South Africa Killings: The Dilemma of Reciprocity – Fatima Abdulkadir

There is loose cannon in the air, following a wild rage among Nigerians in their patriotic concerns over the killings of fellow countrymen in South Africa.

From the reports on mainstream media, the current attacks are second within the week, beginning last Sunday in Jeppestown, an area said to be near Johannesburg, where a building was set on fire by a mob.

We hear that it is a build-up to an earlier incident involving the killing of a cab driver, prompting attacks and killings targeting foreign nationals, mostly black. And so, like we tend to acknowledge, regarding the spread of Nigerians across the planet, for every 10 black global citizens, some six or so might be Nigerians. They are the current victims of the mindless burning of shops and looting of the goods in them.

The last time we woke up to the orgy of xenophobic violence of this magnitude was 11th April 2015, with attacks in Durban, which further extended to parts of Johannesburg. The savagery was near-epic, with some of the killings captured on camera, for the fun! Nigerian Government and citizens only issued statements and random threats. We returned to our dilemma, weeks after.

Official responses from both sides in the current eruption are far from encouraging. Nigeria, on one hand, has sent an envoy to South Africa, with a possible consideration of President Buhari visiting the country later.

Part of the immediate response also indicates that the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister,  Geoffery Onyeama has summoned South Africa’s High Commissioner, Bobby Moroe on the crisis.

On the South African side, we hear that President Cyril Ramaphosa has issued a public statement, vowing to clampdown on attackers. The preliminary impression these responses portray for anyone is simply lackluster, given the dimension and speed the escalation is already assuming.

Against the backdrop of Nigeria’s current diplomatic policy of reciprocity, anyone will wonder the context by which this will apply in the current situation. If our citizens are the centerpiece of our diplomatic policy, how does reciprocity apply in the current scenario?

To understand this dilemma of reciprocity proper, we must situate it historically. The origin of South Africa’s xenophobic attacks and the response from Nigeria is in the Sharpeville massacre of 21st March 1960, when South African Police killed 72 blacks and wounded 184.

On assumption of office, the then Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa came under pressure from both domestic and pan African entities to institute measures to check South Africa’s Apartheid policies.

Consequently, Nigeria banned the importation of South African goods into the country, including economic sanctions against the racist regime. Also, Balewa, at the Commonwealth Prime minister’s conference in London, March 1961, championed the move to withdraw South Africa from the Commonwealth and subsequently withdrew all Commonwealth privileges hitherto accorded her by 1962.

Same Nigeria returned to play a pioneering and pivotal role in the attempt to dismantle apartheid and return the country to genuine governance, spending as much as $61 billion to achieve this.

Sadly, it appears that the non-violent crusade to end apartheid as spearheaded by Nigeria failed to slay the monstrous hate that will emerge later, for which the helper will be consumed as the victim.

It is curious, how supremacist citizens of a country with over 200 years under the ignominious spell of apartheid will blame their lack of prosperity on innocent foreign nationals earning legitimate income and growing their economy. Yes, there might be cases of bad eggs, no doubt.

Credible records suggest that about 2.3 million immigrants are living in South Africa, including Africans, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Indians, Europeans, and middle easterners. Out of this, is about 1.6 million Africans running small shops, vending, and other services. Whites control 85% of the country’s wealth! What is the hate all about?

As we leave government to worry about how to handle the reciprocity dilemma, citizens are already reciprocating in groundswell advocacy, calling for a boycott of South African business interests, and in some cases, threatening attacks on strategic business interests.

There have been unconfirmed reports of the attack on an MTN Connect office in Lagos, and we have read of the Lagos Police resisting attempts to attack Shoprite in Lekki.

The resort to violent reprisal attack on target interests supposedly belonging to South Africa is not strategic, and only confirms our collective reciprocity dilemma, even deeper and more miserably.

DSTV, MTN, Shoprite, Protea, Stanbic others are employing between 300,000 to 500, 000 Nigerians, directly or indirectly. MTN does not have up to 60 offices in Nigeria. The MTN Connect offices, as part of the firm’s 50,000 plus offices or outlets are in franchise agreements belonging to dealers, distributors or trade partners who Nigerians are managing to earn a living.

There is no wisdom in escalating our dilemma. If our dilemma is accentuated by the government’s impotence to handle the matter, our brothers and sisters in South Africa should find their way back home.

Well, you might say that the spate of killings and kidnappings in Nigeria will be disincentives. Are we not supposed to join hands to salvage Nigeria together?

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