The South African Affair: Matters Arising

Most Nigerians who have poured out their anger against South Africa for the recent wave of xenophobic attacks by black South Africans on other Africans in their country call the people in Madiba's land ingrates. They justify this view with the list of heroic sacrifices Nigeria made for the demise of apartheid. This position makes me wonder whether its purveyors understand the dynamics of the world order they live in.

True, Nigeria did a yeoman's job to free South Africa and the entire Southern African region from apartheid and white minority regimes. But as Frederick Forsyth reminds us in his novel 'The Avenger' no beneficiary of assistance really loves his benefactor. A cynical view perhaps, but it applies. No individual or country wishes to remain beholden to another. This is no justification for the senseless violence but it helps to understand the South African attitude to foreigners.

The Zulu king has gone public to claim his statements about foreigners being lice that should be squashed was taken out of context. But he knew what he was saying at the time he did. It should serve as a timely warning to all these traditional rulers who, though lacking modern government powers, retain affinity to their people because deeply rooted culture. The Oba of Lagos made a similar statement in the wake of the governorship election and who knows what might have happened if his preferred candidate had lost or the world had not instantly reacted?

I make no justifications for those Africans, including Nigerians, engaging in crime or other anti-social activities in South Africa. But the law is there to address such deviations. If the post-apartheid presidents are not facing the challenge of addressing the economic retrogression of the black South Africans, are migrants to blame? Really, what percentage of jobs are the migrants taking? What are the nature of such jobs? If other countries turn on South Africans in their midst, as a few are already doing, can South Africa cope? Though a regional powerhouse, she needs the world to survive.

It is time the Nigerian government reverses this 'Africa as the center piece' thrust of her foreign policy. ' Nigeria first' in all her engagements with the rest of the continent which has a documented track record of harming our interests and well being, often with official backing. Think USA will allow Canada or Mexico treat her like dog faeces? Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt are likely tripods of the new Africa and this entails rivalry. Above all, let us look into our hearts, all blacks and find out why we hate each other so. I recommend a reading of Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri's online article 'Xenophobic Attacks: Why I won't Condemn South Africa.'

Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema is a historian and writer based in Lagos. Emai: [email protected]

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Articles by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema