The Xenophobia in All of Us

When a white man hates a black man, he throws banana at him; but when a black man hates a fellow black man, he kills him. Ironical? Well, life is full of ironies or paradoxes so much that only life itself can understand what the cacophony of mysteries is all about. Now consider this: when a white man hates a fellow white man, he implicates him in a criminal case or could simply embark on an adventure of serial killing, with the delusional pride and belief that he can take out entire members of a community, gender or group. We have heard stories of white women on a killing spree, with children as target and victims, slashing their throats one after the other, cutting them to pieces and flushing the body parts of each of them down the toilet!

We have also heard stories of mysterious persons like Jack the Ripper of modern England centuries before now, and all sorts of other cases, whose stock in trade is wiping out a hated people. Do you describe that as just another case of one-man madness and not strictly the xenophobia unfolding in South Africa? The world is full of madness and in fact, every one of us is mad in some ways. It takes madness, for instance, to wish a healthy man dead and advertise his obituary in national newspapers even when it is obvious the ‘dead man’ is much alive. It is madness for a Fulani to kill an entire family of five overnight only because his cattle are missing or are endangered in a strange land where he is allowed by the host community to graze. Was it not madness for a group of people to emerge somewhere in the remote areas of the Northeast and resolve to Islamize the whole of Nigeria of about 170 million people or kill all of them if they resist?

What is xenophobia? Sociologists have not clearly placed it in their lexicon. But they say it is the incomprehensible contempt a people have towards another one that lives within the former’s clan. The term, “xenophobia” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “deep-rooted, irrational hatred towards foreigners” and Webster Dictionary describes it as an unreasonable fear or hatred of the unfamiliar. In some quarters, xenophobia is simply a dislike or prejudice against people from other countries. From all these definitions, there is a common currency: madness! Xenophobia simply means “madness”: the word “incomprehensible” or “unreasonable/irrational” that keeps appearing in those definitions make the meaning of xenophobia even clearer: madness!!

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Those South Africans protesting against African foreigners in their country; stoning, burning and stabbing them to death are simply expressing their human nature: madness. They and their king want all foreigners who are smarter and more educated and who “take their jobs” out of their country or get killed. And so, the attack, looting of shops and cutting down of the innocents persist. The crime of the victims is simply because they are black without a South African tag around their identity. While that handful of Zulus- a people of great history and heritage with one of the most sophisticated pre-colonial political organizations under the great Shaka- have condescended to exhibit the madness in man.

Also, the acts of the Hausa-Fulani in Nigeria in 1966 must not be easily forgotten. They had for a very long time, greatly despised the people of Eastern extraction, quietly envying them for their industriousness and hating them too for “taking over” their businesses and jobs in the North. So, the countercoup of July 1966 only offered a veritable platform to exterminate all the Igbo people in that region. The Igbos were maimed, humiliated, raped, killed and shops were looted. They were even waylaid in Markudi as they fled to their Eastern abode, but the ethnic supremacists caught up with them and killed them, throwing their bodies into the River Benue. Those Easterners were simply considered as foreigners in Hausaland, who had come to reap where they had not sown.

In Sudan, Omar El-Bashir has been alleged to have been the mastermind of the hundreds of thousands of death of Christian and black Sudanese in Western Darfur and Southern Sudan before the separation and independence of the latter. Blacks and Christians in Sudan are regarded as strangers and have never been spared in the last couple of decades. We will not forget in a hurry the 100-day massacre in 1994 of about one million people in Rwanda. It was a long story. The Hutus after independence went on a vengeful mission to exterminate the Tutsis who, under the Belgian colonialists, had enjoyed unusual patronage and collaboration with the whites. Between 1961 and 1975, there were attempts to embark on genocide. But things went awry in 1994 as the Hutu ethnic supremacists in collaboration with the army and French allies, went on a murderous rage and eliminated almost a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus, with the belief that they were strangers in Rwanda.

Watching those savage acts of Zulus and others in Mzansi on television for the past four weeks, therefore, brings back the memories and the images, in a crystal clear way, of past Hutu barbarism. But the Zulus are not alone in this. We all, as established, are involved. When the Oba of Lagos (like the King of Zululand) cursed the Igbos weeks ago and reminded them that they were strangers who would perish in the Lagos Lagoon if they would not do his political bidding, he was exhibiting another form of xenophobia. When a man in a place of work wishes another man dead or sets him up for destruction, simply because he feels threatened by his superior quality, this is another form of xenophobia. It is only when men see each other as strangers that they can hate to the extent of wishing one another dead or destroyed. And xenophobia is the expression of hate based on perceived threats posed by a stranger.

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Xenophobia is a product of perennial failure, cowardice and a weapon of the weak. The South African people must rise above this level and the good people of that country must resist it. The police has shown obvious partisanship in this matter, allowing looters raid foreigners’ shops and burn houses, cars as well as burn some of the foreigners to death. Indeed, if one considers the scorecard of the South African police in the last five years (Marikaner miners’ killings four years ago, tying and dragging of a Mozambican taxi driver to death two years ago, some sex acts on YouTube weeks ago by a couple in police uniform, and the recent complicity in the xenophobic attacks), one can be tempted to sum up that the South African police is cruel, incompetent, unprofessional, irresponsible and xenophobic! By these persistent acts, they seem far worse than their Nigerian counterparts.

However, they can do better; so can the Zuma administration, which is known for verbal scornful attacks on neighbouring countries such as Malawi and Zimbabwe and has been accused several times, of encouraging xenophobia. Africans should not attack South Africans in their countries; we cannot afford to return barbarism for barbarism. Africans can fight this ‘war’ diplomatically and as for a South African hegemony on the continent, it is clear that Mzansi cannot provide that leadership. It is evidently not cut out for it. The role Nigeria played for years, welcoming and helping other Africans, including South Africans for whom some of our forebears conceded their scholarship to school freely in Nigerian universities during the apartheid years, can never be replicated or occupied by South Africa. A xenophobe cannot lead others!

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