Lessons from South Africa

By Bola Bolawole

turnpot@gmail.com 0807 552 5533

In the “xenophobic” response to the xenophobic attack on foreigners by black South Africans, useful lessons which ought to have been learnt, first to prevent a reoccurrence and, secondly, to avoid and or avert a tragedy of greater monumental proportions here in Nigeria, will be lost if care is not taken. “Sunkun muus, riran muus”, as they say! It sounds like Latin but it is not! It is a slang which means that even though we are weeping, we must still make efforts “to see road”; otherwise, tragedy will become double. That will be akin to what Fela called “double wahala for deadi bodi and the owner of deadi body”!

Xenophobia simply means fear/hatred (phobia) for foreigners/strangers (xeno) by citizens or owners of the land. There are citizens and foreigners in every country or community of the world, hence the saying that a slave somewhere is a free born elsewhere. So many factors cause a free born or bona fide citizen to become foreigner/stranger in another land. There is the phenomenon called emigration, in which citizens move from their country to another country to pursue some objectives which may include tourism/holidaying/visiting, schooling/studying or search for the proverbial “golden fleece”, running away from persecution/asylum-seeking; and search for the proverbial “greener pastures” or better living conditions.

There are two types of immigrants – legal and illegal. A legal immigrant stays in a foreign country with the consent and permission of the host community. He has all his papers and therefore enjoys the protection of his host community. He has virtually the same rights as a citizen for as long as his papers are okay. These papers are renewable periodically. After a period of time and having met some conditions as set by the host country, a legal immigrant can even acquire the status of a citizen through a process called naturalization. On the other hand, an illegal immigrant is a criminal in the eyes of the law and does not enjoy the pleasure of his host community or the protection of the law. Many enter legally but soon become illegal immigrants because they overstay; because they convert brief stay to permanent stay, in order words, they knew right from the time they were applying for short stay that they had no intention of returning home, so on getting to a foreign country, they just “miss”, as they say; and others because they work when they have no work permit. Some immigrants run into trouble when they engage in criminal activities, that is, when they break the law. There are also those who “stow away” by various means and who, from day one, are illegal immigrants.

Try as the xenophobic South Africans may, they will never completely eradicate immigrants from their country. There are immigrants who just must be there, such as members of the diplomatic corps and employees of international organisations. Every country is home to multi-national corporations that reserve the right to recruit their staff from countries of their choice; ditto businesses legally owned by foreigners and lawfully established and run by those foreigners. It is, therefore, plausible to say that when the nationals of a country are up in arms against immigrants, some categories of lawful immigrants must be excluded. Those usually at the receiving end are illegal immigrants and legal immigrants engaged in illegal or criminal activities. It need be said, however, that in xenophobic attacks, legal immigrants can also be victims, even where they are not necessarily the target; they can also be part of the target as the divide between the legal and the illegal is often blurred in mob attacks. It is therefore advisable for everyone, both legal and illegal, to be security conscious and stay out of sight when mobs are on parade. Even where the authorities embark on well-structured efforts to clean the society of illegal immigrants, as Trump is presently doing in the U.S., legal immigrants often find themselves in the web until the wheat is separated from the chaff.

 Many factors cause xenophobic attacks, chief of which is economic. When a country faces economic problems, the first scapegoats are usually immigrants who are seen as having taken jobs meant for citizens. Usually, this is just an excuse because such jobs are mostly menial, which citizens snub but which immigrants, far away from home and desperate for survival, grab with both hands. Nigeria has sent illegal immigrants packing in the past, hence the popular “Ghana-must-go” saying. Ghanaians, too, have sent Nigerians packing. There is a house in the Sabo area of Ogbomoso with the inscription “Olorun se nwon le mi ni Ghana”; meaning, “Thank God I was driven out of Ghana”! Usually, immigrants whose country’s economy is on the downward slide get derided by their more prosperous hosts. Immigrants do all sorts of menial jobs and are paid peanuts. Ironically, however, immigrants over time usually get more prosperous than their arrogant hosts. Jealousy sets in. It is exacerbated where the immigrant community is not humble but boisterous and loud. The Yoruba say “If your yam is very succulent, make sure you cover it with your hands while eating it” Don’t expose yourself for your hosts to see how greatly you have been blessed. Abraham and Isaac suffered this kind of fate in foreign land. Jacob suffered similarly in the hands of Laban. The same Jacob chided his sons who insisted on avenging the harm done their sister in foreign land because he feared a backlash from his hosts. Lousy, arrogant, uncultured, uncivil immigrants bring ruins upon themselves.

Where an immigrant community grows to the extent that it swarms their hosts, there will be problem; as happened to the Israelites in Egypt when a Pharaoh that knew not Joseph mounted the throne. Statements emanating from South Africa reveal fears that the immigrant population in some South African cities has overgrown the citizens in their own land! Where an immigrant population is noted for crimes and criminal activities, be sure they will soon run into trouble. It is not enough, like some commentators have said; that the hosts themselves are also into the drugs trade. It is their country; if they like, let them ruin it! They do not expect you as immigrants to join or even overtake them in that enterprise. Only legal immigrants should be encouraged to travel out of any country – and it should be impressed on them to be law-abiding, humble and respectful of the sensibilities of their host communities. No country has the right to insist that its nationals must behave willy-nilly or ride roughshod over their host communities. Illegal immigrants must be punished and repatriated home. Law-breakers and the criminally-minded must also be similarly treated. Then, of course, we must fix our own country. It is because our country is hopelessly broken that our people are “Andrewing” out.

Many have reacted sharply to the ongoing xenophobic attacks in South Africa because of the gory details of some of the killings. Sheer hypocrisy! More gory killings have taken place here a daily basis and for years and we have taken them all in our strides. Are we suddenly discovering our “humanity” simply because a foreign country, learning from our bestial ways, now treats us as we have treated ourselves? Many are also miffed because of the help we gave South Africa during the dark days of apartheid. I must admit that, in this, we did so well! Unfortunately, however, we did not build on that foundation but eroded it; not only in southern Africa as a whole but elsewhere. Always, we make monumental sacrifices but fail to reap commensurate dividends. Failure of leadership is why Nigeria is a laughing stock everywhere. With Robert Mugabe dead, we can have some respite from his wicked, cruel, and malicious jokes – and whether David Cameron, Putin, the Chinese leader or Donald Trump, the story is the same! Gradually, one step after another, we lost the respect South Africa had for us – with the vile dictator Sani Abacha’s treatment of Olusegun Obasanjo (the darling of South African leaders) and the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others despite Mandela’s pleas. We also worked against South Africa at the AU and in Cote d’Ivoire, among other foreign policy debacles. Mandela himself led the campaign for Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth for two years over Saro-wiwa.

Rather than cry over spilled milk in South Africa or shed crocodile tears over happenings in a foreign land while same storms are gathering at home, let us address the swarming of the South by illegal/foreign immigrants before it is too late. Let South-west leaders also urgently address the taking over of their land, commerce, and, slowly, politics by “foreigners” Already, there are rumblings underneath. A stitch in time, as they say, saves nine!

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