• Wednesday, February 21, 2024
businessday logo


Xenophobia – a perspective


The MAMA awards ceremony in Durban has come and gone and like the 2014 edition which I attended, it was spectacular, exciting and a producer’s delight. Following the xenophobic attacks in South Africa a couple of months ago, I almost did not make the awards this year. Eventually I made my way, arriving on the day of the award itself, jetlagged and exhausted.

After a massage at my favourite spa, I was ready for what is now known as one of the continent’s biggest music events. Add this to the fact that my brother, Alex Okosi, vice president of Viacom with concurrent accreditation to MTV is in charge of this phenomenal event and I was wide-eyed at 9 pm when the event began.

Attracting artistes, creatives, TV personalities, musicians, scriptwriters and the whole enchilada the world over, the red carpet was spilling with star and starlets, D’banj and his new South African beau, Psquare, Yemi Alade and more.

The event (presented by African American actor/comedian, Arthur Anderson, who delivered on all fronts immersing himself in the South African culture and lingo) had Nigeria shining like a million stars winning up to seven awards to the bargain. It is always heartwarming to see our countrymen, young, hardworking, proudly Nigerian, making us so proud with very little support, pushing only with sheer guts and their own hard work.

But this article is not about the awards but about xenophobia. Let us even remind ourselves what it means and how South Africa seems to be trending in this negative place.
Xenophobia is a dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).

Coming out of a tragic apartheid history and the positive energy of Nelson Mandela, it is sad that some South Africans, and this is not the first time, target mostly immigrants for their truly unfortunate attacks. More often than not, Nigerians, often the men and women with either two much swag, too much money or a non-immigrant attitude, begin to feel the heat of xenophobia.

In a taxi on my way to a tourist site in Durban, I began to have a conversation with a South African Indian. He knocked off my socks when he began to tell me his own version of xenophobia.

“What happened here,” he said, “is not xenophobia. Just a bunch of brigands and criminals who mean no one any good.”
“How do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well, it’s all about bad behaviour and anyone can be badly behaved.”
“No,” I said, disagreeing with him. “Attacking someone to bring him to grievous bodily harm, or murdering them as the case was this time and at other times, because they are immigrants cannot simply be described as being badly behaved. If someone has an attitude in a bank, that’s bad behaviour. If someone is rude to you at a service place, that’s bad behaviour. If someone calls you names at a bar, that’s bad behaviour. But if someone attacks you to kill you because you are not South African, that’s xenophobia.”

The taxi driver, affable and warm, was quiet for a while, then he steered the conversation to a most unexpected and unbelievable place.

“Xenophobia is when you attack immigrants at an immigration camp,” he said. “When you attack them in a city or anywhere else, that’s not xenophobia.”

“Point of correction,” I said to him. “When you attack anyone on the basis of the fact that he is an immigrant no matter where the attack takes place, that is xenophobia.”
It was time for me to get off but I had made my point.

The National Orientation Agency and our foreign embassies will do well to educate Nigerians who leave our shores about what to expect in any country they are headed to. Some countries are more tolerant of immigrants than others. Now within the continent, South Africa is the least tolerant. How many Nigerians know this?

In addition, when we arrive in any country most of us don’t know how to be pared down, so we want our rights like right now, we want a role in their polity like right now, we show our swag to their girls like right now, we splurge whatever monies we have like right now and the host community becomes resentful.

We need to learn to pare down, contribute to the community, work on acceptance, live legally, earn legally and become respected members of their society. But even if we don’t do that, is that a reason to be harmed, killed, our properties destroyed?

The South African government needs to educate its citizens about the contribution of many countries of the world to end apartheid. Nigeria was a frontline state contributing men and resources to the anti-apartheid cause. Very few South Africans know this.

Xenophobia is only when an attack takes place at an immigration camp? Oh please!


Eugenia Abu