Friday, June 13, 2008
Xenophobia: What South Africa Told Yar’Adua
Juliana Taiwo, just back from Cape Town, South Africa writes about how South Africans are employing every tool to atone for the xenophobic attacks on migrants, including Nigerians, despite the ugliness of the mayhem
From the Murtala International Airport when the advanced team for President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s three-day State visit to South Africa were waiting on Saturday May 31, to depart for Cape Town, it was obvious from discussions that Nigerians were clearly unhappy with the recent xenophobic attacks in which thousands of Nigerians and other migrants were forcibly displaced.
Nigerians were clearly upset with the short memory of the South Africans, of how Nigeria in particular sacrificed all to ensure they gained their freedom from their white masters. Worst hit is President Thabo Mbeki, who was roundly criticised over his government's ineffective handling of the attacks and for failing to remind his countrymen that their economy rested on the work of migrants from across Africa.
So, before departing the airport, an opinion has been formed that the South African government and her people were looking the other way while their fellow Africans were being attacked by angry South Africans who feel their jobs were being taken away from them. So before President Mbeki tendered unreserved apology to President Yar’Adua during a joint press conference at the end of their private session Tuesday June 3, it was a rude shock when on checking into the hotel and putting on the television, all the stations had something or two to say against the attack.
The Super Sports crew commentators of Thomas Kwenaite, Thomas Mlambo and a guest took it on a lighter note when they said Nigeria had a good retaliation on the xenophobic attacks the best way they could when they continued in the humiliation of Bafana Bafana of South Africa by beating them 2-0. But they did not play down on the seriousness of the matter. The trio condemned in strong terms the throwing to the dogs the strong history of African brotherhood.
They described as a shame the attack on fellow Africans considering what countries like Nigeria have done to end the reign of apartheid in South Africa. Also the new 24-hour news station e-news which started broadcasting on June 2, did not also waste time in featuring news story as well as short documentaries on victims of the attack, their disappointments as well as the way forward. About 50 per cent of the advertisement on TV also condemned the attack urging South Africans to remember the contributions of other African countries to their freedom, reminding them that they are first Africans before South Africans.
The newspapers were not left out in publishing stories from South Africans or organisations also condemning the attack. Mbeki had come under fire for travelling to Tanzania for an African Union summit last month and waiting until the next day before ordering the army on to the streets to help the police. He has also been criticised for being too out of touch to realise that the violence was in part fuelled by the lack of adequate housing and jobs for the poor South Africans.
A front-page editorial in South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper said: "Throughout the crisis, arguably the most grave, dark and repulsive moment in the life of our young nation, Mbeki has demonstrated that he no longer has the heart to lead." Moeltsi Mbeki, of the South African Institute of International Affairs, who is Thabo Mbeki's brother, said the government had lost credibility.
"Even a strong statement by somebody who has such weak authority will not convince the people. This crisis is the result of the failure of their foreign policy against Zimbabwe and they don't want to admit that," he said. According to a Nigerian based in Cape Town, Jesse, the violence is waged by poor South Africans who claim the refugee population, which is estimated to be as high as five million, take their jobs and dwellings and commit crime.
He said a job that was before now going for R100 per hour for instance, the migrants from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, were ready to settle for R30 or less. However, police and politicians say there is also a significant element of thuggery and criminality with shops and homes looted for personal gain. There have also been series of protest march against racial intolerance in various cities in South Africa. In one protest according to Africa News, the protesters risking violence themselves, held aloft posters saying "xenophobia hurts like apartheid" and "we are all Zimbabweans".
The President of the United Democratic Movement party, Bantu Holomisa, was quoted to have said that Mbeki's inquiry into the outbreak of violence needed to reveal whether a so-called "third force" was responsible for stoking the crisis. He said: "The key here would be to remove any kind of suspicion that this thing was unleashed deliberately and orchestrated by whomever. Ministers are already telling us there is a third force. Let them bring that evidence to the commission."
So it was not surprising when Mbeki decided to use the three-day state visit by Yar’Adua to tell Nigerians in particular that his government and indeed the people of South Africa were clearly against the attack. South Africa’s anti-immigrant violence, which saw over 60 people killed and tens of thousands displaced, featured highly on the two leaders' agenda. Although no Nigerian was among those killed, many lost property or had their shops looted.
“We extend an unreserved apology to the President with regard to these attacks that have taken place in some parts of our country, attacks against other Africans particularly.” He said his government was “opposed to any manifestation of any xenophobia amongst our people. We are quite determined to make sure we protect everybody but are also very, very keen that the process of the reintegration of displaced people within communities from which they came is done as quickly as possible. Many of our communities are already indicating interest that the displaced people should return.”
Also towing the line, the Speaker of the South African Parliament, Hon. Mbete Baleka shortly before Yar’Adua addressed the parliament, described his visit not only as an honour for South Africa but “also fortunately timed in that it gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our friendship with the government of Federal Republic of Nigeria and indeed with all the peoples of Nigeria.
“The history of the friendship between the people of our two countries is a long one. Prior to the first democratic elections in 1994, Nigeria was a supporter of international campaign against apartheid, for that support we remained deeply grateful. The relationship forged during the years of struggle is now bearing fruit for the African continent as a whole.
South Africa and Nigeria share the vision of an African renewal. In pursuit of this vision, our countries are partnering through a range of formal structures to give practical meaning to their shared vision. This vision of African renewal is a noble enterprise, an enterprise in which Nigeria is giving leadership.
“We hale your august visit as one of peace and friendship during this particular time in South Africa. We know your visit will extend the bond of unity between two great giants of Africa Nigeria and South Africa. We appreciate the brotherhood you offer with your presence here today and honour you and your commitment to oneness of our great and promising continent that is on its way to its ultimate prosperous destiny.
Also speaking, the Deputy Speaker, Mrs. Peggy Hollandre said the bond between the two countries is a time tested one. “Nigeria played a critical role in racial discrimination in South Africa through its support for international campaign against apartheid. It is therefore fitting that the two countries continue to maintain a strong relationship, especially with regards to the challenge of the renewal of the continent.
“Your visit to South Africa is an important step towards ensuring entrenchment of this growing relationship between our two countries. As you would agree, we share the dream of building an Africa that is free from the clutches of poverty and hunger, an Africa that truly promotes good governance, and the sharing of the fruit of democracy among the people.
“It is a dream that must enable us to conquer the visages of the colonialism. Through cooperation between the individual countries we have to succeed in building one continent that belongs to its entire people, our strength is in unity. We have to act to revise the division created by years of colonialism. This must include dealing with acts of violence among fellow Africans such as the one witnessed in our country recently.
“A famous politician once said, ‘to build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years, to destroy may have to be the thoughtless act of a single day.’ Clearly we have the challenges of uniting our people in the midst of the contest for merger resources,” she said.