‘HOW AFRICAN LEADERS CAN TACKLE XENOPHOBIC ATTACKS’

‘HOW AFRICAN LEADERS CAN TACKLE XENOPHOBIC ATTACKS’

As African leaders settle down to address the recurrent xenophobic and Afrophobic attacks in South Africa which have claimed the lives of over 200 nationals in recent years, international relations experts have identified poor legacy of apartheid and social reformation, economic deprivation, failure of national rebirth and relative business competition as the causes of the violent incident.

Other factors inherent causes, according to international relations experts, are material conditions and frustration of South Africans, poor public service delivery in the country, immigration and South African border control level and crime attributions to foreigners.

Various speakers including Professors Jide Owoeye, Ayo Olukotun, Isaac Albert, Tunji Olaopa and Dr. Olubunmi Akande said the earlier African leaders and South African governments addressed the issue the better for peaceful co-existence and development of the continent.

Delivering a paper titled: “Xenophobia or Afrophobia: Causes, Consequences and Corrections,” held in honour of Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Belgium, Botswana and the European Union (EU), Prof. Alaba Ogunsawo, the Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Ibadan, Oyo State, Prof. Tunji Olaopa, said attitudinal orientation of hostility against non-natives must be addressed from all dimensions.

He said: “While post-Apartheid democratic transition in South Africa unarguably heralded great unmet promises for the black South Africans, one must say in categorical terms, that violence is part of the legacy of apartheid, even as failure of national rebirth and isolation as perceived by the black population, created a fertile ground for xenophobic violence in several ways.

“It created radicalised notion of identity and of self-worth, which encouraged black South Africans to see themselves not only as inferior to the whites, but also as separate from the rest of the continent. It encouraged a sense of ‘we’ and ‘they’ compartmentalisation that is hindering integration and sense of common identity with other Africans, and institutionalised violence as a means of communicating grievances and achieving political ends.”

As regards failure of national rebirth, he said government’s inability to realise citizens socio-economic rights since end of apartheid in 1994, through job creation, basic service provision, truly impactful empowerment policies and programmes and the resultant alienation of the people from the political class had heated up the polity in the country for sometime

“There is evidence of daily growing distrust between the political elites and the blacks, specifically. This is besides the virtual absence of effective and trusted mechanisms through which people with legitimate frustrations can resolve conflicts and concerns.

“This dynamics indeed precipitated the crisis and the chain of events that led to the replacement of the elitist Thabo Mbeki with the more populist Jacob Zuma in April 2008. Regrettably, even the Zuma era did not succeed in assuaging the frustration of the black South Africans. This obviously inspired what has become the narrative in the spate of political rhetoric that blames foreign nationals and immigrants for the misfortune of the black South Africans.” He recalled that one of the campaign promises of President Cyril Ramaphosa was to “cleanse the country of unwanted immigrants.”

Prof. Olaopa, a former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency said fierce competition for scarce resources and opportunities between locals and foreign nationals in the context of high levels of poverty and unemployment remains a dominant factor, and the competition South Africa is felt and resented around jobs, housing, business opportunities, women and public services. We will take on a few.

“Many residents believe the foreigners are stealing jobs that naturally belong to citizens. They argue that employers who are largely whites prefer to hire foreigners because they can settle for low wages (as low as R30 per day when citizens charge R150 for a day’s work)

“The result is a high unemployment of black South Africans because white owners of factories have resolved that the best thing is to hire are foreigners. Besides, foreigners, especially those not legally permitted to work in South Africa, don’t just accept low wages; they are willing to forgo statutory benefits and protections attached to the employment of citizens

“Local informal business owners complain that foreigners undermine local business through cartels and offering of cheaper prices that people find much more affordable. As South African traders are less experienced, less savvy, they practically find it hard to compete and are often forced to close shop.”

On the way forward, Olaopa said known socio-economic causes of xenophobia like high unemployment rates, lack of adequate housing, high crime rates, and public service delivery shortfalls all across South Africa must be firmly addressed, while job creation and impactful economic empowerment programme targeting the poor will also be key to progress

They called for legal protection for the rights of foreign nationals, because public perception in South Africa is that foreign nationals are not entitled to enjoyment of any human rights enjoyed by citizens, hence legislative and other legal mechanisms within framework of customary international law, human rights instruments and South Africa Constitution need to be implemented urgently.

Consequently, the discussants advocated that organisers and perpetrators of violent attacks against foreign nationals must be seen to be prosecuted and held accountable. Victims should be compensated by their assailants and restorative justice approach developed for application in instances where xenophobic attacks have taken place

They said South Africa currently lacks dedicated legislations that criminalise xenophobic attacks and such other bias-motivated crimes. The attacks are therefore currently treated as normal act of criminality. This encourages what are largely acts of impunity by perpetrators

They called for an amendment of the Refugee Act to include a hate crime clause, cautioning, however, that the legislation should be drafted carefully to avoid creating an isolated adversarial identity of “foreign-ness” vis-a-vis nationals that could further inflame the existing divisions

They also called for better intelligence gathering, early warning, violence prevention and mitigation mechanism among the country’s security agencies, because the Consortium of Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA) had observed that xenophobic violence and attacks occur in certain predictable pattern, usually accompanying protests against poor service delivery

“The state should map out potential hotspots for attacks, establish centralised command centre that is reachable via hotline number. Existing resources including community members, should be harnessed to carry out intelligence gathering in areas prone to attacks

“In other words, the use of technology-based hotline system such as SMS and social media platforms would be useful in gathering intelligence information, including evacuation of “at-risk” population, removal of valuables, intensified policing, arrest and prosecution of perpetrators”

One of discussants, Dr. Akande, who until recently was a student at the Durban University of Technology in South Africa said general depictions of African migrants as illegal aliens- Nigerians are associated with drug trafficking, Congolese are linked to passport racketeering and diamond smuggling, Lesotho nationals are associated with gold smuggling, Mozambican and Zimbabwean women are linked to prostitution as well as Zulu’s perception of cultural superiority to other Africans in the fashion of the legendry Zaka the Zulu are strong factor in addressing the issues.

In his paper tilted: “Xenophobia in South Africa, Looking beyond the Immediate Factors”, Akande also identified the culture of violence (high crime rate) in South Africa, law enforcement complicity, harsh immigration policies, negative stereotypes and misconceptions as other factors fuelling xenophobic attacks.

He said simplistic solutions are unrealistic and ineffective; rather there was need for increased commitment from South African government in addressing underlying factors even as the leaders must ensure economic revitalisation and infrastructure development in other African countries.

In his comment on the occasion, Head of Department, Politics and International Relations, Lead City University, Dr. Tunji Oseni said the department believes that issues such as xenophobia or Afrophobia should not only be debated, potential solutions should be aggregated and pushed to the policy and political level.

The roundtable has achieved some of its aims already: the deconstruction and reconstruction of the concepts of xenophobia and Afrophobia; a scientific analysis of Xenophobia as both an attitude and behaviour; a deepened understanding of the causes and consequences of Xenophobia and Afrophobia.

The dignitaries paid tribute to the honoree, Prof. Alaba Ogunsanwo, whom they described as an indefatigable teacher of teachers, a cream of that fast receding club of the committed old intellectual tradition that we proudly and nostalgically describe as the golden era of public service in Nigeria

They said it was therefore a rare feat for such a privileged scholar who occupied a prime place in diplomatic circles way back in the 70s and 80s, at a time that most of us were either pupils or students; yet, still flying the flag of intellectual regeneration as devotion to calling as teacher and researcher even at 77.

The recent brutal attacks on Africans in South Africa elicited wild condemnations and reciprocal negative diplomatic actions from some African countries like Nigeria, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Congo DR as they boycotted the 2019 World Economic Forum Summit and sports activities in the country.

Though South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who was reportedly booed in Zimbabwe at the burial of former President Robert Mugabe was forced to apologise to governments of the affected countries, he was silent on compensation to the victims. This came as President Muhammadu Buhari concluded a previously scheduled three-day visit to Pretoria where the issue featured on the agenda with the view to strengthening and deepening political, economic, social and cultural relations between the two countries as part of the Bi-National Commission (BNC) established in 1999.

Biyi Adegoroye / New Telegraph

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Nigerians in South Africa
Nigerians in South Africa 2049 posts

We are about democracy, human rights, public opinion, political behavior, civil rights and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.

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