough reason to kill them and ask those doing their businesses to quit the land. God abhors maltreatment of strangers- migrants. Deut. 27:19 says Cursed is he who perverts the judgment of the alien …And all the people will ‘Amen’ And Lev.19: 33 says And if an alien sojourns with you in the land, you will not do him wrong. But the alien who dwells with you will be to you as one born among and you will love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt, I am the Lord your God.
Let South Africans go to African Union, AU, and plead for penance. Let the people go to mercy table and plead with God to forgive them and cleanse the land from the shed innocent blood and harm they had caused the African migrants. Let the young South Africans free their minds and spirits from xenophobia in the interest of their economic prosperity, social integration and political freedom. Let the South African government pay repatriation to foreigners whose shops, houses and businesses were torched and destroyed by some South African locals.
Else, the dreaded nightfall like cancer may spread to other parts of the land and breed more hatred, suspicion, fear, killings and reprisals between the remaining foreigners and the South Africans.