S’Africa: The Underbelly Of Xenophobic Madness

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Xenophobic Attack in South Africa
Xenophobic Attack in South Africa

By: Nestor B. Udoh

South Africa has always made headlines that stand on their head. For centuries, the whole world raved and ranted at a stiff-necked white minority that held the country by its jugular, to dismantle its strange system of government called apartheid. It was a system that also stood logic on its head.
The minority officially usurped everything and used a combination of coercion, subterfuge, chicanery, carrot-and-stick, murder, kidnapping and blackmail to sustain what has been widely regarded as the most oppressive system of government known to man, save for Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany. Needless to say, the system eventually died. But it left, on the citizenry, many psychological scars that may take an equally long time to heal.
South African has entered yet again, another dark tunnel of negative publicity. Spontaneous, murderous attacks on citizens of other countries by a band of mindless criminals pretending pontifical patriotism has thrown that country into deep convulsion.
It will not be the first time it has happened. But this time the world seems to have lost its patience. Even Nigerians that are almost un-shockable are said to have attacked a South African business concern in Lagos in reprisal.
Beyond all this, what exactly are the root causes of the repeated crises, which the world prefers to refer by the elegant name of “xenophobia”?
Many reasons, some plausible, others puerile have been pedaled. Many South Africans, particularly the lowly ones say they are piqued that foreigners, particularly Nigerians have taken most of their available jobs.
As usual, people all over the world are indignant. As usual, everyone blames the average south African for such cowardly acts, especially against fellow blacks. Nigerians are particularly piqued. And for good reason.
But sometimes, I am tempted to think that, in this matter, the world may be leaving the substance and chasing the shadow. I have read and listened to various views on the reasons for this unfortunate recurrent xenophobic attacks on foreigners.
I was, however, particularly intrigued by the views of a personal friend, a South African who lives there and oscillates between that country and Nigeria on business trips. It was a lengthy chat on social media in which he blamed the problem on high rate of unemployment occasioned by corruption in government. Here is just a little clip from the conversation:
Me: “I agree with you. But our unemployment rate is higher than yours and corruption is more, and there are foreigners here as well but no one targets them?”
Him: “Foreigners aren’t the problem. The management of the country is. Some ANC leaders have helped stir these emotions, which in effect is to deflect from their own inadequacies. The government has been warned many times to get on top of the situation. However, they just do not have the correct people and approach”
Me: “So, just as what is happening in Nigeria. Politicians instigate Boko Haram to gain political advantage. They use the poor who don’t understand”
Him: “ It is all very unfair and unacceptable. They only care for themselves and have a very limited ability for any deep, strategic thinking. Politicians cause wars and the ordinary people take up arms for something that should not exist. I was forced to spend two years in the army because we were fighting an unnecessary war in Angola”
Me: “So the same thing is happening all over the world: irresponsible politics..”
Him: “it’s very sad”
No description could be stronger: irresponsible politics. Irresponsible politics, played by irresponsible politicians, is responsible for all the hiccups, the corruption, the poverty, the crime, terrorism and extremism that we see all around us. It is responsible for the cultism in schools, the prostitution in high and low places, the dirty streets, the slums, ghettos, and in the case of Nigeria, the Boko Haram and over bloated churches with their acrobatic leaders. But how is it responsible, you may ask?
Poor leadership..
A political office is supposed to be a leadership position. Unfortunately, all over the world men, and
sometimes women with very low level of spiritual and emotional intelligence routinely slip into these positions. Spiritual and emotional intelligence are sine qua non for good leadership. Spiritual intelligence does not mean speaking in tongues. You can do this, preach the gospel with a very sweet tongue and build a mega congregation and still have a very low level of spiritual intelligence. Spiritual intelligence means being in tune with the inner being that catapults you to a state of being kind, generous, empathetic and selfless. Those with low spiritual intelligence are mean, greedy, corrupt and selfish.
Emotional intelligence, on the other hand can be regarded as street wisdom. It is the ability to control your emotions such as anger, fear, loss or defeat, love or hatred. In his book, FRAMES OF MIND, Howard Gardener, a Harvard University Professor also calls it intra-personal emotion. Someone who delays gratification has a high level of emotional intelligence. But someone who has a get-rich-quick or entitlement mentality has a low level of emotional intelligence. Throughout history, the world has been saddled in most leadership positions with men of low spiritual and emotional intelligence, resulting in the mess we see all around us. But let us leave the world, and get back to South Africa.
In my opinion, South Africa deserves pity rather than opprobrium. Here is a country whose citizens were pummeled and severely castrated physically, psychologically and spiritually by years of Apartheid misrule by a most brutal white minority.
Then, in a dramatic twist of events, Nelson Mandela and his colleagues led the world to wrest power from the oppressors, handing it to a disempowered black majority with poor education, weak physical infrastructures and a fractured psyche. The sudden exit of the white minority rule left a yawning lacuna of power, particularly economic, in the hands of a dysfunctional population, ill prepared to withstand the modern day dog-eat-dog global economic competition.
Of course people from other countries, with better technical knowhow and economic power moved in to take advantage. Trust Nigerians, particularly our Ibo and Yoruba brothers who are smart in all fields of human endeavor. They moved into the country in droves to do business, some legitimate, some not so legitimate. It did not take long before the disempowered indigenous population discovered that they were disadvantaged to compete, and felt short changed. And, instigated by politicians who need to cover their incompetent, corrupt underbellies, they kicked. The rest, as they say, is history.
But how is the South African government indictable in all this?
I am sure you heard my friend well:
“They only care for themselves and have a very limited ability for any deep, strategic thinking”. This, alas is the lot of most governments, not just in South Africa but anywhere else in the world. And, as he also said, “its very sad”.
The world has never been more in need of good leadership. And until the world finds a way around official graft by leaders at all levels of society, we will continue to witness the aftermath of poor leadership called by various names..xenophobia, Boko Haram, Isis, Al-Shabab, and such other fanciful appellations.
Dr.  Udoh is a Consultant Public Health Physician and former Dean, College of Permanent Secretaries, Akwa Ibom State.