Will South Africa, the most industrialised country on the African Continent implode under the renewed wave of xenophobia? Or will the African National Congress (ANC) led government rise to stave the backlash on fellow Africans, pushing the country perilously on the brink? Are there salient lessons for Nigeria?
By Tony Iyare
The pictures are horrifying, revolting, utterly gory, insipid and evoke assault to the sensibilities of many across the world. Like chestnuts being pulled into a raging fire, Nigerians are being roasted and virtually made mincemeat and object of sport on the streets of Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and other places in South Africa. As we helplessly glean the horrendous videos, we could hardly believe that the same country we bolstered to exit the pangs of apartheid has now become our Golgotha.
The killing fields of the past few weeks, followed by massive looting and destruction of shops and businesses of Nigerians and other foreigners, even in the ubiquitous presence of the Police, evinces the pitiable descent into barbarism of a nation which gained multi-racial freedom in 1994 cobbled via a rainbow coalition with a great promise particularly for Africa. Some have shuddered whether the genocide meted against the Herero and Nama in Namibia, by the Germans in the early 20th Century, could have been more brutal.
Worse is that this xenophobic attacks appear to enjoy the tacit consent of apparatchiks of the African National Congress (ANC) controlled government, which like many Janus faced elite across the world, have opted to exploit the country’s fault lines to shield its impotence and inability to offer sop to the army of jobless South Africans estimated at about 16 million. That explains its scrappy 57.51% votes in the 2019 election, its worst outing since the advent of multi-racial election in 1994.
Like US President Donald Trump and his hirelings who are paranoid about Latinos and Blacks, the rather prostrate ANC lords have found it convenient to goad their poverty stricken citizenry around the illusion of xenophobia with the false chant that foreigners have taken their jobs, milk and honey. In their naively contrived power calculus, they think this can buy them some temporary reprieve from the wrath of an increasingly grimaced population with little hope of getting the next meal.
Confronted with an ANC whose popularity is on the wane, President Cyril Ramaphosa campaigned on this bane xenophobic banner in the May election. Hear his inflammatory message which has embolden the street attacks on foreigners: “Everybody just arrives in our townships and rural areas and set up businesses without licenses and payments. And those who are operating illegally must now know..”
Little wonder, his Deputy Minister of Police, Bongani Michael Nkongi in a trending video shamelessly endorsed xenophobia. The Water and Sanitation Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane, Minister of Small Business Development, Lindiwe Zulu and Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi have also at different periods fanned the embers of anti-foreigners.
“Almost every second outlet (spaza) or even former general dealer shops are run by people of Somali or Pakistan origin in a yard that we know who the original owners were,” writes Mokonyane on her facebook wall. Also hear Zulu: “Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners”.
Motsoaledi, a former Health Minister, also said at a summit organised by the National Educational Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) in November 2018 that foreigners who were scrounging off the country’s health system is the reason why the government had not been able to provide quality health services to the South African people.
Condemned to the brutish life of the slummy townships, strewn around the glittering cities, the majority Black population, who have largely remain hewers of stone and drawers of water, have benefitted little from post-apartheid South Africa. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen for the false tale that fellow Blacks from neighbouring countries are the source of their problem, ostensibly promoting Black on Black violence that was the vogue of the apartheid era. But was anyone expecting something different?
The ANC led by former President, Nelson Mandela and their chief negotiator, Ramaphosa rather than negotiate in accord with the demands of the Freedom Charter adopted in 1955, were lured into the immediate trappings of political power by the departing apartheid government and its Western collaborators, leaving the control of the economy in the firm grip of the minority White population, who also own the largest chunk of the choice lands. In fact, what they got was some tokenism for the ANC leaders to partake in the spoils of office and primitive accumulation..
Little wonder the eclecticism and prevarication that has dogged Ramaphosa’s land reform policy since he took over from Jacob Zuma. As a billionaire with shares in many companies, he has long cast lot for the interest of big business. He was a director of Lonmin Mines when 34 striking miners were killed by Police in a gruesome manner at Marikana 7 years ago.
Ramaphosa and his ilk in the ANC who have been indicted for state capture have become mindlessly complacent, deploying the Police for backlash against the people the same way the apartheid government did. His immediate predecessor, Zuma is undergoing over 800 corruption charges. Other ANC cadres in government are cosying around in choice limousines while the people are locked in poverty. In fact, Jackie Selebi, a former Police chief was indicted in 2010 for his network with criminal gangs which clearly reveal the symbiosis that sustains the drug trade.
As the most industrialised economy on the continent, South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) almost tripled at $400 billion in 2011, but it has since declined to roughly $385 billion in 2019. In the same period, its foreign exchange reserves increased from $3 billion to nearly $50 billion, creating a diversified economy with a growing and sizable middle class, within two decades of ending apartheid.
State Owned Enterprises play a significant role in the country’s economy with the government owning a share in around 700 SOEs involved in a wide array of important industries. However, Eskom which oversees electricity supply has been limping for the last five years. A combination of rising costs, falling revenues, crumbling infrastructure, and decades of corruption and mismanagement seem to have wracked the company to its knees.
In 2016, the top five challenges to doing business in the country were inefficient government bureaucracy, restrictive labour regulations, a shortage of skilled workers, political instability, and corruption, whilst the country’s strong banking sector was rated as a strongly positive feature of the economy. Its biggest drawback is the pussy footing in integrating the Black population through a massive social programme that prioritises education, health care, technical training, entrepreneurship, housing and empowerment.
No doubt, Nigeria seems to have bore this shenanigan for too long from South Africa, a country that we galvanized all our available resources to pull away from the brink of apartheid. Some experts have conservatively put our commitment to the struggle at N64 billion. It may be more because their students littered our schools on scholarship from our government. This is apart from those who were offered our passports with which they conducted diplomacy and other businesses around the world.
We had anti-apartheid movements funded by students brimming all over campuses. Cadres of the African National Congress (ANC) and other organisations savoured the best of our hospitality as they took refuge in our homes. Those cadres who graced campus lectures and symposia were oiled from our students’ meagre stipends.
Yet their people seem to be easily lost on their history and the huge support and selfless sacrifice made by others to make them savour freedom. One cannot but concurs with Dr Daniel Roux who argue that “the blame should rest with South African politicians and state apparatuses more than the rioters”
To send a clear message that it would no longer tolerate any disparaging treatment of its citizens, the Nigerian government has recalled its South African Ambassador, Kabiru Bala, pulled out of the World Economic Forum (WEF) along with Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Malawi and requested for compensation to the Nigerian victims of the lawless rampaging of businesses and killings.
“In the first place, we must address the issue of compensation. There has to be accountability and there has to be responsibility for compensating all those Nigerians that have suffered loss and we are going to absolutely push forward,” insisted Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister at a joint news briefing with South African High Commissioner, Bobby Monroe. Some are even pushing for a harsher stance like complete boycott and total isolation of all South African businesses spanning communication, retail outlets, banking to entertainment.
But one seems to fear more the ripple effect which is already taking a toll on mindless destruction and looting of perceived South African owned businesses here. Some of the businesses are operating on franchise and owned by Nigerians, implying that the aggression may be misdirected. The dire situation in South Africa could just also be telling us what’s likely to happen here where situation of despair from joblessness is similar.
With Boko Haram/ISWAP, kidnapping, banditry and other criminal gangs increasingly taking over the public space, the government needs to act fast to offer hope to many Nigerians who are not only suffering from insecurity but merely living from hand to mouth.
The figure of jobless Nigerians is alarmingly high with unemployment rising from 18.1 per cent to 23.1 per cent in 2018. The N30 minimum wage remains unpaid by both the Federal and state governments. Many also are unable to neither redeem their rents nor pay their children’s school fees.
Yet the Senate has voted N5.6 billion for the purchase of luxury cars for their members. Realism should dictate the release of Omoyele Sowore, the prime mover of RevolutionNow protests and others whose crime was mobilising the people against the failings of the state and what has become commonplace.
-Iyare, a Communication and Development Consultant is an International Relations Analyst