South Africa and Xenophobic Attacks: Simply No Justification

On March 20, 2015, xenophobic attacks broke out in Durban, South Africa, some disgruntled South Africans turned on their neighbours, viciously attacking foreigners, mostly immigrant black Africans. This set in motion a wave of anti-immigrants attacks. The locals accused migrants of taking local jobs. They wanted the foreigners out of their country. Since the attacks, many deaths have been recorded and thousands of foreigners have fled for their lives, with many rendered homeless and in hiding.

A Mozambican man, Emmanuel Sithole was stalked, stabbed and murdered on the streets by vicious South Africans, According to reports, many including policemen watched while he pleaded for his life.

xeno+31images (2)

The Nigerian consul-general in South Africa, Uche Ajulu-Okeke said  –

Nigerian nationals living in South Africa have suffered a slew of property damages and losses including burned businesses, looted shops, scorched cars and stolen vehicles.

“Nigerians have compiled damage to their property and it is totaling about 1.2 million rand or N21 million, which will be sent to the federal government for further action,”

“I have also visited the site of the attacks in Johannesburg to assess the damage, and it was enormous.”

The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions issued a joint statement

to condemn the reckless violent attacks on African working people and nationals in South Africa with unacceptable resultant avoidable destruction of lives and properties”.

We believe that African workers have a right to seek legitimate work anywhere in the continent based on the dream and ideals set by the founding fathers such as Kwame Nkruma, Julius Nyerere, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nelson Mandela among others.

The xenophobic attacks in South Africa is a reflection of the crisis of governance in Africa as reflected by the worsening poverty and unemployment rate in the continent.

Following these xenophobic attacks, many African nationals are calling for political and economic sanctions against the government of South Africa.  The image of South Africa has indeed plummeted amongst its fellow Africans.

xenophobia-protest-lagos-nigeria images (3)

However, the South African Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Lulu Mnguli has promised that the interest of Nigeria would not be hurt by criminals’ activities in South Africa. Mnguli said that since Nigeria played a key role in helping South Africa to get freedom, it would be wrong for Nigerians to be attacked in that country by any group of persons.

Well, I remember the days when the plight of South Africa was the rallying call for unity and freedom amongst fellow Africans. I grew up to great songs of freedom by great African musicians, all calling for the end of apartheid in South Africa.

I remember these days in Nigeria when volunteers visited our classrooms with collection boxes, to ask for donation to aid the fight against Apartheid in South Africa. Like many other eager schoolchildren, I used to gladly donate my lunch money. Nigerian civil servants had part of their monthly salaries deducted to a fund that was established to help South Africans fight Apartheid.

Nigerians of my generation grew to love South Africa. We grew up rooting for its freedom. Many of us learned to stand up against oppression by watching with horror the apartheid situation in South Africa and with determination to fight against apartheid and racism.

I understand that South Africans do not owe any African national for the support they were given during the difficult apartheid era; however, it is good ethic to not repay kindness with malicious hatred.

There are two words I learnt  from situations in South Africa and these words are Apartheid and Xenophobia.

Xenophobia in South Africa did not just manifest overnight, it had been palpable for some time now. In 2008, there was a spate of xenophobic violence that left about 67 people dead. Just before this horrible new spate of xenophobic attacks broke out, I was discussing this very issue with a Nigerian friend who chose to do her PhD in South Africa. I expressed concerns about how Nigerians are perceived or treated by South Africans. They tend to see Nigerians as enemies; even diplomatic relations are tinged with underlying mistrust and ego issues. I just can’t seem to put my fingers on it but it is fair to say that, based on my observations as a Nigerian, I wouldn’t hurry to take up any fully paid PhD scholarship in South Africa.

This recent outbreak of anti-immigrants violence has been attributed to the inciting, irresponsible and provocative comments of the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini. He was quoted as saying

 “As I speak, you find [foreigners] unpleasant goods hanging all over our shops, they soil our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which … there are foreigners everywhere. “We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries.”

President Jacob Zuma’s son was also in the spotlight for making inciting statements.

These reckless utterances by public figures must be thoroughly condemned. They should have been thoroughly condemned and actions taken to bring home the point that such utterances are not welcomed and would not go unpunished. Unfortunately, these utterances were not seriously tackled, and it ended up fuelling the already boiling state of Xenophobia in the country.

Goodwill-Zwelithini- xeno+murder+1

It is however disheartening that some people have decided that the entire blame for these horrendous xenophobic attacks must be laid at the feet of colonialism, capitalism and all the ism/schisms out there.  Let us get something straight, regardless of the inciting factor, in the end only these murderous barbarians are responsible for the xenophobic attacks.

We are always quick to let despicable humans who commit crime against humanity hide under ism/schisms. A misogynist guy goes on a killing spree because women turned him down, well, poor chap, let’s blame misogyny for messing with his mind!

A sadistic guy raped a woman, posted it online and the victim becomes the object of ridicule, well let’s blame patriarchy, after all these men are just as much victims of their environment as the women. They could not help being that way, because, well, patriarchy!

Yes, patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, racism all plays their part in shaping minds and our daily interactions; they are even institutionalised systemic mode of oppression. However, when people are influenced by these fucked up mind-sets and commit atrocities, we can’t just blame the imaginary devil or the very real messed up ideologies that breed such attitudes.

We can and must call out the institutions that fuel such mind-sets, however let us not hesitate to put a face on the human criminals. These horrible institutionalised oppressions are not excuses and must not be used to mitigate atrocities committed by sane adult humans.

The person who hacked his neighbour to death is first and foremost a human being, let’s put a face on that barbarian, not just a sick ideology!

Colonialism was a conquer, divide and rule evil that set neighbours against one another and created borders and barriers to further protect colonial interests.  Capitalism breeds uncontrollable greed, and gets people competing for a living wage in unfair manners. Hard economic policies make us view our fellow humans as competitors for scarce resources, portraying them as obstacles to our progress and making  them our enemies. However, it takes a barbarian to set alight another human being just because the person is perceived as competition for scarce jobs. We cannot just blame these atrocities on colonialism or capitalism.

These barbarians have not only lost their sense of history but are a living example of man’s inhumanity to man when greed is given a free reign. Slavery, Religious wars, Racism, Sexism, Tribalism, Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia, Apartheid, Nigeria’s “Ghana Must Go” era , Garrissa killings, Boko Haram, Durban killings, South Africa and its rising Xenophobia…all these and more makes it hard not to lose hope in our shared humanity.

Greed is a strong driving force for hatred and a reliable tool of capitalism. Remember, the world has enough for everyone’s needs but not enough for everyone’s greed. However, not all the greed and ignorance flying around should take away our humanity and hope for a better world.

The hypocrisy is galling. In the 80s, Nigeria had its 5 minutes of malady when it started deporting Ghanaians from Nigeria with the slogan “Ghanaians must go”. The Ghanaians were accused of taking jobs from Nigerians. Thankfully, it did not manifest in physical cruelty, nevertheless, it was dehumanising for Ghanaians.

If only we took time to shine an unbiased light at our actions, we might be appalled at how similar some of us are to those we condemn. In the diaspora, Africans are quick to complain (as we should) about the way migrants are treated with scorn, but back home, we are always the first to put a tag on our neighbours based on their tribe. Nothing justifies Tribalism, Xenophobia, or Racism.

It is horrific and very depressing. I am not surprised about the Xenophobia in post-apartheid South Africa, it has always been palpable, but I was surprised that it would once again manifest itself in such physical cruelty. Humans seem to ignore the lessons of the past when they allow ignorance and greed to reign supreme.

One thing that we all need to be clear about is that there is no excuse or justification for these xenophobic attacks. We can pontificate all we like about economy policies but nothing would make visiting our anger on innocent people the right thing to do.

While discussing this on my FB wall, a comrade postulated –

“This whole nonsense needs to be put at the feet of the ANC who failed to transform the economy of South Africa in the interest of the mass of the people. Transformation of the economy was swept under the carpet by Mandela and co all in the name of “national unity”. What you refuse to deal with will come back and bite you when you least expect it. They accepted a truncated liberation that left control of the economy in the hands of whites whilst a few blacks, the struggle veterans like Tokyo Sexwale, Patrick “Terror” Lakota and Cyril Ramaphosa have become extremely rich through the so-called black empowerment programmes.”

Nope, i won’t put “This whole nonsense” at the feet of the ANC, the blame for the murders is on the murderers. We can recognise that capitalism fuels greed but policies we do not agree with are not excuses to go on a killing spree.

No, Mandela and the policies his cabinet pursued are not responsible for the death of these foreigners in South Africa, Xenophobia is. Nationals of any country can be homeless and poverty stricken, it still does not justify killing immigrants because of what they perceive as ‘taking their jobs’.

These killings are crimes against humanity. And we should not gloss over crimes against humanity. These are barbaric, inhumane and have no place in any civilised society. The murderers must be totally blamed and condemned. Economic policies are not justification for committing heinous acts, please , let us not use this to minimise the atrocities of the murderers or hide the faces of the criminals.

These murders were not about class struggle or revolution. They are not about who planted the seeds of discord, level of poverty, unemployment or inequality. We cannot in the name of class struggle, keep making excuses for people, be they poor or rich, for atrocities they commit against humanity.

We are not in the Dark ages. We are not living in an era where life was nasty, brutish, and short. Yes, Zuma’s’s son made some inciting comment and some political groups might be planting seeds of discord to topple the ruling party, but in what part of planet earth is that not happening? Unfortunately, this is what competitive politics is all about. We cannot use these as excuses to ‘reason’ away these atrocities.

It was not Zulu’s king or phantom political parties who threw petrol bombs into foreigners’ shops and burnt humans alive. It was humans. Humans like you and me. These aren’t controlled robots, they are adult human beings with a mind of their own.

No matter the incitement, no matter the economic disparity, it is never justifiable to throw bombs into people’s houses just because we think they are taking away our jobs,  different than us, don’t practice our religion, or because they are gays, bisexuals or Trans. It does not matter whether it was politicians, holy book, or God that told us to kill; ultimately, we are responsible for the bloods of people we murder in cold blood.

Nigel Farage and his UKIP crew can spew all the nonsense they want about immigrants, but, no sane person would justify killing immigrants just because UKIP thinks they are draining UK’s economy.

1429650593-london-demonstration-against-xenophobia-in-south-africa_7407060RSA_Anti-xenophobia-demonstration_MiriamMannak_0_0

I am so fed up of pontificators who only choose to see statistics and not see the humans behind the statistics. Condemning the murders is not a debate about the pros and cons of Capitalism or Socialism.  I am a socialist, and i understand the part capitalist greed plays in this. However, socialism does not rob me of my humanism, if anything, it strengthens it.

We cannot minimise the blame of these barbarians because of some warped need to pontificate about economic policies. Class struggle does not justify racism, sexism or Xenophobia. And it definitely does not justify cold blooded murders of innocents.

Nothing justify killing another just to take out our economic or political frustrations on innocent people. It does not matter whether it was fellow Africans or whites that were killed. No one, regardless of their nationality or race deserves to be murdered as a means of expressing economic frustrations. No amount of frustration or provocation can minimise the culpability of these xenophobic murderers.

Instead of all the pontifications and postulations, we must learn empathy because empathy is much more likely to improve human relations than any political pontifications we engage in.

I see the humans who are the victims of the criminals and I see the criminals who commit the crimes. These criminals cannot hide behind any justification. Only arseholes justify cold-blooded murders.

When we say things like- “I don’t approve of the xenophobic attacks BUT poverty is rampant amongst black South Africans, the economic policy is bad, there is inequality…” , we are in a way, justifying the murderous, heinous actions of these killers.

NOTHING, and i say NOTHING, absolves the murderers of the blame.

These excuses can be compared to that made by rape apologists, a pattern that goes, “I don’t approve of the rape BUT…”

Yeah, that BUT, that hesitation, that finding loophole to take part of the blame from the criminals, is exactly where political apologetics is invoked to play with human lives.

Any leader or political party who incites hate must be called out or even dealt with. Nigel Farage and his UKIP cohorts are often called out on their racist comments on immigrants. Muhammadu Buhari was called out when he incited his supporters in the north to go on a killing rampage with his irresponsible utterances after he lost the presidential elections in 2009. Religious leaders who incite hate against gays are often called out or even charged under the law.

We can condemn the leaders who incite the killings and at the same time totally condemn barbarians who go on a killing rampage.  There can be a two-sided parallel approach to an issue. What i do not agree with is the attempt to shift part of the blame from the criminals.

The criminals are wholly responsible for their crimes against humanity.

The leaders are also wholly responsible for inciting hate.

Blaming one must not necessitate a share of blame or taking part of the blame away from the other.

If i chose to focus a post on the barbarians who petrol-bombed foreigners and burnt innocent people alive, i should not have to qualify it with  “BUT the leaders must share part of the blame.”

If I chose to, I can make another post condemning the leaders for their inciting comments and poor economic policies. I do not see why such barbaric criminals must have a “BUT argument” to take away from their blame.

As a woman, I am used to the “I don’t support the criminals BUT…”  arguments from sexist apologists, especially rape apologists. This is probably why I have such disdain for the “I don’t support the criminal BUT..” poor excuse of an argument.

For example, rape apologists will always find a reason to blame the victim for the crime of the rapist. They say shits like “I don’t support the rapist but the woman should not have worn that short dress” or “I don’t support her murderer but why did she drink when she was with a stranger”.

I do not think rapist, paedophiles, homophobes or xenophobes who intentionally go out to cause harm to others deserve to have any part of the blame taken away from them.

Also, an attempt to absolve xenophobic attackers from any part of the blame is as bad as trying to absolve rapists from any part of the crime.

The xenophobic attacks might be orchestrated from high up but nothing, not even incitement by leaders, greed, or economic policies justify the actions of these murderers.

It is unfortunate that some comrades feel the need to paint these xenophobic attacks as a class revolution or an act of economic rebellion to unfavourable economic policies.

To quote a comrade  “whilst we need to condemn the killings, we also need to understand what is happening and why people see the need to act in such a barbaric manner”.

The fact is NO ONE NEEDS to act in such barbaric manner. Not the comments of leaders, not the poverty, or bad economic policies justify any sane adult to go hack another human being to death.

These criminals are not the victims. Their grievances against immigrants cannot be used to justify crimes against humanity.

These thoughtless killings hurt but I will not let it send me into depression. I won’t sacrifice my hope and love on the altar of their greed and ignorance. In the fight for our humanity, hate won’t win as long as we have a strong sense of social justice and are committed to creating a better world in our daily actions. Every little helps, let’s do our part to spread Love, not Hate.

F9C7F7CC-3CE4-499B-BF91-BB2C84FEF46D_cx0_cy14_cw0_mw1024_s_n_r1 durban-peace

Adieu, Nelson Mandela; the Great Madiba!

madiba136617_370163309739436_171569392_n

Nelson Mandela was probably the first name I ever associated with Human rights during my childhood. His relentless struggle against apartheid nurtured in me the fire against injustice. I identified with his struggle for Freedom and Equality; he was my human right hero and a living lesson in compassion and forgiveness. To me, the name ‘Mandela’ was  (and still is) synonymous with anti-apartheid, defiance against injustice, fight for equality and a passion for justice. It later became synonymous with Forgiveness. [Read more…]