The Limit of Ignorance in South Africa

A variety of African fabric – a staple across the African Continent

By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu

I usually don’t delve into current political cum economic happenings in the motherland in this blog but I am compelled to given the xenophobic attacks that occurred earlier this month in South Africa. The incidence saw the looting, torching, and destruction of businesses owned by other Africans in Johannesburg.

In what seems like an afterthought, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent a Special Envoy to other African countries bearing a message of regret, solidarity, and apology. The envoy was tasked with visiting Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Zambia.

Perhaps, Ramaphosa was slapped into reality after being booed by the crowd at late President Robert Mugabe’s burial in Zimbabwe. I love that crowd because they seem to have shaken South African leaders out of lethargy.

Before that, Ramaphosa was on record condemning the attacks half-heartedly by alluding that foreigners are being punished for engaging in criminal activities and not abiding by the law. Honestly, he looked pathetic in that video. There was another video of former President Thabo Mbeki singing the same tune, accusing foreigners of criminality.

Then, there was the Police Chief who was on record inciting its citizens against foreign nationals, claiming they’re taking over towns in South Africa. I am told this last video is from previous incidents. Even if any of the videos are old, it reveals the weird mindset of some of South Africa’s top guns. On this matter, the exception is the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Julius Malema who has called a spade a spade.

If foreigners engage in criminality, that should be dealt with according to the law. But many of the shops and neighbourhoods being destroyed appear to belong to ordinary people that manage to eke out a living. Besides, why should citizens take laws into their hands? The summary execution of people without recourse to the law is tantamount to mob justice.

Did anyone see the Nigerians being evacuated from Johannesburg? They are ordinary people. They are not criminals. The majority are employers of labour who run their businesses. Already, over 800 Nigerians have signed up to leave South Africa, thanks to Air Peace, a private Nigerian airline that magnanimously offered to evacuate people free of charge.

The issue is deeper than criminalizing immigration. Some analysts argue that xenophobic attacks have roots in poverty and apartheid. There’s an element of truth in this school of thought. One has to wonder why Africans are the target, though. There are other migrants in the country.

The South African authorities should begin to deal with the problem in a wholesome manner because this has gone on for too long. Xenophobic attacks started in 2006. It re-occurred in 2007 and peaked in 2008 and 2015. There were fresh attacks in 2017 and 2019. Victims have been from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Nigeria, etc.

South Africa has bitten more than it can chew this time around.

I am glad that the Rwandan President Paul Kagame cancelled his attendance at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Forum in South Africa when this incident occurred. Zambia also put off its friendly match with Bafana Bafana of South Africa on account of security concerns.

These attacks are unacceptable. It undermines the vision of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AFCFTA), which came into existence this year, and the notion of pan-African unity as championed by the African Union (AU).

It would appear that the mob attacks are partly fuelled by ignorance. The African continent solidly stood beside South Africa during its arduous fight against apartheid. It would have been impossible to defeat the apartheid regime alone. Nigeria made heavy monetary contributions, gave asylum to fleeing activists and provided educational relief to those in need.

Ethiopia, Angola, Zambia provided military help. Neigbouring countries to South Africa known as the frontline states – Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Swaziland, and Lesotho as well as other countries to the North – Malawi, Tanzania played vital roles. Other countries in the continent supported the liberation movement in different ways. South Africa should never forget that!!!

In addition to the apology from the Special Envoy, compensation should be paid to the victims because some of them have lost everything. Finally, this is a wake-up call for all our countries to work hard towards creating wealth for its people. A vibrant economy is a key to solving some of these problems.

Have a great week everyone.

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  1. Sadly such attacks are not unusual within economic climates where there is a lot of poverty and lack of opportunity. When someone who looks just like you starts to prosper and is within close proximity, the recourse is to steal or attack that individual. I’m honestly not surprised at the depraved mindset of their leaders either because they too are part and parcel of the SA community that most likely feels marginalised as a result of poverty etc.
    I hope other Africans looking to settle there will really consider the climate of things and perhaps refrain from such a move.
    Thank for this account, it really helps to remind me how fragile the human mind is and how it’s deceptions can lead to pute carneige.

    1. Jennifer, you’re absolutely right. Poverty has a role in all of these. But the so-called leaders need to get a handle of it.

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