Xenophobic Attacks: Examining Nigeria-South Africa Relations

By Segun Bolarinwa

The ongoing discussion on the barbaric act going on in South Africa and Nigeria is okay and it is healthy. As a matter of fact, I discussed this issue on Nigeria Info Radio Station yesterday, just immediately after the emergency meeting between the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama and the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Bobby Moroe.

My perspective would be to trace the history of the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa, and attempt to extrapolate on how we came to this sorry pass. First, Nigeria-South Africa Relations started before 1960 and unfortunately, have moved from accommodation, exchange of professionals – medical doctors, teachers, lecturers, engineers, amongst others – to confrontation where Nigerians (including other Africans) are being killed, their livelihoods destroyed and so on. But, a question comes to mind, what must have led to this or how did we get to this level?

Second, I think we also need to see South Africa as a country that evolved from an apartheid regime or a political environment which was characterised by rule of force, blood-letting, broad day light killings, protests, demonstrations, imprisonment and many heinous or wicked things, hence the attitude of their people.

Third, let us also remember that the Indians have been living in South Africa before 1960, having all sorts of businesses and investments. In fact, Indians are presently being elected into the South African parliament. They form and also join other political parties. Again, why are Nigerians not joining South African political parties or becoming politically active?

Fourth, we should also not forget that South Africans have been living in Nigeria and having investments here even before 1960. As a matter of fact, Mandela, Zuma and Mbeki have all lived in Nigeria in the 60s. So, if all these existed between us, why has the relationship degenerated to this level? The immediate answer to this is: Nigeria-South Africa relations seems very robust at the official level i.e. government-to-government level. In fact, before the recent killings in South Africa, President Muhammadu Buhari has planned an official visit to South Africa in October. So, the truth is that relationship between Nigeria and South is worse at the people-to-people level. That is why all these killings are happening.

Fifth, I think we cannot blame Buhari for these killings, especially in South Africa because the killings did not start today. It predates him and he cannot just take any hasty decision without knowing what really led to the recent killings. Meanwhile, after the meeting of Onyeama with South Africa’s Moroe, he went straight to brief the President and he (the President) has sent a special envoy to South Africa already.

Sixth, sincerely, drug issue is behind this September 1 killings and destruction of shops. It started from the suburbs of Johannesburg where young South Africans stay, take, sell and even distribute drugs. Some of them were said to have died while others reportedly ran mad. And unfortunately, South Africa is a crime-ridden society. Unfortunately again, Nigerians are seen as contributing to this status or menace.

Please, let us pray for the issue to be resolved amicably before it gets out of hands for both countries. The issue is already taking a different dimension which has never happened before – reciprocity. Nigerians have started attacking South African businesses. If this gets worse, both countries will send the foreigners packing. Then, I ask: How many South Africans are in Nigeria? What class of people are they? How many Nigerians are in SA? What classes of Nigerians are there? I think we all know the answers. We need prayers. We need action. And we need to be positive too. Long live Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Dr. Bolarinwa wrote in from Lagos, he is of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA

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