Xenophobia: The Mbekis must remind their people of sacrifices made by others

Wednesday September 04 2019

A demonstrator holds a banner through in Johannesburg on April 23, 2015 during a march gathering several thousands of people to protest against the a wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. PHOTO | GIANLUIGI GUERCIA | AFP


You sure must have heard this one: You go to the river and, fancying a dip in the cool water, you take off your clothes, arrange them in a neat little pile on the bank, and take a dive.

While you are enjoying nature’s Jacuzzi you notice that someone naked, surely a madman, has picked up your clothes and is running away with them. Your instinct is to bolt out of the water and give chase to the lunatic. Now, for the bystander, who of the two is mad?

We can assume that the intruder is the madman, since he arrived on the scene totally naked, but then who is to know that you didn’t as they watch your little steeplechase au naturel?

Also, the thief has clothes with him, and one may expect him to slip into them as soon as he gets some reprieve from his chaser, you.

Meanwhile everyone assumes you are the real, unapologetic and irredeemable, raving naked madman that we have all been warned against.

As I said above, this is an old piece of causerie that we have been treated to a few times. It came up again this past week when students in Nigeria went on a loud street demonstration to condemn South Africans for yet another murder that may be linked to the now infamous xenophobic attacks in the land of Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli.


Now the Nigerians are saying enough is enough, and they want retaliation. What form of retaliation? They want South African companies, of which there are many in Nigeria, to close shop and go home; some are even calling for physical violence against South Africans in Nigeria.

It is this reaction that has evoked the image of the two naked runners. I do not suppose for once that the executives of Mr Price, Shoprite, MTN or DSTV have any truck with the ugly xenophobic madness we have witnessed.

They are rather indicative of the sad reality of the great success that the apartheid regime scored in planting in the minds of millions of Black South Africans the notion that all their ills are caused by their brothers and sisters from north of the Limpopo, and that they, the South African blacks, are better off than the Makwerekwere coming from black African countries to steal their jobs.

This is a debilitating mental illness that has gripped our people in that country, and it needs some serious and painstaking work on the part of the South African leaders, who should know better for having enjoyed Nigerian hospitality back in the day, to re-educate their criminally ignorant populace and help them heave themselves out of the mire of self-derision.

Already, through attrition, we have lost Reginald Thambo, Nelson Mandela, Johnston Makhatini, Robert Resha, Thomas Nkobi, Duma Nokwe, Thamsandla Sindelo, Willy Khosisile, and others who could attest to the sacrifices made by Nigeria, and a handful of other counties on the continent, to support the struggle against apartheid.

Teach the past for future

Soon, we may not have the generation of Thabo Mbeki and his colleagues, who are really the last South Africans to have found refuge, solace and solidarity in Nigeria and elsewhere.

It is incumbent on this generation—which will, alas! soon disappear too—to educate their people in the glorious history of the contribution made by these countries.

Of course, in the rat-race on the gravy train that has captured many of our former comrades, we will not see many volunteers taking up the task of disabusing their people of their apartheid-induced idiocy, but people like Mbeki should now invest their energies in this new liberation struggle, the internal liberation of the South African people whose souls were appropriated by a most vicious and odious system of dehumanisation.

As for chasing the South African companies from Nigeria, it may be the case of the two naked runners all over again.

The number of jobs these companies create for Nigerians are not negligible, especially with the national unemployment figures pointing northwards.

I have read reports suggesting that diplomatic efforts are afoot. But they will all most likely come to naught if they are not accompanied by a pedagogical campaign to tell the story of African solidarity during the days of the struggle, a story that has remained largely untold, and unknown, to the vast majority of the South African people.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]