Despite Nigeria’s huge sacrifice in ending apartheid in South Africa, its citizens have continued to be targets of xenophobic attacks by South Africans. Martins Ifijeh writes

“I remember our primary school days in the 70s when we skipped lunch because government was putting all the monies together as our contribution towards ending apartheid in far away South Africa. We were told our brothers and sisters, who we did not know, were being killed and oppressed in the country because they were fighting to end inequality between the minority whites and the native blacks. But today, the same people we starved for, now hate us and kill our own children at every opportunity. My son is in Pretoria, and I fear for his life.”

These were the words of a 57-year-old father, Frederick Osemwingie, whose son is currently at the mercy of a xenophobic infested group of people in South Africa.

In addition to sacrifices made by Osemwingie and hundreds of thousands of his young kinds at the time, history books show that the Nigerian government, starting from the administration of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, made several sacrifices.

In some instances, Nigeria was denied certain rights by world powers because of its forwardly role in helping South Africa end apartheid, which was not only fueled by the French government, but indirectly by western countries like the United States and Great Britain.

For example, according to a world peace activist, Mawuna Remarque Koutinin, while the world was clapping at the unfortunate treatment of native blacks in South Africa, Nigeria in 1976 set up a ‘South Africa Relief Fund’, where Nigerian money was being pooled from different sources in order to alleviate the plight of the victims of apartheid in South Africa and to promote their education and their general welfare.

“All Nigeria’s civil servants and public officers made voluntary donation of two per cent of their monthly salaries to the fund. The military administrator at the time, General Olusegun Obasanjo contributed $3.7 million to the fund. Obasanjo also went ahead to make a personal donation of $3,000, while each member of his cabinet made personal contributions of $1.500 each,” Koutinin said.

In his expose, he revealed that within six months of setting up the relief fund, June 1977, which was better known by Nigerians at the time as the ‘Mandela Tax’, the popular contributions to the fund reached $10.5 million. With the fund, the first group of 86 South African students arrived Nigeria following the massacre of over 700 protesting students by the whites.

While all South African students who benefitted from the funds got their education free of charge in Nigeria, those who decided to study abroad but could not get passports because the apartheid regime had denied them the document, again sort Nigeria’s assistance which was freely given. Nigeria provided over 300 passports in its name, so that the students could travel to their countries of choice to study.

History also showed that during the heat of the apartheid regime, Nigeria, while playing the big brother role to South Africa, and in its determination to get them freed from the dehumanising situation, lobbied with fellow African countries for the creation of the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee, which it had chaired for 30 years, longer than any other country.

Between 1973-1978, Nigeria contributed $39,040 to the UN Education and Training Programme for South Africa, a voluntary trust fund to help the education of the Black South African elite.

Koutinin says at trade level, “Nigeria refused to sell oil to South Africa for decades in protest to the white minority rule, losing an estimate of $41 billion dollars during the period,” adding that Nigeria was the only nation worldwide to set up and fund a “National Committee Against Apartheid” (NACAP) as early as the 1960, which mission was to disseminate information on the evil of the apartheid regime to all Nigerians from primary schools to universities, in public media and in markets with posters and billboard messages.”

Reports from the South African Institute of International Affairs show that Nigerian government sacrificed at least $61 billion between 1960 and 1995 to end apartheid in South Africa.

History also showed that during the trying periods for South Africa, Nigeria never let go of any opportunity to denounce apartheid, from the boycott of Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games, to the nationalisation of the assets of British Petroleum (BP) in 1979.

Checks showed that Nigeria did not only boycott the Olympics and Commonwealth Games because the host country, New Zealand had contact with the apartheid-led South African government, but made sure it mobilised 32 out of the 59 participating countries to as well to boycott the games.

The mobilisation for the boycott deeply tested Nigeria’s claim to leadership in Africa, as the mobilisation was successful. And the Commonwealth Games, that year, was a sorry story. From that moment onwards, the world took notice and the struggle for the liberation of South Africa was immediately hyper-accelerated. And the rest is now history.

But recent moves by South Africa has shown that the country has forgotten quickly the suffering and sacrifices Nigeria and Nigerians made for them, as xenophobic groups have continued to put measures in place to frustrate foreigners, especially Nigerians who live or do business in their country, thereby becoming the very monster they once fought against.

No wonder recently, Nigerian social commentators have queried why the country has refused to take a cue from Nigeria and other African countries who embrace fellow Africans and are not envious of the successes of their foreign brothers and sisters.

For instance, in Nigeria, all 53 nations of the continent, including South Africans, Ghanians, Kenyans, Zambians, among others, are being accommodated without being threatened by their presence in the country.

All Nigerians do, is help such foreigners nurture, guide and provide enabling environment for them to excel in whatever brings them to the cosmopolitan country.

Popular among countries that have made Nigeria their business hubs because of the huge financial returns and the enabling environment they benefit is South Africa – its citizens are known to own DSTV; which is arguably the biggest cable network in Nigeria, MTN; one of the biggest telecommunication giants in the country, as well as Shoprite, which is the biggest shopping establishment in the country.

Other notable thriving companies owned by South Africans in Nigeria include Eskom Nigeria, South African Breweries (SAB Miller), Umgeni Water and Refresh Product, LTA Construction, Protea Hotels, Critical Rescue International, Global Outdoor Semces, PEP Retail Stores, Woolworths Holdings Limited, Truworths International Limited, Clover Industries, Oracle, Power Giant and AirTime.

But this spirit of accommodation cannot be said of South Africa, a fellow African country that constantly reminds foreigners, mostly Nigerians, that they are not welcomed in their country as they believe their economic opportunities are being hijacked by these foreigners. Their major issue against Nigerians and other immigrants is that these foreigners have penchants for hard work and the ability to make good economic use of any environment they find themselves.

Many Nigerians who have lived in South Africa often share sorry tales of how they have been unfortunate targets of hate crimes propelled by xenophobia from South Africans.

In the recent xenophobic attack, the spokesperson of the Nigerian Union of South Africa (NUSA), Emeka Ezinteje Collins says the homes and shops of Nigerians were the targets of the groups involved in the act.

Meanwhile, weeks ago, homes, shops and properties of Nigerians and other foreign Africans were torched by some South African youths, who claim Nigerians and their counterparts from other African countries were involved in drug trafficking, prostitution and stealing. A reason they claimed was sufficient enough to take laws into their hands, while the government did nothing or made attempts at curbing it only after the deeds have been done.

“Despite international outcry against the menace, South Africans have continued to openly wreak havoc on Nigerians and other immigrants because they feel threatened by the sight of foreigners,” explained Femi, a concerned Nigerian in South Africa who simply wished to be addressed by his first name.

He therefore called on Nigerian government to do all it can to protect Nigerians living in the diaspora, especially those living in South Africa as they have constantly become subjects of ridicule and hate figures among South Africans.

Reacting to South African’s claim that Nigerians and other immigrants have taken over their jobs and other economic opportunities in their country, a Nigerian lawyer who lives in Johannesburg said it was no doubt that Nigerians are excelling over there because they are hard working and entrepreneurial in nature.

“But on the other hand, most South Africans are known to be lazy and often believe hard work is not their thing. Hence, the hard working foreigners make more money than most of them do.

“When Nigerians come to their country, the first thing these locals do is try to sell their land to them, use the money to enjoy themselves without planning their future from the proceeds. When they are broke, they start envying Nigerians who through hard work are riding exotic cars and building mansions on the same land sold to them by the same South Africans.

“In my own opinion, there is no rocket science there. Very few South Africans are willing to do menial jobs, own shops and do other businesses that start small. By the time Nigerians put in their best and over time start making money and living comfortably through these same businesses that started small, the locals get threatened and start killing us. It is unfortunate,” he
added.

During the 2015 xenophobic attack on Nigerians and other Africans, a South African woman, Wendy Ledwaba wrote on her facebook, “I don’t care what u say. I have lived amongst Nigerians. My best friend is married to a Nigerian. They are heartless. They don’t care how they get the money and they think they are untouchable. Even the Zims and Congolese I know hate Nigerians. Deny it all you want but you and I know that the good Nigerians are only a hand full. If these attacks were directed only at the Nigerians I don’t even feel an ounce of hurt because I have witnessed all around the pain and chaos they have caused.”

The hate crimes and intimidation experienced by immigrants didn’t just start today. Since the dismantling of apartheid many years ago, black foreigners have been subjects of xenophobic attacks, sometimes leading to loss of lives of innocent Nigerians who live among them.

It would be recalled that in October 2007 when the musical maestro, Lucky Dube was assassinated in South Africa, the assailants said they thought he was Nigerian because he looked good and drove expensive cars. Till date the government never did anything to prevent their citizens from perceiving foreign blacks as enemies.

Between 2007 and 2008, at least 67 people, including many Nigerians, reportedly died of hate crimes. In 2008, about 62 people died of series of attacks apparently motivated by xenophobia. It has also been noted that African immigrants have suffered racist attacks, with Nigerian nationals being at the centre of hate-filled violence and arson.

The Nigerian government says within the last two years, about 116 Nigerians have been killed in South Africa, while 63 per cent of the extra judicial killings were carried out by the police.

Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said South Africa, should immediately halt the hate crimes perpetuated on Nigerians and other foreigners in the country.

She expressed sadness over the criminalisation of Nigerians by South Africans, noting that Nigeria and South Africa should rather be engaging in cooperation that could lead to social-economic development as the “two giants of Africa.”

But like laying credence to what its citizens are doing to Nigerians, the South African government, suddenly, few days ago, deported 97 Nigerians for what it termed civil and criminal offences.

Of the total, six of the deportees were claimed to have been returned to the country for drug offences, 10 for criminal offences while others committed ‘immigration offences’.

Nigerians view the recent action of the South African government as a direct plan to ridicule Nigerians the more, in addition to the xenophobic actions of its citizens.

Analysts say even if these Nigerians actually committed the civil and criminal crimes, their deportation was ill timed, as it would mean an encouragement to xenophobic groups to continue to kill Nigerians, steal and destroy their properties. Rather, the country should be perceived to be against the attacks, especially in the eye of its citizens.

In a swift reaction, the Niger Delta Militants have given South African firms in Nigeria a 31-day ultimatum to leave the country, failure to which it would start attacking their firms and nationals.

Also, as part of efforts to stop the hate crimes by South Africans, Nigeria’s Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, is leading a seven-man delegation to the country to discuss xenophobia.

It would be recalled that the Senate on Tuesday, condemned in strong terms, the return of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, just as it described the action as extra-judicial killings of Nigerians by both the South African police and South Africans.

The Senate also advised the federal government to reconsider Nigeria’s diplomatic ties with South Africa with a view to averting the recurrent cases of xenophobic attacks and extra-judicial killings of Nigerians in South Africa.

Meanwhile, the South Africa government has said it had concluded plans to re-introduce history in its academic curriculum so as to enlighten its citizens on Nigeria’s role in
the fight against apartheid rule.

South African Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Lulu Aaron- Mnguni, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja recently that the importance of relationship between the two countries could not be over-emphasised. “Both countries are tested partners. We have come a long way with Nigeria, a country that was so much relentless in supporting us in the days of apartheid rule.

“Nigeria is a country that gave profile to the international pillar of our revolution in the UN and the Commonwealth; it is a country that received our youths during the apartheid. Our youths came to Nigeria and were given scholarship; it is a country that has been very much relentless in supporting us, despite the geographical difference that separates us,” he said.

The envoy said that the unity of the two countries was important and the youth must know about it. He said that the introduction of history into the country’s school curriculum would go a long way in giving positive perception about Nigeria to the youths.

While the Nigerian government and Nigerians hope that the South African government stop playing cold feet to hate crimes by its citizens, which is embarrassing and unAfrican, Nigerians will continue to watch with optimism that no harm will befall Mr. Osemwingie’s son in Pretoria and the thousands of Nigerian youths in the unfriendly country.