Xenophobia and the New Apartheid

506DD42A-2FF1-407F-B25C-A148AF0929B8Is xenophobia the new face of Apartheid? Nigeria was a radical Nation when it came to fighting for the liberation of Africa from the grip of colonialism and apartheid. The nation was radical when it came to taking positions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Africa-centric foreign affairs policy was so strong that international oil companies operating in Nigeria were partially nationalized at that time as punishment for hobnobbing with the segregationists. It was a time for the awakening of socio-political consciousness that liberty was indeed the right of every African, of every human. The liberation movements fought for economic, political and mental freedom. There was no shortage of publications from the African National Congress (ANC), The Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), South West Africa People Organisation (SWAPO) and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), to mention a few.

Bob Marley, from a fully Pan African mindset produced hits like War and Africans Unite. He sang of Africans liberating Zimbabwe. He did not say that Zimbabweans were liberating Zimbabwe. He said, Africans liberated Zimbabwe. Nigeria’s Sonny Okosun sang of Papa’s Land concerning Zimbabwe and Fire in Soweto in support of the struggle against apartheid outrages in South Africa. As far as Okosun was concerned, Zimbabwe was Papa’s Land. Peter Tosh and many other artistes played their part in projecting a universal African personae.

Many South African youths, while on exile from the then rogue government in their country, studied in Nigerian universities and were completely at home in the country. They were loved and not discriminated against. They were welcomed with open arms because the liberation of Africa was a collective struggle. No wonder that as soon as apartheid structures crumbled, victory was seen as an open invitation to fraternize with brothers and sisters that had been held in horrible bondage for years by the evil system. It was not long after the fall of that system that I made my first visit to South Africa.

One of the things that shocked me on my first visit, but which I discounted at that time, was the many times I heard South Africans say that they had “never been to Africa”. Never been to Africa? You would have thought that South Africa was in Asia or Latin America. Over the past decades I have come to make very good friends and comrades across many sectors in the country. We are still together in the struggle for environmental justice, for food sovereignty and against the neoliberal system that continues to wreak havoc on citizens of the world.

As bad as the attacks in South Africa may be, Nigerians at home cannot afford to vent their anger and frustration on South African businesses in Nigeria. Two wrongs never make a right. A tooth for a tooth is bound to leave everyone toothless in the long run.

Killing fellow Africans, looting and burning their business premises have become the recurrent new normal in South Africa. It is an outrage of horrific proportions that is difficult to explain or understand. A friend from South Africa explains that the hate that is burning through the nation is sown by politicians with the penchant for keeping the people divided within their communities and belligerent towards non-South African Africans.That explanation is not easy for those of us watching from the outside to understand. What stands out clearly is that this is a failure of leadership. Any leadership that does not sow love and good neighbourliness but sees a cheap way out of providing jobs and welfare to their people will find scapegoating immigrants as an easy way to avoid responsibility. It is the duty of leaders to provide the right conditions for citizens to invest their energies in positive ventures rather than in bloodletting and sundry criminal activities.

Citizenship under the apartheid regime was graded according to the colour of a person’s skin and probably the colour of their eyes. Unfortunately, the post apartheid days have not fundamentally addressed the deep inequalities and deprivations in the country. Has the apartheid infrastructure been dismantled? Are the warriors on the streets of South Africa fighting the right war?

We see this happening around the world with right wing demagogues ascending into power and playing to their base by raising the banner of hate and division. Hate becomes normal. Hate and division rise to be seen as inherent human attributes and as a means of securing a space in the sofiri-economic spheres, whereas it is clear that it is empathy, cooperation and solidarity that has ensured the survival of all social beings.

Sisonke Msimang, in an article published in Africa is a Country and titled “Belonging–why South Africans refuse to let Africa in” showed that the xenophobic uprisings in the country has deep underlying forces traceable to the boobytraps set under apartheid. Our reading of the analysis is that just as coloniality survives colonialism, so is the case of apartheid or divisions based on a superior sense of otherness. Msimang was born to South African parents but has lived in Kenya, Zambia and Canada. On return to her country, she learned to settle in and at the same time saw and understood the feel of being considered as an outsider until she mentioned her roots.

The apartheid system had built walls around the country, ensuring that both caucasians and blacks had peculiar views of Africans outside their borders. The restrictions were stiff, the country had its first television station in 1975, never mind that DSTV has now captured the continent. Before then, one of that country’s Minister for Posts and Telegraph said that television would only be introduced into the country over his dead body. He feared that through television “South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make Africans dissatisfied with their lot.”

Citizenship under the apartheid regime was graded according to the colour of a person’s skin and probably the colour of their eyes. Unfortunately, the post apartheid days have not fundamentally addressed the deep inequalities and deprivations in the country. Has the apartheid infrastructure been dismantled? Are the warriors on the streets of South Africa fighting the right war?

The words of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia which Bob Marley sang in his classic War, declared that “until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes me say war.”Msimang reminds us that today, some black South Africans consider their colour to be a lighter shade of black and that this confers them with a sense of superiority over the darker Africans. What an outrage! It is shocking that anyone’s mentality could be warped to that level. But then, don’t we see how skin whitening creams are best sellers with some fellows who end up with unenviable multi-coloured skins?

The violent contortions in South Africa should trouble the entire continent and the African Union (AU) should step up and play a role in realigning the imaginations of all Africans, irrespective of colour or nation. Nigeria was slow in responding while the slaughter goes on, but this is the time to draw the line and demand that leaders in that country do something to improve the lives of their people and get the nation to work rather than indulge in banditry and shedding of innocent blood.

As bad as the attacks in South Africa may be, Nigerians at home cannot afford to vent their anger and frustration on South African businesses in Nigeria. Two wrongs never make a right. A tooth for a tooth is bound to leave everyone toothless in the long run. This is the time for our president and that of South Africa to take a hard look at their countries. Government must step up in the defense of citizens’ right to life no matter where they may live. And, artificial colonial borders should not push us to destroy one another. Pan African ideals of leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara and others, plus ideals embodied in movements such as Africans Rising aiming to erase artificial barriers and elevate the best creative, productive and transformative capacities in us provide templates for what is possible. Leaders should borrow a leaf from such efforts and not stand aside to watch brothers kill one another.

Meanwhile, in solidarity with victims of the senseless xenophobic attacks I am staying away from a vital conference on Financing the Future holding 10-11 September in Cape Town, South Africa and to which I was invited as one of the Global Ambassadors.

3 thoughts on “Xenophobia and the New Apartheid”

  1. This is apt
    I wish we had more vibrant and good vision engineers like hon nnimmo
    Your articulate analysis of the African crisis id worth reading

    I hope we can all grow and think wisely
    The problems we are faced with today in Nigeria to be specific is actually of out own doing
    Change must start from our families and them emanate into a global memorandum of understanding for harmonious coexistence
    South Africans killing NIGERIANS is the most disgursting tale in African it’s as deadly as climate change

    We can change our mindset and perception and see life in a completely different way by making peace unity and love our priority as a nation and as humans

    I anticipate for an Africa where brothers and sisters will not just be family but they will form an formidable peace loving team that will bring about change in several ramifications both locally and internationally
    I anticipate for an african continent where we can use our respective talents to bring about harmonious coexistence
    I anticipate for an african continent where potentials will be harnessed and we all will love and respect human rights and uphold the tenets of the rule of law.

    Let’s think about peace
    Let think about love
    Let’s think and fight against chaos and abyss and let’s make Africa great again

    Together we can


    The ongoing violence in Pretoria and Johannesburg are NOT Xenophobic, they are criminal in nature, a consequence of many years of neglect, increasing poverty, and hopelessness.

    If they were xenophobic (hatred for people of another race), Caucasians who are just about 8% of the population and control as much as 85% of the wealth will be the target – given South Africa’s history with regards to colonialism and Apartheid.

    Is it not ironic that the biggest malls and businesses owned by the Caucasians are not attacked, but small shops run by hustling Africans from other countries.

    The small percentage of white landowners and captains of industry and finance are not attacked;

    The small percentage of Asians (mostly Indians/Chinese/Pakistanis) and their businesses are not attacked either.

    Why the recurring attacks on black people from other countries?

    It is because they are soft targets the political elites (specifically the ANC) leave vulnerable and open to attack.

    These attacks are no mistakes (whether they are premeditated and planned well ahead cannot be ascertained either).

    Be that as it may, like in every country with economic challenges, politicians look for soft targets to direct the frustration of the populace at.

    While politicians do not come out to give orders for attacks, their body language and disposition give them away – time and again.


    Read from history or take a look at recent cases, failed/failing politicians are prone to choosing targets other than themselves to blame for the economic woes in the society.

    It’s an age-old tactic that works every single time.

    President Trump blames Mexico, China, and Central Americans for the joblessness US citizens are witnessing;

    President Buhari blames PDP’s 16-year rule for Nigeria’s stagnation and widespread poverty;

    The ANC and their leaders blame black migrants and expatriates for the state of jobless SA citizens;

    …and the list goes on!

    Politicians do not take responsibility; they shift the blame and fan the embers of distraction that ensues.

    The attacks in SA are perpetrated by criminals, lazy people who want the government to do everything for them without contributing a single thing to the advancement of society; it’s as simple as that!

    They’ve been promised Heaven and Earth since 1994 – and until the recent election campaigns, but alas, the ANC has failed, instead, becoming a leviathan monster where corruption resides and flourishes.

    It’s been 25 years since Apartheid ended, native South Africans still have no access to land or commercial farming and are very weak economically, such that they survive from hand to mouth, praying for the month to end quickly so they can receive their meagre salaries – if they are employed at all – (which disappears in less than 5 days due to the kind of debt/credit economy they run – buy now, pay later).

    As long as native South Africans keep attacking and blaming migrants from other African countries, the establishment is fine, their investments and finances are secured; no problem at all!

    Pray, tell; how many white-owned shops have you heard or seen get looted or vandalised?

    It’s the little guys that take the fall. It’s political expediency the establishment is comfortable with.

    My point is simple: these attacks should be described as they actually are: CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES, I

    It’s an economic issue, the fight for survival and self-preservation. The attacks are not racial!

    That the media and not-so-informed people make it look like racial issues does not mean it is true.

    Until the SA government make life more meaningful and comfortable for its people, get them educated properly, redistribute the land, and open up the economic space, politicians will continue to take advantage of isolated criminal events, escalate same, and make them an issue that will distract the people from real issues.

    In the end, it’s about policy change, it’s about making the people matter, and not concentrating the wealth in a few hands while the majority fight for the crumbs.

    P.S. Nigerians living in SA must rethink their means of livelihood and business activities. A situation where thousands of able-bodied young men (and women) import, distribute, and peddle illicit drugs and banned substances does not augur well for the country’s image and also exposes real expatriates and professionals to danger.

    We cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time; we cannot demand that the SA government stop the “violent attacks meted on Nigerians” without first reprimanding our brothers and sisters who drag our name in the mud with their behaviour and unethical means of making a living.

    There are as many, if not more, legitimate business owners and other professionals in virtually every sector of the S economy as there are reprobates whose stock in trade is peddling hard drugs and gangsterism (yes; Nigerian cult groups engage in violent and open fights, shooting and killing one another for “trespassing” their illicit drug “markets”).

    South Africa needs professionals in many fields (medicine, ICT, academics, etc. and many Nigerians work very hard to fill that space). These set of Nigerians are not in competition with locals, per se; they come with the much-needed set of skills and educational qualifications – most times not matched by locals.

    These are not the ones in competition; it is those who come to “hustle” that fight for space with local gangsters and drug lords. Many times, if not all the time, it is a scenario like this that sparks the fire for fresh rounds of violence and attacks.

    I hope the Nigerian and SA governments find a lasting solution to this menace soon.

    They are both headed by politicians (who do things only for their gain).

    That, friends, is my greatest fear. While optimistic, I fear that politicians will continue using these incidences for their own benefit, if history is anything to go by.

    Omon U. K.

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