Ingratitude, As South Africans Continue To Pay Nigeria’s Good Deeds With Evil

By Sandra Ijeoma Okoye

There is no denying the fact that South African youths and some elders that may in this context be considered to be accomplices have for the umpteenth time seen to have marched along the streets with banners and placards demanding that Nigerians, Zimbabweans, and other foreigners of African origin leave their country. The protesters were at each time in their xenophobic display cried out that foreigners are taking away their jobs and committing crimes such as doing drugs and trafficking; the same narratives they often use to attack foreigners and their properties.

Without any iota of exaggeration, there have over the years been growing tension among Nigerians living in South Africa as they are needlessly attacked by riotous South African youths at any point in time. Surprisingly, on the trail of every attack, they would be calmed by high ranking diplomatic officials, such as the South African High Commissioner, and in the same vein urged to dismiss such fears, and assured that the issues will be addressed. But never! The deadly scenario has continued to play out like a vicious cycle.

At this juncture, it is expedient to ask, “How long will the vicious cycle of fears and denials continue to haunt Nigerians seeking the proverbial greener pasture in South Africa?

Permit me to disclose in this context that I was on the night of June 12, Saturday, 2022, through a telephone call from South Africa woken up by a friend. In our tele-conversation, he said, South African authorities on Saturday (the same day he phoned) locked up all Nigerian Shops in Yeoville Market.

To those that are not familiar with the market, it is not majorly occupied for commercial purposes by Nigerian traders or businessmen. Rather, the market provides a mix of wares from around Africa: beautiful cloth from Ghana and the DRC, tinned goods from West Africa, Mopani worms, palm oil, cassava root and yams, even little bags of clay from different regions of Africa (yes, people do eat clay).

I'll admit the arrangement is somewhat haphazard with trays of dried, salted fish sitting next to handcrafted jewelry and second hand books. You'll find everything from underwear to false nails and malted energy drinks but that's why it's so appealing. It's like a treasure hunt.

The market is a success story for everyone there, filled with people who started out with barely anything but are now running successful enterprises. With the forgoing, it is crystal clear that the market is not majorly occupied by Nigerians, but the question is, “Why senselessly attacking Nigerians always whenever xenophobic spirit come upon them? Without being exaggerative, only a Sangoma (a highly respected healer among the Zulu people of South Africa who diagnoses) can heal them.

Besides, he told me on the that most Nigerians that have work experience in Catering and Hotel Management coupled with event planning are denied employment opportunities as the sector is dominated by South African business moguls, thus they are denied employment opportunities. In a similar vein, he said Nigerians are denied visas to the Rainbow country. However, this writer is poised to investigate the foregoing allegations soonest.

At his juncture, it is expedient to recall that since Nigeria’s independence in 1960 that Africa has been the centerpiece of its foreign policy. In terms of policy, this involved the total liberation of Africa from colonial domination, racial discrimination, and apartheid system. More so, when colonization remained longer in South Africa than in any country in Africa, Nigeria placed all its weight, both diplomatically and financially behind South Africa to ensure that she was liberated. It would also be recalled that the white settler regime in South Africa was the last white rule regime to surrender power to an African majority government in the continent, and Nigeria played a major role in that regard.

It is expedient to say that Nigeria’s overall policy toward South Africa was derived strictly from its firm and total commitment to achieve accelerated decolonization and to uphold the dignity of the black race. This moral commitment manifests itself in Nigeria’s persistent support for the oppressed black people in Southern Africa in general and South Africa in particular. Since its independence in 1960, Nigerian government and its people have demonstrated their concern over the violation of human rights and denigration of the black’s dignity by the minority white regimes in Southern Africa. The first practical demonstration of this was the sympathy generated by the Sharpeville massacre of March 1960. This eventually led to the vigorous pressures mounted by the Nigerian public on Balewa’s government to condemn, unequivocally the inhuman, racist, and despicable action of the apartheid South African regime. As a result, Nigeria was in the forefront in the clamor for intensification of embargoes, boycotts, and economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

Then, the salient question in this context is; “Does it mean that South Africans, particularly today’s youths that might not have being born at the time do not study African history in schools for them to know the extent Nigeria and Nigerians went to ensure that they were liberated from the hands of the then racist whites?

There is no denying the fact that it was not only the Nigeria as a government that took upon itself the responsibility to free the South Africans from the jugular of racial discrimination and its seeming attendant imprisonment. Rather, Nigerian musicians were lyrically involved as they were very vocal about the social injustice which South Africans suffered for long in the hands of the oppressive whites. It would be recalled in this context that the term protest music as a genre, no doubt gained popular cultural validity in the 1970s, particularly during the time South Africans were being oppressed by the whites.

It will be also recalled that Sonny Okosun of blessed memory, Nigeria’s highlife and reggae star, in “Papa’s Land” (1977) and “Fire in Soweto” (1978) condemned the suppression of black South Africans by their apartheid governments.

In a similar vein, following in Okosun’s footsteps was Nigeria’s guitarist and reggae star, Majek (Majekodunmi) Fashek (1963-2020) who dedicated his song “Free Africa, Free Mandela” to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, whom he described as a prisoner of conscience.

However, one of the most endearing and emotional protest renditions against apartheid came from Nigeria’s singer, actress, and journalist Onyeka Onwenu in her song, “Winnie Mandela.” Onwenu described Winnie Mandela as the “soul of a nation, fighting to be free!”

At a media parley after the release of the music, Onwenu explained that she wrote the song after watching a documentary about the Mandelas, which moved her to tears. She “identified” with Winnie’s “loneliness and some of her pain.” During the sleepless night that followed, the Nigerian musician put her “pain to a song” to “give something back to Winnie for the sacrifice of her life to the Apartheid struggle,” Onwenu disclosed at the parley.

Other Nigerians who sang against the social injustice of apartheid were Victor Essiet and the Mandators in the song “Apartheid.”

Against the foregoing backdrop, “Why have some South African youths, who are unarguably xenophobic refused to allow Nigerians in South Africa drink water and drop cup”, as the elders would proverbially ask? To my view, they should stop behaving in a manner that is making the world to see them as ingrates. To this end, let me advise some few South Africans that are xenophobic through the words of Paul Bamikole which go thus, “Ingratitude makes man an animal, even worse, for some animals do have a way of saying thank you when you do them a favor; take a dog for instance.”

Sandra Ijeoma Okoye (Author)

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