Blundered past, xenophobia and diplomatic crossroads

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By Samuel Orovwuje

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today – Abraham Lincoln

THE Nigeria – South Africa Relations has displayed two contrasting faces over the last three decades or so. Nigeria’s flamboyant and frenetic African relations consistently reflect a strong sense of cooperation, solidarity and intoxicating big brother role; in contrast, South Africa speaks about Nigeria with unrealistic political ambiguities and diplomatic insensibility.
The current face-off or stand-off over xenophobic attacks on Nigerian citizens and other African nationals has raised tensions in Nigeria-South Africa Relations at citizens – to – citizens engagement.

This article examines the foundational issues of racial intolerance and dislike for foreigners, particularly Nigerians in South Africa within the broader past framework of the apartheid regime and indeed the post-apartheid socio-economic reality, which has over time shaped the existential notions of false community and vague entitlement.



This also shapes the empty sense of belonging amongst a number of Black South Africans and on other the hand, Nigeria’s daunting task of addressing the country’s myriad domestic challenges. It also maintains its unproductive and lack of economic gains abroad as a regional leader in Africa as well a global player in some important international fora like the United Nations.

Additionally, it highlights fresh perspectives to recalibrating reverse migration and building robust foreign policy and diplomatic template that priortise economic prosperity and national pride. Apart from that, the provision of social inclusion schemes at home for the average citizen will help to restore hope for young Nigerians from poverty- stricken purgatory village life waiting to brave the journey of no return. At least they would not become victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa or face death sentences in obscure Asian countries.

Indeed, the question of xenophobia in contemporary South Africa discourse, in my view, are profound psychosomatic carry-over or the blatant negative product of the humiliating apartheid regime that cannot be wish away from the collective consciousness of the people of the rainbow nation. The attendant dispossession of their existential pride has often blurred the spirit of the African brotherhood.

The despicable and repugnant apartheid regime also bruised the ego and sense of humanity of these great Africans who became vulnerable and exploited in their own land, and the reality of these past facts has continued to obstruct the wheel of progress and development.

The political crisis of that dark era led to social dislocation, which in turn affected their economic means, educational attainment and the required skill sets that would have prepared them for high-level jobs and proper integration into a new democratic South Africa that promises a brighter future.

Similarly, Nigeria with the treacherous military regimes over the years has failed in its domestic management of petrol receiveables and to a very large extent could not translate its foreign policy aspirations into reality. President Muhammadu Buhari will continue to confront major challenges, ranging from security constraints at home to incomplete social engineering, true federalism, nagging resource nationalism and justice.

These challenges in my view have profound implications for Nigeria’s policy towards South Africa, given the closer ties between the two countries over the past few years. Nigerian policymakers should factor in these realities as they fashion next level Nigeria – South Africa relations.

Xenophobic violence is not a new phenomenon in post-apartheid South Africa. The recent xenophobic attacks have been attributed to a combination of factors which include local political pressures over time, increases in prices of basic goods, high levels of unemployment which stood at 25 per cent and the growing concerns and frustrations about the South African government under incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa to provide essential services to poor people and the resultant economic hardship and tensions surrounding crime and competition over scarce resources by non- national population.

The continued socio-economic issues are pushing the average South African into extreme poverty in the midst of plenty and there is a high level of dissatisfaction with the scheme of things after the fall of the apartheid regime. From 2008, there were 135 separate violent incidents that left 62 people dead, at least 670 wounded and unfortunately, dozens were carnally assaulted and many properties destroyed and looted without compensation.

Going forward, Nigeria’s diplomacy should not dwell much on the criticism of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa; but rather concrete efforts should be made at home to create an enabling environment that would create jobs and livelihoods for the common people in Nigeria and, by extension, South Africa for its own people.

In addition, the South Africa domestic environment has been hostile to non-nationals, particularly undocumented migrants, and there is implicit culture of impunity which encourages mob justice in most communities.

More importantly, Black South Africans’ inhumanity to other Africans, particularly Nigerians, is also fuelled and supported by the wide-spread corruption and institutionalised xenophobia in the police, immigration services and other state structures, apart from lack of requisite knowledge and respect in handling legal and policy framework for dealing with non-nationals in the area of conflict management.

It is important to note that people migrating in search for safer and more prosperous living conditions is as old as man. Additionally, the right of any person to leave any country is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.


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