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When the Oppressed Becomes the Oppressor
When the Oppressed Becomes the Oppressor

By - Adedoyin Shittu

Posted - 04-09-2019

The recent xenophobic attack in South Africa towards other black nationals shows how quickly the table can turn and narratives can change, when government refuses to yield to cry of oppressors. Though what prompts xenophobic attack in South Africa is multifacet but many black South Africans have expressed their frustration with the high level of unemployment in the country and some have accused fellow black nationals of taking their jobs. At the cruz of the frustration is a deep seated anger towards the government for failure to deliver the promise of a better life to the people after the end of apartheid in 1994. Since the government is high above, these people decided to unleash their monsterity on the innocent black foreigners whose offense is going to South Africa to create a better life for themselves and their life investment is looted or destroyed.

Read Also: Mass Migration Traceable to Insecurity and Poverty

The recent wave of xenophobic attack was linked to the tension between the local and foreign truck drivers and as a result five persons were killed with three persons of them burnt to death. The situation quickly degenerated and at least 50 cars were either damaged or set alight and as usual foreign businesses were targeted for looting and destruction.

In light of the attack, Nigerians took to the media to decry the injustice their brothers and sisters were facing in South Africa and called on their government to take a firmer stance and sanction against South Africa but as usual, the Nigerian government, all bark and no bite, used only strong words against the nation, fold their arms and watch while South Africa ruin investments of Nigerian nationals in their county. The failure of the Nigerian government to stand up for its citizens prompted a lot of protests on and off social media and South African businesses were equally targeted for reprisal. Branches of MTN and Shoprite were targeted for protest in the federation and as expected in any country where there is a breakdown of law and order, criminal elements will hijack any meaningful protest or cause. Some criminal elements borrowed a note from South Africa and used the avenue to loot shops, thereby causing pain to the shop owners.

This is what happens when the oppressed become the oppressor, anger and frustration is never channelled to the right place but misfired. Nigeria and South Africa, the two biggest economies in the continent have been on each other’s throat as both nations compete for regional influence. Nigerians in the country are sometimes stereotyped as criminals and are often the target of attacks, including fatal ones. South Africa politicians failure to deliver the post apartheid promise have made them hide under the excuse of blacks taking over jobs and causing crimes. They are guilty of fanning the flames of “Afrophobia” in the country and this has led to a deep-seated hatred and envy for other black nationals in the country, most especially successful ones. Many black South Africans view their fellow black Africans as an enemy that must be destroyed and especially Nigerians.

Nigeria and the Struggle for the Black South Africans during Apartheid
In case South Africans have forgotten their history, let us go down memory lane and remind them the role Nigeria played in their liberation. Though other African countries also played a role in the liberation of South Africans from apartheid but Nigeria played a very prominent role that should never be under-estimated nor trivalised. Nigeria was the first African country to align itself with the black South Africans in the fight against apartheid and Nigeria did it the same year it liberated itself from 160 years of British. That year, 69 black people were massacred in Sharpeville, South Africa, by the white apartheid police.

Until the 1960s, the African National Congress (ANC) fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa had yielded little results and things only began to change dramatically after Nigeria unequivocally took over leadership of the anti-apartheid movement worldwide and made it its` foreign policy cornerstone. From 1960 to 1995, Nigeria has alone spent over $61 billion to support the end of apartheid, more than any other country in the world, according to the South African Institute of International Affairs.

On April 4, 1961, Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa sent a letter to the ANC emphasizing Nigeria’s commitment to fight against apartheid in South Africa. Immediately after sending the letter, Sir Balewa lobbied for the effective expulsion of South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961. PM Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was also the first leader to provide a direct financial aid to the ANC from the early 1960s and at the height of the liberation movement in the 1970s, Nigeria alone provided $5-million annual subvention to the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) every year.

In 1963, when Nelson Madela ran away from the apartheid regime, Nigeria was his haven, he hid in Nigeria for six months in the house of the former Minister of Aviation of the first republic, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi. He chose to return to South Africa after six months, when he went back, he was promptly arrested, charged and sentenced to life imprisonment. He went to prison, but he was not abandoned by Nigeria. At a time when the United States government had already listed Nelson Mandela and others as terrorists and were lined for the death penalty, it was Jaja Ndubuisi Wachuku, the First foreign Affairs Minister of Nigeria, who intervened with the South African government and helped save Nelson Mandela.

In 1976, Nigeria set up the Southern Africa Relief Fund (SAFR), this was used to bring relief to the victims of the apartheid regime in South Africa, provide educational opportunities for them and promote the general welfare.

The military administration of General Obasanjo also contributed $3.7 million to the fund and General Obasanjo made a personal donation of $3,000, while each member of his cabinet made personal contributions of $1,500 each. All Nigeria’s civil servants and public officers were made to forfeit 2% of their monthly salary as a donation to the SAFR. Students skipped their lunch to make donations, and just in 6 months, in June 1977, the popular contribution to the fund reached $10.5 million. The donations to the SAFR were widely known in Nigeria as the “Mandela tax”.

It was this fund that helped the first group of 86 South African students arrived in Nigeria in 1976, following the disruption of the education system in South Africa after the massacre of 700 students by the white police while protesting against the decision by the apartheid regime to change their educational language to Afrikaans. Thereafter, hundreds of South African students have benefited from this fund.

Many renowned South Africans have also enjoyed the hospitality of Nigerians in the country including Thabo Mbeki (former South African president from 1999 to 2008). He had spent 7 years in Nigeria, from 1977 to 1984, before he left to the ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia.
For South Africans, who could not travel abroad because the apartheid regime had withdrawn their passports, Nigeria`s government along with other African countries issued more than 300 passports.

Nigeria along with fellow African countries, lobbied for the creation of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid and the country chaired it for 30 years, longer than any other country.

Between 1973 and 1978, Nigeria contributed $39,040 to the UN Educational and Training Programme for Southern Africa, a voluntary trust fund promoting the education of the black South African elite.

Nigeria, at any opportunity given, siezes it to denounce apartheid, from the boycott of the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games to the nationalization of British Petroleum assets in 1979, and to the refusal to sell oil to South Africa for decades, all to protest against the white minority rule. It was estimated that Nigeria lost approximately $41 billion because of the country’s refusal to sell oil to South Africa during that period.

Nigeria was the only nation worldwide to set up the National Committee Against Apartheid (NACAP) as early as in 1960. The mission of the committee was to publicize the evils of the apartheid regime to all Nigerians from primary schools to universities, in public media and in markets, through posters and billboard messages. This committee was also responsible for the coordination of Nigeria`s government and civil society joint anti-apartheid actions and advising of policy makers on anti-apartheid decisions.

Unfortunately, this same Nigeria and African nationals who stood up against the West for their brothers and sisters in South Africa is now the enemy of South Africa and are killed by the same people they fought for their liberation with the approval of their government, who called it, “an act of sporadic violence.”

Misguided Violence
With a population of about 57 million, immigrants living in the country is estimated to be about 2.3 million. Black Africans foreigners make up about 1.5 millions of these immigrants. These people are mostly retail traders, artisans and labourers and they lay claim to less than 0.1% of the country’s wealth. So what makes a fellow black a competitor for jobs. This is simply an issue of misplaced anger.

The blacks in South Africa make up about 76.4% of the population and the whte makes up 9.1% of the total population, yet the white population control over 85% of the nation’s wealth. About 10%  of South Africa’s population owns 90 percent of the country’s wealth, according to the South African Human Rights Commission. The commission also reported in 2018 that 60 percent of Black South Africans live in poverty, while just 1 percent of white South Africans are poor. The wealthiest 10% earns seven times more than the bottom 40 percent. Black South Africans remain heavily under-represented in the skilled jobs market because they are largely unskilled and hence most affected by the country’s high unemployment.

Many of the inequalities created and enforced by apartheid still remain in South Africa today. Income inequality has worsened since the end of apartheid, the white middle class grew by 15% whilst the black middle class grew by 78%.
So why is the anger of archaic and ruthless poor South Africans directed towards other black nationals when they have not contributed to their failures. Apartheid crushed the esteem of many south Africans leaving them directionless, angry, timid, intimidated, paranoid, and lost to reality. As a result of the economic oppression by the Indians and Europeans, they resign to afflict their sympathizers.

Read Also: Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa: Nigerian Government, All Bark And No Bite

There really need to be a mental shift for the South Africans to know who their enemy is. If foreigners are carrying drugs, battle with the immigration who failed to protest your border, if it is joblessness, battle with the leaders who have failed to give your children the right tools to make them stand out. Stop the mindless killing and looting because it only worsen the situation and alienate you from the rest of the continent.

Nigeria or other black nationals are not the enemy, the system is the enemy, the failed government is the enemy and criminals both foreign and local in South Africa is the enemy. South Africans should take their fight to the right channel and stop being cruel to honest Africans whose sins is leaving the shore of their own country to invest in South Africa.


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It’s sad we have to go this way, but it is the only way our leaders can hear us. Am in support of the moves.