HOW TO CURB XENOPHOBIC ATTACKS

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Monday comment1

Adewale Kupoluyi writes that South Africa should tell the truth and stop sitting on the fence

The recurring decimal of xenophobic attacks in South Africa would have been nipped in the bud if the truth had been allowed to prevail. Since the end of apartheid rule in 1994, South Africa had experienced escalating xenophobia because of the failure by the governments to be decisive in nipping the crisis in the bud by sitting on the fence. Many deaths and uprising could have been averted had the appropriate authorities acted promptly and honestly.

Over the years, the assault and hostilities had continued as black South Africans continue to kill fellow black Africans. In 2017, South African security agents were openly blamed for looking the other way as a Nigerian was molested while the police were implicated in extrajudicial killings. Two years earlier, the Zulu king, Goodwill Swelithini had derogatorily described foreigners in a hate speech as ‘lice’ that ‘should be plucked out and left in the sun’ and ‘requesting those who came from outside to please go back to their countries.’

The Chief Executive Officer of newly-established Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri said that in 2016 alone, 118 Nigerians were killed extra-judicially in South Africa. Some of the celebrated murder cases include that of a former Deputy Director-General of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, Elizabeth Ndubuisi-Chukwu, who was mysteriously found dead in her hotel room. Before Ndubusi-Chukwu’s attack was the killing of Dennis Obiaju, a 17-year-old high school student, who was fatally shot. Life of black foreigners had become so cheap that they are being slaughtered like animals in South Africa. Many casualties are not recorded officially.

Even though, the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa and other African leaders of having condemned the mayhem, what cannot be wished away is the fact that the unending attacks can be said to represent a monumental failure to stop the maltreatment of Africans by Africans. Ramaphosa and other South African leaders never agreed that their citizens were doing the wrong thing by killing and looting shops and business interests of other nationals. They are sitting on the fence and not telling the bitter truth by condemning the violence and the perpetrators.

The Nigerian government has equally been accused of being slow or failing to provide enough protection for its citizens whenever they are unjustly treated abroad, using all available diplomatic weapons. To counter the criticism, the Nigerian government, this time around, took swift action by boycotting the last World Economic Forum on Africa, sending a special envoy to the South African leader and summoning the country’s High Commissioner to Nigeria. There have also been intensified calls by individuals and corporate interests that South African businesses should be nationalised in the country. Despite the big-brother role Nigeria had played in the past, as a frontline country, to end racial segregation and bring down the white-minority apartheid regime in South Africa, it is curious and unacceptable that Nigerians are now targets of attacks from its benefactor.

No amount of diplomatic rigmarole can abate the carnage until and unless parties agree to stop sitting on the fence and tell each other the truth that xenophobia is evil. The South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Bobby Monroe had denied reports of any xenophobic attacks in his country. The envoy simply described the attacks as “sporadic acts of violence,” adding that businesses belonging to other South Africans were also affected in the violence. In the usual manner, the import of Monroe’s statement is that there is nothing special or spectacular about the tragedy against Nigerians. This is being economical with the truth and would end nowhere other than worsening the problem.

Telling the truth is what would bring about justice. Denials, passing-the-buck, and trading blame would not yield anything positive. Doing the needful, Catholic Bishops of South Africa have boldly disclosed that the claim by South African authorities, suggesting that the attacks on Nigerians and other foreigners were not xenophobic, was mischievous, incorrect and misleading. Archbishop Buti Tigagale of the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference Office for Migrants and Refugees had boldly admitted that what happened was xenophobic. Acting as the voice of the voiceless, Tigagale said the bishops were dismayed and condemned the violence.

“Once again, we receive reports of the authorities doing very little to protect the victims. We received the report of police standing by idly in Pretoria while shops were looted and people attacked. Not a single arrest was made on that day. The authorities resort to the old explanation that this is not xenophobia, but the work of criminal elements. Let us be absolutely clear; this is not an attempt by concerned South Africans to rid our cities of drug dealers. And this is not the work of a few criminal elements. It is xenophobia, plain and simple. If it was about drugs, why are South African drug dealers not being targeted as well? Are we really to believe that there are none? And why are drug addicts, who rob people in our city centres to get money to buy drugs, not being targeted? If it is the work of a few criminal elements, why are South African owned businesses not being looted as well?” the bishops asked.

The move by the federal government in the evacuation of stranded Nigerians and the rare show of patriotism and generosity by Mr. Allen Onyeama, who fully sponsored the airlifting of stranded Nigerians, is commendable. The South African government must address the unending hostility fueling the deprivation of its citizens such as insecurity, education, hunger, unemployment, and housing. The reality is that the restive youths expect succour from the state, following the end of apartheid, but were neglected. Rather than looking inwards, they became envious of fellow black African foreigners that were doing well in business and more prosperous through hard work, thereby appealing to female suitors. African governments should be up-and-doing by improving their economic fortunes that is fuelling illegal migration of their citizens from home in the quest for greener pastures. For the huge loss, the government of South Africa should be made to pay compensations for the losses and killings while culprits should not be shielded, but apprehended and punished.

The government needs to go a step further by enforcing a state of emergency and red alerts whenever foreigners are being attacked. They should stop sitting on the fence, tell the truth and face the issues squarely. Our continent would continue to lag as long as governments continue to sit on the fence; a situation deplored in Lenrie Peters’ poem titled, The Fence, “Where the body ages relentlessly and only the feeble mind can wander back there I lie in open-souled amasement”. According to Peters, there is an endless battle between the ‘truth and untruth’ because human beings are naturally inclined to tell lies when only the truth is called for, especially if truth-speaking would not be to their advantage. That is where the role of Catholic bishops everywhere becomes indispensable as the real voice of the voiceless.

By always telling the truth and avoiding sitting on the fence in promoting good governance, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) admits that Nigeria and Nigerians are deeply sorry for the wrong use of divine and naturally endowed gifts and blessing through acts of injustice, bribery, and corruption, as a result of which many of our people are hungry, sick ignorant and defenseless. Not only that, it is trite that we are weighed down not only by uncertainties but also by moral, economic and political problems that spur many people to flee our dear country. Getting xenophobia behind us requires one strong thing; stop sitting on the fence and telling the truth!

Kupoluyi wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta