By Dr. Ignatius Odianosen Okosun (PhD).
Xenophobia is the dread of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange; it can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an in-group towards an out-group, including fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity. Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture” in which a culture is ascribed “an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality.”
However, the African continent has chronicled the history of spiral bound problems, challenges, and prospects. The continent peopled primarily by black and coloured people had suffered the debilitating problem of slavery as millions of people of Africa origin were shipped to the “New World,” where-in they were imperiled to incapacitating and in-human treatments ranging from compulsory labour, starvation, and death. The mass movement of slaves from the African continent had also foisted on it internecine wars as slave raiders attacked peaceful communities for the sole reason of procuring slaves to service the flourishing business of slave trading. This did not only miffed the ego of the black continent, but it also depleted it off her able-bodied and productive population exchanged for inferior European goods.
With the dawn of the 19th century, the formal and official eradication of slave trade in 1807 and subsequent efforts by the Western powers to enforce the prohibition on human slavery, the continent suffered a new form of misfortune. It was the balkanized into territories and fiefdoms of countries, its human and economic resources were exploited to the egocentric advantage of the colonialist overlords.
This exploitation continued until the turn of the 20th century when the consciousness of self-determination nurtured across Africa with robust opposition voices coming from the respective emerging black elites who craved and spearheaded the struggle for the independent and total liberation of the continent and its peoples from any form of repression. The opposition voice against colonialism and white minority rule across Africa was so loud that most of the world powers agreed to grant self-rule to some Africa countries.
Furthermore, from 1957-1970, some African countries got their independence. The tussle to liberate the remaining African countries that were still under white minority rule led to the materialization of the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) which has now been rechristened African Union (AU).
The OAU provided the rallying point in the struggle against the apartheid regime in South African and white minority rule in Mozambique and Namibia. The input of the Independent Africa member countries of OAU abridged the independence of Mozambique and Namibia in the 1980s, and the dismantling of apartheid regime in South African which besides foisting white minority domination on the aboriginal people also deprived them of their fundamental human rights to life, justice, access to quality public health, decent jobs and means of sustainable livelihood.
For over a century South Africa was locked against the rest of Africa until 1994. Indeed the country and her people were not easily accessible to the rest of the world as the white minority used their might to impose racial segregation, which denied the majority black of everything, including quality life and the rest of the world rose in support of the majority black in widespread agitation for the liberation of a country held in the worst and unusual form of domination in all spheres of life.
Internal resistance to the apartheid system in South Africa came from several sectors of society and saw the establishment of organisations dedicated variously to peaceful protests, passive resistance, and armed insurrection. It emanated from both black activists like Steve Biko and Desmond Tutu as well as white activists like Harry Schwarz, Joe Slovo, and Trevor Huddleston. By the 1980s there was the continuous interplay between violent and non-violent action, and this rapport was a notable feature of the rebellion against apartheid from 1983 until South Africa’s transition to democracy in 1994.
Although its conception predated apartheid, the African National Congress (ANC) became the primary force in opposition to the government after its conservative leadership was superseded by the organisation’s youth league (ANCYL) in 1949. Led by Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, and Oliver Tambo, elected to the ANC’s national executive. The ANCYL advocated a radical Black Nationalist programme which combined the Africanist ideas of Anton Lembede with those of Marxism.
The support given by the rest of the world was not because it was South Africa. It was because a part of humanity with legitimate rights to their land have been deprived and annihilated only because they have resources of global economic values, and not just because of the colour of their skin. Everyone saw the anti-apartheid struggle as a liberation struggle, an integral part of the global struggle against oppression and all forms of oppression.
Moreover South Africa and her exceptional experiences in severe oppression and exploitation, even before the advent of apartheid, is one country whose people got the best global camaraderie during the years of the struggle against apartheid. No one saw that struggle as “their” struggle. It was our collective struggle to liberate fellow human beings.
Their abjuration of the universally recognized adult suffrage which took away the right of black South African to vote and be voted for in an election was what perpetrated the apartheid regime in that enclave longer than expected until its final collapse in 1994 with the election of Nelson Madiba Mandela, one of the best legends that ever lived. However, Nelson Madiba Mandela, one of the champions of South Africa’s tortuous path to freedom had earlier been unconfined in 1990 after 27 years in prisons by the apartheid Regime President F.W De Clark whose administration came with sweeping reforms that paved the way for the eventual collapse of racial discrimination in the Rainbow Nation.
This could not have been possible without the pressure mounted by the OAU and other anti-apartheid western nations who offered financial, psychological and material support towards the anti-apartheid struggle. Nigeria and few other African countries like Zimbabwe and Angola played major roles in the anti-apartheid struggle as they committed huge resources to the fight to unshackle the suffering fellow Africans in the former apartheid enclave.
The South African Relief Fund an initiative of the OAU provided huge funding that went into the upkeep and education of South Africans. Hundreds of victims of apartheid regime predominantly after the Soweto uprising of 1976 benefited generously from it. On the diplomatic front, the Nigerian military regime of 1976-1979 nationalized British investment interest in Nigeria in protest of the Margaret Thatcher British administrations indisposition to the decimation of apartheid in South Africa.
Unfortunately, these noble efforts that were aimed at forging and strengthening the bond of African brotherhood are being greatly susceptible by the recurring incidences of xenophobic attacks on migrant African workers and migrant small business owners in South Africa by aboriginal South Africans who have accused them of taking over jobs and business opportunities in their homeland.
From the streets of Durban to Johannesburg, hundreds of migrants of African descent have either been battered with their businesses plundered and destroyed by the marauding stereotype heaves on the street of South Africa since the attacks. Also, many migrants of African descent have lost their lives to the brutish attacks of these felons which the South African law enforcement agents has been accused of condoning. Gory video clips on how the victims met their ends abound on the Social Media including the scorching alive of a Zimbabwean immigrant on the street of Durban.
For weeks, miserable migrants fled their homes to border settlements losing properties and articles of trade valued at millions of dollars. Despite the nationwide broadcast by South African President Mr. Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma calling for the termination of hostilities against the African migrants, the attacks were unrelenting thereby provoking global outrage against the South African authorities who have been accused of not doing enough to curb the attacks. The president has however expressed his commitment to eliminating the xenophobic attacks from the South African socio-economic system with the deployment of the military to curtail the violence following the seeming in-ability of the South African police to knob the situation.
The failure of the police to subdue the hate attacks on foreigners of Africa descent had fueled reservations of the state conspiracy against migrants who had been accused of taking every existing job in the South African economy. This feeling among South African youths was fueled by the high unemployment rate in the country put at 21%. With this high percentage of the unemployed in a country with the highest Gross domestic product (GDP) in Africa and until recently the largest economy in Africa coupled with the seeming elusiveness of the expected post-apartheid prosperity, the xenophobic feelings were not unexpected.
But the recourse to violence and even killing of fellow Africans for reason of pursuing their legitimate businesses in the rainbow nation is condemnable and injurious to the time-tested African brotherhood. Nothing validates the absurd wanton killing and destruction of properties. But public commentators believe that the socio-economic inequalities which characterized the apartheid era has not abated despite citizens’ high hopes of better living condition for all in the post-apartheid South Africa. This has been blamed on the neo-liberal capitalist choice made by the post-apartheid government which has not eliminated the serious inequalities sown under apartheid capitalism.
The economic policies of the post-apartheid era have not significantly departed from those of the apartheid era. The whites still own most of the investment in the country and still dominate the economy. The post-apartheid government in its bid to ensure a stable investment climate and guarantee free enterprise did nothing to redirect the economic culture already on the ground. This had momentous implications for the average unskilled South Africans who had perceived the success of the liberation struggle against apartheid as a meal ticket. They woke up to the post-apartheid realities that the white minority still call the shots in the South African economy and only engages competent hands to man their investments from where ever they could be sourced.
This is where many believe the South Africa government has not done so much for her young population as she has failed to empower and guarantee their livelihood. The government they contend should be liable for producing an uneducated and unenlightened citizenry that could fall for anything including a feeling of alienation in their own country with the resulting aggression on their fellow black Africans.
The South African government should as a matter of urgency restructure the social and economic sectors of the country with a view to changing the socio psyche of the average South African to embrace hard work and self-confidence. By so doing the average man in that country would begin to think and reason like other global citizens who would no longer perceive migrants to their country as enemies.
One is encouraged by the country-wide protest against the xenophobic attacks by well-meaning individuals and groups in South Africa including the country’s parliament which has made commitment to deal with the situation. The Africa National Congress (ANC) and other worthy groups have condemned these un-warranted acts. They wrote in the release that “We cherish the unselfish sacrifices made by all African countries and their people to our liberation and our emerging democracy. Many of our fellow Africans spoke in favour of our struggle, provided us with material support and fought side by side with us, sharing the trenches and fighting in actual combats against our oppressors. Many of them lost their lives in the process. We will never for a single moment forget this support. It is a living evidence of what a United African people can achieve”.
They drew attention to the continents common problems arising from the negative effects of colonialism and called for tolerance among the marauding xenophobia stricken gang against equally struggling fellow Africans with a view to finding the solution to the socio-economic crises across the continent in a manner that builds the African continent instead of destroying it.
This is undeniably food for thought for the Marauders in South Africa who have taken violence in the place of engaging themselves in ventures that would edify their humanity thereby bring down the self-esteem of the average African in the eye of the global community. This is where the African Union must exert pressures on the South African government to safeguard justice for the victim by bringing to book those who perpetrated the violence as deterrents to avoiding a future recurrence.
The South African government should demonstrate respectable leadership standard, by assuaging the ill feelings that have brewed against whatever the multi-racial country represent in the continent. The government must make the staid commitment towards eradicating future xenophobic attacks and pay compensation to all victims of the unfortunate victims because Nelson Madiba Mandela must definitely have wept from the grave over xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
Dr. Ignatius Okosun is a researcher, prolific writer on various national/global issues and social commentator
. From: Toronto-Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org