I am Nigerian, and I live in South Africa. As a matter of fact, I have lived in South Africa for approximately ten years now. I completed my high school education in Pretoria, moved to Stellenbosch for my undergraduate and Honours degrees, and back to Pretoria for my Masters. Currently, I am a lecturer in Johannesburg, paying e-tolls, my taxes, and every other duty that is expected of me. Why the long story? I’ll bring it home in a bit.
My first experience with xenophobia in South Africa was approximately ten years ago, when the word ‘kwere-kwere’ was uttered by a woman who eye-balled me in a shoe store. I looked at her steadily and told her I pay my bills here, my fees here, and I in my own little way as a student, contribute to the economy. She looked like she was about to burst into a zillion pieces, and I mean a zillion literally, but we both kept our cool and left the shop with our shoes. That was ten years ago…it is safe to say children born on that day are looking forward to high school now, and well, a whole lot of things have changed. In 2008, there was a wide range of xenophobic killings during which 63 people were killed country-wide. I was in Stellenbosch, safe and sound, yet terrified. I heard constantly on the news about people dying in different townships, and for some reason, I worried some of my fellow students might bludgeon to death in my sleep. It never happened. Stellenbosch University kept all international students safe, and the spate of killings soon died out.
But today, we are here again, facing the exact same attacks. Albeit far from where I reside, I am identifying with affected foreigners in South Africa. I am a foreigner too afterall. I have tried many times to understand the root of this issue. Why do South Africans hate foreigners so much?- that’s the question I pondered for a while in 2012 when a police office refused to certify my documents because I am a foreigner. But I have come to the realization that South Africans do not hate foreigners, they hate Africans. You may say it’s only uneducated South Africans, and I will beg to differ. Even while I was at Stellenbosch, one of the best Universities in Africa, you might even say the ‘Harvard of Africa’, I had xenophobic colleagues who were worried about foreigners taking over South Africa.
Many people refer to the history of South Africa as the root of the problem- apartheid was tough and many South Africans are still wary….but wait a minute…. Apartheid was not imposed by other Africans. It was imposed by the white man who thought he was superior to the black man and chose to enslave him in his own land. As far as I know, all the African countries rallied behind South Africa; Thabo Mbeki related, at a talk in Cape Town very fondly, his enjoyable stay in Nigeria during apartheid. I watched a documentary where many South African exiles related how they were hidden by other African countries, educated and taken care of, so dare I say, history has nothing to do with this xenophobic killings. It’s all about the mind of a black man.
As black people, we tend to ‘hate on’ each other for no reason. We are the race that likes to refer to our previous disadvantages as the reasons for our mediocrity, even if those disadvantages ended 20 long years ago! We hardly give one another credit. We would rather believe a black lady slept around to get to the top or assume a young black man must be dealing in some illegal activities for him to be so successful…. the same way South Africans are unwilling to accept the fact that foreigners have what they have in SA because of their hardwork and smart investments. They’d rather believe foreigners are stealing their opportunities. An interesting point of view that seems to be shared even by the Zulu King who now denies uttering the words that set these attacks in motion.
Here’s what South African people ought to understand: Many foreign students in South Africa pay a lot more than their South African counterparts in Universities. An international students fee is a compulsory ‘tax’, and in some universities, foreign students pay double the fees. It is safe to assume these extra tens of thousands of rands are put in bursary funds to pay for South African students. Foreign students are hardly eligible for these bursaries until they reach postgraduate level, which by the way is not an assurance. Becoming a permanent resident might be the only way to obtain a bursary, and with all the conditions attached to that, obtaining it is not as easy as it sounds. It doesn’t end there….
South Africa’s immigration laws state that you must have a work permit to take up employment after studying, so one would assume this work permit is given freely right? Wrong! You cannot apply for a work permit if you don’t have a job, and you cannot get a job offer unless you have a work permit. Interesting paradox i think but that is how it works here. and even if a company was to employ you so as to aid you in obtaining your work permit, they must write a letter to the home affairs department stating clearly that no South African qualifies for the job. How then are foreigners stealing opportunities when they have to fight through a web of rules to get to those opportunities? South Africa has a lot of opportunities but its black citizens are too reliant on the government for everything. In spite of abundant bursaries strictly reserved for South African students, many of them are not willing to take the opportunities. Foreign students do, and suddenly, there’s a hate march against them for seizing opportunities South Africans did not want.
Some of you may ask me…”what about the people who sell drugs and those who use fake papers?” I’ll answer with my own questions: who are the people buying the drugs? Who are the people helping them obtain these fake papers?
South Africans do not hate foreigners…else they would be chasing the Australians. Americans, Britons, and many other foreign nationals that have made the nation their home. Instead, they are chasing black people- a form of self-hate and jealousy that cannot be explained by history. They hate the fact that these other Africans are taking the initiative to seize opportunities they couldn’t care less about, and are succeeding at it, they detest other black people because they have the typical black nature- that we should either all wallow beneath the white man or all be successful (which of course is an idealistic thought considering the fact that many of us are more than eager to outshine our colleagues and have them look up to us constantly). South Africans do not understand that many Africans here, and other foreign nationals alike do not get any handouts from the government… not by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, foreigners and their investments contribute a considerable amount to the South African economy- their skills, experience and knowledge are part of what keeps South Africa afloat.
The interesting part is that these same South Africans fantasize about living in other countries. I wonder if they imagine what it would feel like to be met by the same fate that they have so eagerly meted out to the Africans who shielded them from the oppression in their own land. What would happen if Nigeria kicked MTN out, or if Nigerians had beaten up DSTV officials for not letting a Nigerian competitor HiTV shine in its own country?
I am not saying South African borders should be left wide open for people to take advantage of the country. By all means, good measure should be taken to keep the bad eggs out. However, the hate for our own skin colour must stop! We must understand that being African should be a thing of honour! we live on the continent that has the world’s best resources, but we are too busy hating on each other, our resources are being peddled away overseas. Our greed, our jealousy and our hate for each other is the reason we are treated in a lowly manner and disrespected by other races. The day we understand the need for our solidarity is the day we will rise as a continent.
I sincerely sympathize with those who have been affected by these hate killings. May their souls rest in peace. XOXO