Xenophobia: When evil came close to home – Peju Akande

Xenophobia: When evil came close to home – Peju Akande



Xenophobia, according to the Webster’s dictionary, is ‘fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.’


The recent wave of xenophobia in South Africa got many of us worried. In particular, those of us who have relatives and friends in that country. The videos we watched online were enough to make even those who had no relatives there call for a stop to these horrific attacks on fellow human beings.


I’ve been getting calls, text messages, WhatsApp chats from family and friends asking if my son is safe. He is studying in South Africa. I have spent sleepless nights worrying about his safety. Each time I called and he didn’t pick, nasty images filled my head.


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Thankfully, he is safe.


The riots and killings, he says, are far from him. ‘My neighbourhood is safe’, he kept reassuring me. …’My school area is safe too. It’s a white area.’


He kept repeating this each time I insisted he stopped classes for the period.



Xenophobia: When evil came close to home - Peju Akande



I understood what he meant by “White Area”, having stayed there for a while. It means constant armed security patrol. It means no blacks or very few blacks living and working in the area. Also, it means that once it is 6pm every evening, the black workers in that neighbourhood would migrate in their multitudes to their provinces…


Somewhat similar to the way Lagosians migrate out of V/I back to the mainland at the end of each work day.


The only difference here is that, in SA, the migration is mostly black and poor from white areas to slums. On the other hand, it cuts across all classes in Nigeria. Well, mostly middle to lower class…


Current generation of Africans embracing xenophobia require a lesson in History

But this is just trying to put things in perspective.


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Finally, ‘white area’ means- it is peaceful, it is serene, insulated from all the madness going on.


I recalled the short days I was in SA living in the white area. For this, I hated the idea of white area versus black areas. I wanted to show affinity with my black brothers and sisters. So, when it was evening and the black workers bade us goodbye, I didn’t want to feel any superiority over them, nor look down on them as being in a class lower than me simply because they were blacks.


I recall I would insist on eating in the large kitchen with them. Though our hostess, a white woman, made it clear our food would be served in the dining room by the uniformed black servants and theirs would come after we had eaten. I just felt an affinity with them having a background knowledge of apartheid and how the system messed them up.


I should have reserved my sympathies. Because after I left, my son told me all the niceties they put up on my behalf were immediately removed. He was treated like a leper.


So, he stopped eating with them and simply chose to eat at school instead.


See these people? (Let’s be clear, I don’t think most of black South African are like that).


Now, this to me is a reflection of what we’ve been seeing in most of these xenophobia attacks recently. Fellow Africans are treated like the enemy. Forget the fact that we fought alongside black South Africa against apartheid.


I think the generation of those killing their fellow Africans today have no knowledge of what roles their African brothers played.



Xenophobia: When evil came close to home - Peju Akande


Lack of education remains a problem here

How would they know if they aren’t educated?


How would they have been educated? When they burnt down the schools and facilities built for them in anger against their white oppressors?


How would they fight their white oppressors when their minds have been imprisoned from seeing them as the real oppressors?


There are many legs to the reasons behind the recent outpouring of xenophobia. As a matter of fact, there’s the Nigerian drug cartel theory. Stupid theory. I say stupid, because drug or not, it’s no reason why people should be butchered.


Where is the place of justice? Where are the police who should go out to arrest these drug dealers? Indeed, where are the courts where they can be tried and sentenced? Who says its okay to hound people, women, children and burn them in their houses?


Then of course, there is the lack of education theory and there’s the crime and prostitution theory… These are more plausible reasons. But the question we need to answer is this, why are African immigrants the constant target of Black South Africans? Why have they never faced the rich white minority who took their land and still run the economy?


For me, it boils down to education. No! Make that lack of education and irresponsible governments.



Xenophobia: When evil came close to home - Peju Akande



Same thing we have even here in Nigeria.


Why would an area boy or Almajiri or any of these street people turn against civil populace at the slightest provocation? God help anyone driving a jeep when there’s a riot in town. That jeep would be burnt down with its owner, regardless of who they are.


Tell me, why would ‘hoodlums’ (that’s the best description for these louts) loot shops, kill or maim fellow Nigerian ‘sufferers’ of the economy over mundane things?


No justification for retaliatory attacks

All in the name of avenging perceived hurts due to xenophobia?


Why would hoodlums attack Shoprite and destroy HealthPlus and several other businesses owned by Nigerians fighting to put food on the table for their families and hundreds of other families as well?


Who says MTN is wholly South African?


Did these mad crowd think of the several families these businesses cater for?


After all is done and destroyed, have these stopped the xenophobia attacks in SA? Will it stop it?



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Xenophobia: When evil came close to home - Peju Akande


I think they should face members of the National Assembly of looters, their local chairmen and counsellors if they have grievances. They shouldn’t spare the governors, past and present who looted the treasury.


Also, the presidents, past and present who destroyed the economy, all should be held accountable. Attacking these ones, though not acceptable, would at least make some sense.


To my mind, the underlying cause of the recent wave of xenophobia remains lack of education. In addition, a lack of employment opportunities brought on by the governments of African nations.


These, in fact, are the real enemies.

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