Thursday, April 30, 2015

Africans Killing Africans: When Lessons From Apartheid are not Enough

If any group of Africans should understand the sting of racially charged violence, it should be South Africans. While violence has been and continues to remain a common theme in most African societies the Africans on the southern most tip of the continent not too long ago were victims of the most oppressive form of aggression, relegated to living in abject poverty in shanty towns in a country they fully owned. In the last few weeks pictures, videos and personal accounts of xenophobic attacks by South Africans on other African immigrants in the country has made me wonder if South African history books have taken out accounts of apartheid or if South Africans are just suffering from a severe form of amnesia. The murders in the country of other African immigrants can almost be likened to Israelis killing immigrants in their country forgetting what they once suffered at the hands of Adolf Hitler.

Immigrant tensions are not new and years ago, flaring tensions in Nigeria caused then president Shehu Shagari to order immigrants in the country, most of them Ghanaian to leave prompting a mass exodus of Ghanaians and other immigrants creating rife hostility and bitterness. While I am not privy to any studies on the economic state of the residents post the exodus, I can almost argue that the life of the average Nigerian was not improved by sending their fellow West African neighbors home, if anything a dearth must have been created as teachers, seamstresses, store owners and other business owners fled. The situation then could have been handled better and most certainly, South Africans can come up with solutions to address the burden immigrants have placed on their country and resources that do not include brutal attacks and murders. 

Undoubtedly, as a continent, Africa is tremendously resource rich, however, it is no secret that the majority of Africans in almost every country live in quite deplorable conditions, victims of corrupt governments. Another known fact is that countries that seem to be doing relatively well are typically burdened by the influx of immigrants seeking better living and working conditions. Over time, for countries that are thus burdened with a heavy migrant population, it is inevitable that conflicts will arise as the citizens and legal residents of the host country struggle for what few resources there are. It might be frustrating when the residents feel that they cannot measure up either because the immigrant population is more educated or more financially secure, while they live on the margins unsure of their daily sustenance. But in spite of the arguments against the immigrants there are more civil ways to address immigration issues and violence of any form does not belong on that list.

But a number of South Africans have concluded that the only way to rid their country of the immigrants they have come to view as a nuisance is by staging attacks against them. It is interesting to note that besides African immigrants making a living in South Africa, there are immigrants from a host of other countries, with scores of Chinese immigrants leading the ranks, but there are no accounts of attacks against immigrants that are from without the continent. In my mind, the explanation as to why only Africans are targeted seems rather simple but complex at the same time. I can almost assume that non-African immigrants who are indeed prospering are viewed as deserving of their success because there is an arbitrary hierarchical system and already, South Africans perceive them as better than they. Thus, since they are better it only follows that their success should not be seen as a threat. On the other hand though, other Africans are not viewed as deserving, after all, they are just as black and perhaps seen as inferior and why should their perceived success be permitted when black South Africans cannot seem to get ahead?

While my argument might be flawed, there is a great deal of truth to it. The success of groups perceived as deserving or unfamiliar can sometimes be dismissed, but then when it seems as though those who are succeeding share some commonalities, their success then is perceived as a threat when in reality it might not be. Unfortunately, South Africans in their attempt to rid their country of other African immigrants are wrong in their logic and are making an already bad situation even worse. Interestingly, when a group has been marginalized for long periods and oppressed their views on perceived threats seems to become warped. Rwanda and the events leading up to the genocide is a marked example and now South Africans are joining the trend. If South Africans learned any lessons from being oppressed under the system of apartheid, those lessons have collectively been discarded and the scars might have been replaced with grafts as the oppressed have now become the oppressors. 

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