Why xenophobic attacks persist in South Africa

Over a couple of years, many innocent foreigners have been murdered while enormous properties of the victims have also gone down the drain.

No doubt, xenophobic violence in South Africa has assumed epidemic proportions, deepened by moments of exceptional viciousness and wickedness.

In recent times, many South African nationals have taken the law into their hands and displayed brutal justice on some other foreign nationals on any unsubstantiated and mischievous evidence.

Many Africans including Nigerians continue to migrate to South Africa and other countries in search for greener pasture due to the harsh economic situation in their homeland.

In the past few weeks, the attacks seem to have risen sharply. At the last count, over 35 shops belonging to immigrants were reportedly looted in Pretoria, the South African capital. It is common knowledge that getting a job in Nigeria, irrespective of whether it is skilled or unskilled, is almost an impossibility.

The rate of unemployment is so high that crime and criminality continue to rise by the day because many agile men and women are idle and certainly need to survive. Apart from the shortage of paid employment, setting up a business is an uphill task for many young school leavers in Nigeria.

Getting the required capital is herculean. Financial institutions are not always ready to provide such funds to the needy. Interest rates chargeable on other loan sources are so prohibitive that genuine entrepreneurs are discouraged from starting businesses in the country.

It is for these reasons that many youths would rather opt to move into other buoyant nations that could guarantee them assured livelihood and stable means for survival. That is why the option of going abroad becomes attractive to them.

At least, they can take many things for granted overseas; those things that are big deal in my dear country; food, clothing and shelter. Hence, the zeal and rush for greener pasture would continue until things improve significantly for our people.

At this point, it is necessary to take a closer look at some of the factors that have encouraged the perpetration of xenophobic killings in South Africa. First, is the generally feeling of insecurity on the part of South Africans that foreigners are taking over the jobs that should ordinarily be reserved for them.

Hence, the only logical way for them to show their grievance and antagonism is to launch attacks on such foreigners with the thinking that they would be protecting and jealously guarding what is solely theirs.

Secondly, law enforcement agents in South Africa, most especially the police, appear to be slow in responding to distress call by victims whenever they are in danger. It is for this reason that many observers are of the belief that police officers often take sides to the advantage of South Africans.

This should not be. Law enforcement agents are expected to perform their duties without any bias, fear or favour. Thirdly, is the dwindling economic fortunes of South Africa over the years under the ruling African National Congress.

The main effect of that dimension is that many South Africans themselves are in dire need of employment as the economic situation bites harder. In other words, what we experiencing as xenophobia is a clear manifestation of the poor state of the South African economy.

Another issue that may have fuelled the carnage is the poor the knowledge of history by the aggressive youth. It is not a funny thing when younger generations have no or very poor knowledge of the past. They seem not to appreciate the vital role played by Nigeria and other African nations in the struggle for the liberation of many Southern African countries from the shackles of apartheid.

Many of them appear to be too young to know the powerful renditions by notable Nigerian artistes against the apartheid regime, which eventually collapsed after many years of struggle. Sadly, what Nigeria has received in return for its unalloyed solidarity and commitment to the cause of a sister nation like South Africa is sheer hostility, aggression and hatred.

Lastly, it is natural and expected for crime to persist in any society where people commit offences and violate laws with impunity. Hardly have we heard of South Africans being apprehended, prosecuted and convicted for their culpability in xenophobia by killing other nationals.

The continued massacres of Nigerians and innocent people should no longer be tolerated in South Africa and other parts of the world, where our country men and women are known to be undergoing various degrees of persecution and trauma.

To start with, the Federal Government should summon the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, to give an informed and updated account of the situation and the diplomatic assurance that the safety of the estimated 800,000 Nigerians living in South Africa, would be guaranteed. Secondly, Nigerians should ensure that they shun illegal and unlawful activities abroad, where very little room is available for them to legally defend themselves.

Thirdly, the African Union should wade in and condemn the wanton killings of fellow African nationals. Stiffer penalties should be meted out to erring nations within the union using diplomatic channels. Provocative statements by leaders in South Africa should be curtailed.

The Federal Government should prioritise the creation of employment as a matter of urgency and evolve policies that would stimulate employment. Access to funds by genuine young entrepreneurs should be liberalised.

For instance, the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini's unguarded and inciting utterances, some few years ago were blamed for sparking-off rounds of attacks on foreigners. Many South African youths are easily ignited by hate speeches that are carelessly proclaimed by their leaders. The country's harsh immigration policies - which tend to terribly discourage migration - are also blamed for aggravating the problem.

Without further delay, the Nigerian government should make the nation truly home to all so as to discourage young people from leaving the shores of the country in their multitudes to foreign lands that are hostile to them. Definitely, South Africa is certainly one of such countries, at least for now.

The process involved in applying for loans should be softened while more opportunities for credit facilities should be made available and easier for the people. When people are gainfully employed at home, the propensity to travel and start another life outside would greatly be reduced as nobody likes to be a second rate citizen anywhere. There is nothing like home.

The unfortunate trend of xenophobia is gradually eroding the confidence of other African countries that the lives of their nationals are unsafe under the purview of the South African government; a development that weakens African unity.

Furthermore, Nigeria may need to revisit its Big Brother policy towards Africa that appears not to be yielding much dividends for the country going by the South African saga. Nigerians should not take the law into their hands by killing South African in retaliation.

They should always respect constituted authorities and hope that succour would truly come their way within the shortest time.

Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta