Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has reacted to the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africa citizens living in South Africa.
In a letter to the President of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the elder statesman urged countries whose citizens were affected to table appropriate motions at the African Union (AU) and consider other measures if the situation is allowed to continue.
He condemned the situation where any African country encourages or fails to seriously sanction xenophobia against Africans in their country.
Obasanjo described such as a great disservice not only to the country xenophobic attacks take place and the countries of the victims concerned but also to the whole of Africa and black race.
He said there was a need for fence-mending, reconciliation and wound-binding between South Africa and the countries whose citizens have been victims of xenophobia in the country.
The former president, therefore, asked South African authorities to send emissaries to the countries concerned to explain, apologise and agree on the way forward for mutual understanding.
He also noted that repatriation of Nigerians from South Africa was not a permanent solution to the crisis, neither was revenge a desirable way out.
Obasanjo challenged Nigeria and South Africa to stand together to champion African cause and jointly shepherd African development, unity, cooperation, security, and progress to make the 21st century Africa’s century.
September 12, 2019
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP,
President Emeritus: Inkatha Freedom Party,
Office of the President Emeritus,
2 Durban Club, Place,
Durban 4001, South Africa.
I thank you for your very kind and thoughtful letter of September 11, 2019, and I appreciate the honour done me by specially writing me a letter on a very unfortunate and sad incident of xenophobia in South Africa. I also take note of your statements and other communications made in South Africa by you on the same issue.
The xenophobia or Afrophobia going on in South Africa is an unfortunate issue for South Africa and for the whole of Africa. It is unfortunate in many respects. There are only two countries in Africa that have ‘Africa’ as part of their names: Central Africa Republic and Republic of South Africa. For any of these two countries and, I dare say, for any African country to encourage or allow or not seriously sanction xenophobia against Africans in their country, it is a great disservice not only to the country where xenophobia takes place and the countries of the victims concerned, but also a great disservice to the whole of Africa and black race.
I want to thank you, my dear senior brother, for the statement you made to alert leaders and ordinary people of South Africa to appreciate that turning a blind eye and not making a very strong statement of condemnation or taking a very strong stand against xenophobia is encouraging xenophobia or being an accomplice in xenophobia and/or Afrophobia.
I also want to thank you for referring in the same statement to Nigeria’s contribution and my own personal contribution to the struggle against colonialism in Southern Africa and apartheid in South Africa. I must also commend others in South Africa who have taken a similar position in the overall interest of Africa.
We, in Nigeria, if I may speak particularly for Nigeria, did all that we did for liberation in different parts of Africa, particularly in Southern Africa, including getting rid of apartheid in South Africa because we believed it was our obligatory duty to do so as Africans.
We, as black people, believed and still believe that we would be second-class citizens in the world if we allowed any black people anywhere in the world, not to talk of Africa, to be treated as second-class citizens because of the colour of their skin without fighting against it.
It is because of our belief in human dignity generally and especially afro dignity. We were motivated and goaded by principle and not by possession, position or praises. We were not doing it to get any reward or material benefit as such.
We were doing it because we were convinced that it was our duty, our responsibility and our obligation to humanity and to the black race.
That is why we, in Nigeria, in spite of our distance from the frontline of the struggle against colonialism in Southern Africa and apartheid in South Africa, we became, in terms of our participation, contribution, commitment and sacrifice, members of the frontline States.
Whether that is recognised and appreciated or not, we really don’t mind as we believe we have done our duty as we ought to have done, and if occasion occurs in future where we need to open our doors, out of our humanity and Africanity, for people in similar situation of need as happened to people in Southern Africa and South Africa, we will do it again as we did in the past.
However, we believe that Africans living in any other part of Africa must be treated as brothers and friends. If they commit any crime, they should be treated like citizens of that country will be treated when they commit crime which will mean applying judicial process.
Moreover, the South African police and other law enforcement agencies must uphold the letter and spirit of the Constitution of South Africa, which stipulate that, “The South African Police Service has a responsibility to prevent, combat and investigate crime, maintain public order, protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property, uphold and enforce the law, create a safe and secure environment for all people in South Africa, prevent anything that may threaten the safety or security of any community, investigate any crimes that threaten the safety or security of any community, ensure criminals are brought to justice and participate in efforts to address the causes of crime.”
Where the Police would stand aloof watching miscreants and criminals committing crimes against fellow human beings is condemnable and not acceptable in any civilised society. This was experienced in South Africa in recent times and it shows either incompetence or collusion on the part of the Police.
The best way to fight crime is to achieve close to full employment in a society and not through xenophobia. Anybody who can deny xenophobia in South Africa of today can deny that my mother is a woman. It should not be a game of denial but rather a game of accepting reality and working at it, together with the rest of Africa where necessary.
Countries in Africa are not just transit for drugs from sources in Latin America and Asia to consuming populations in North America and Europe, but these countries in Southern Africa and West Africa are also falling victims as consumers and producers.
It requires collaboration of producing regions and countries working with transit regions and countries and consuming regions and countries to deal effectively with the menace of drugs as established by West Africa Commission on Drugs, WACD.
As it is being touted that xenophobia will give South Africans jobs, I dare say, it is fallacy. Xenophobia will make investment in South Africa a little bit more difficult which will lead to lack of job creation and loss of existing jobs.
It should also be realised that most migrants did not migrate out of their country to other countries with total emptiness. Some have education, skills, experience, expertise, entrepreneurship and sheer guts which they can bring to bear on the economy of the country they have migrated to. What has helped most developed countries in the world is openness and receiving migrants with open hands and open minds.
In any case, all of us in the world are migrants, no matter where we live, depending only on how far back you want to go.
I, once again, thank you for the position you have taken and I hope that your statement will ring bells in the minds of leaders and ordinary South Africans to know that they are living in Africa where rightly South Africa should be one of the countries to play leadership role in Africa.
But if xenophobia is encouraged, South Africa will not earn the role of leadership which can only be granted and conferred by the rest of Africa because leadership requires certain amount of sacrifice and attitude of understanding, compassion, kindness, brotherhood and hospitality.
These are normal African virtues and attributes which South Africa must imbibe. The lessons to be learned from all this is that our individual countries in Africa must have programmes that will provide livelihoods for their teeming youth population to discourage youths from embarking on hazardous journeys to places where their lives will be in danger all in search of greener pastures that may never be there. Our youth too must learn that when they are in any country, they must be law-abiding and be actively productive members of their host country.
At this juncture, there is need for fence-mending, reconciliation and wound-binding between South Africa and the countries whose citizens have been victims of xenophobia and Afrophobia in South Africa. As a suggestion, South Africa should send emissaries to the countries concerned to explain, apologise and agree on the way forward for mutual understanding, accommodation, reconciliation, and binding the wound to promote unity, concord, and brotherhood in Africa.
Repatriation of Nigerians from South Africa is obviously not a permanent solution. At best it is palliative. But the hurt will still remain for some time.
Neither is revenge a desirable solution. Mutual understanding and acknowledgement of what needs to be done on all sides are imperative and getting down to doing them is the solution that will serve Nigeria and South Africa and indeed Africa well particularly in this era of Africa Continental Free Trade Area opportunities.
Nigeria and South Africa must stand together to champion African cause and to jointly shepherd African development, unity, cooperation, security, and progress to make the 21st century Africa’s century.
In the final analysis, if South Africa fails to initiate appropriate and satisfactory steps to deal with the issues to pacify affected victims and work for reconciliation with the countries concerned to put an end to xenophobia, the concerned countries of the victims should come together to table appropriate motions at the AU level first and consider other measures if the situation is allowed to continue.
Dear senior brother, please accept the assurances of my highest consideration for your good health and wellbeing.