A lot has been said about xenophobia and on the strained relationship between South Africa and the rest of black Africa with particular reference to Nigeria. In the past week we have seen the evacuation of Nigerians from South Africa – at least as many as want to leave. But the numbers are quite small compared to the number of Nigerians who live in the rainbow country. At the last count just over 1,000 Nigerians have signified their intention to come back home. This is a tiny fraction compared to the number of our compatriots who live there. The South African government also ensured they barred those who left, for 10 years.
In a way, this made many who would have wanted to leave, to remain in that country. Most have gone into hiding, but for how long? The other day, we saw a parade of South Africans who we are told, are apologizing to the world for their xenophobia, but that is not enough assurance for the remaining foreigners in that country, to troop out. Even if they would, I will advise that the unruliness I’ve seen some of our brothers display on the streets there, is something that must be totally banished.
The refusal of almost all Nigerians in South Africa to leave that country should be a cause of concern for us as a people and as a nation, being that despite the amount of tribulation that these Nigerians have gone through they still believe that it is better to remain and bear the risks. Unfortunately, we have seen some of them grossly abusing their hosts – perhaps out of trauma. We also know some who don’t see anything wrong in calling black South Africans ‘lazy’, ‘jealous’, ‘wimps’, ‘stingy’, ‘slaves’, ‘dependent on white handouts’ and all sorts of names. If the South Africans are indeed apologizing, I also apologize on behalf of those who have called them these names. I believe we all should. Today it seems that Nigerians who live in SA are somewhat contrite as they realize that it is perhaps much better for them to remain in South Africa than come back home. Some of those interviewed stated clearly that the standard of living in most of South Africa is far better than in most places within Nigeria. It is really bad manners that some of our people keep hurling these abuses at South African natives when we know that we still have to benefit from sharing their space. It is their space, and they have every right to defend it, just as we should defend ours from people who move in and out at will presently – a major reason we are under terrorist attack in some territories.
It is correct that the savage history between the blacks and whites in South Africa still plays out today in the high crime rate on the streets of many South African cities and the seeming predilection to violence of the average, neglected South African poor. There is also a proliferation of light weapons on the streets of South Africa, the availability of which facilitates the often fatal high crime rates. My take is that it is beyond our pay grade to dissect South Africans and their issues when we haven’t as much as achieved basic things for ourselves. If we were smart, well-educated, savvy, fantastic with women, quick on our feet, and all other attributes we accord ourselves, then Nigeria should not be a country where every young person seeks to run away from. In fact, it could be said that we lack these very attributes for which we thump our chests and that is why our young people fill asylums centers in many countries around the world. It must however be made clear that the savagery encountered in the hands of some South Africans could never be justified in this day and age.
That said, why is South Africa a much better place to live for Nigerians? There’s a reason why this is the case and it is about public policy and the investment in the people of that country. Nigeria not only has not invested in her people, but also in the kind of infrastructure that makes South Africa very livable for Nigeria’s legal and illegal immigrants today. Let us look at some examples of what successive South African governments have done for their people overtime and compare to what our governments have left undone here.
There is the building of hundreds of hostels for South Africans who came from far flung villages to work in cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and others. There are over 605,000 rooms in those hostels which today houses some of the roughest, poorest South Africans. A lot of the rioters and looters actually reside in those hostels. As much as we must blame the hostels for harboring low-lifes but we must also see this as an initiative taken by the SA governments for the benefit of her peoples. Where is the equivalent of the hostels in Nigeria? There is nowhere in Nigeria where we can point to houses built for the poorest people. I once pointed out the need for us to start renewing our villages (rural renewal) in a way that opens them up and encourages urban-rural drift. The closest to this kind of mass-housing initiative are the famous Jakande houses in Lagos; but those were built for civil servants and middle class. He built 30,000 housing units/flats in all. South Africa today has a housing deficit of 1.5 million houses for a population of about 60 million people. Nigeria has a deficit of 17 million houses for a population of about 180,000,000 to 200,000,000, but instead of mass housing to clear this backlog, we have over 2 million unoccupied luxury houses all over the country; products of greed and corruption. It is clear to see which country has the interest office people at heart.
Let us take this further. The 2018-2020 budget for South Africa shows a plan of 5.8 trillion Rand. These comes for about $400 billion over a three-year period. This means that South Africa budgets about $130billion dollars each year for her people. The budget for education alone comes to about $30 billion a year. This is larger than the entire budget for Nigeria in 2019, yet the Nigerian government intends to reduce the budget level as we go along. In the South African budget you would find provisions for social security such as unemployment benefits, allowances for the old and infirm, and even provisions for newborn children. These kind of items are so alien to Nigeria where our national budgets are full of such frivolous items as promotes the continued inequality and oppression of the masses. Since the new wave of xenophobia broke, I have been opportune to take a virtual magnifying glass to the South African society, to find out why the country is so much more livable than Nigeria. I discovered too, that they have these Youth Brigades and they have been training many of the underprivileged youths in different skills, and wait for this, embedding them in real life projects where they can get skilled up for the real world. I have suggested such should happen here too but there is no doubt that our own leaders are disconnected from reality. Meanwhile, the level of transparency around South Africa’s budgeting and implementation is shocking. Google any budget at any level; federal, regional or even city, and you will get a full PDF report. Try that here and what you get is a black hole – any point beyond the federal level.
Here in Nigeria, we find items such as the yearly purchases of luxury cars for government operatives and politicians, acquisition of luxury accommodation, monstrous government houses and headquarters, frequent travels, and just about anything that will continue to fan the egos of our pretend leaders. It is NEVER about the people. The leaders probably believe that they have paid off the people when they handed out N2,000 ($5.50) each to their followers during the campaigns and that should settle the next 4 years in their minds.
So that is why I am against the continued disturbance of the South African space by Nigerians claiming a sense of entitlement, and if they may remain, they need to learn to really shut up and appreciate the privilege of living in an organized society. For their emigration out of this country means they have left some of us to struggle with these absurdities, when we all should be here solving the problem together. As I heard the Nigerian woman run a commentary from her apartment about South Africans ‘begging’ Nigerians, and telling other Africans that they were sorry, the shallowness of our thinking further came to bold relief. Beg you for what? That you have a right not to fix your country and so rush to theirs? But I do understand that Nigerians out there will never come back home – except they can absolutely not help it. Perhaps we deserve what we get; Nigerians are very good at electing and supporting ineffectual leaders. We focus on who has the cash. Perhaps it is our fraudulent thinking catching up with us.
The rest of the world cannot reconcile why these people who say they are so helpless and therefore need to claim asylum, condone their leaders, who come abroad to buy all the most expensive chattel. If Congo has a Mobutu, Nigeria has shown that a nation can cope with hundreds, maybe thousands of Mobutus and mini-Mobutus, who constantly rip off the country while they rack up unsustainable debts for children unborn. When congressmen in Washington DC are living in their offices because they cannot afford rent in DC, Nigerian congressmen and mere civil servants saunter to America and elsewhere to buy buildings in the top cities. Some even buy whole skyscrapers! True. Back home, we are told we have no rights to know what these politicians earn. It is a huge blackhole. Not even the fact that we pay those salaries from our taxes makes any difference. This country is really absurd, and so are most of her inhabitants – home and abroad. Meanwhile, if the South Africans apologized sincerely, then they have claimed the moral high ground over every African. We never apologized to Ghana after booting out 2 million people. That is two million! Though we never killed any of them.
We need to develop emotional intelligence. There is a lot to understand and learn about the history of whites versus blacks in South Africa. Their past is extremely bitter and bloody. The relationship between the Boers and the black tribes is historically etched in blood, and essentially one between slaves and masters, humans and animals. That is how the blacks were treated. Unarguably, the blacks of South Africa had a worst deal than the blacks who were taken as slaves to America. That is why decades after slave trade ended, apartheid persisted. Yes, we did offer our open doors as a national policy, but the blacks bore the real brunt and such scarring takes some time to heal, if ever. The trauma was generational.
Apartheid meant that services that dogs will reject were offered to blacks in times past. Rubbish schools were offered to them and since the minds of successive apartheid governments were made up to ensure the blacks didn’t get an education, their schools were underfunded and some looked no better than pigsties. The Boers needed to show that indeed, the blacks were unfit for education and any good thing in life. There is a reason why Nelson Mandela headed the militant wing of the ANC, which killed a number of people. The deliberate imbalance in education still persists till date. Ditto for healthcare and every other facility. The South Africans may have done better than Nigeria in providing hostels for poor labourers, but unbelievable injustice and violence was done against them, and they too hit back when they could. With all these going on, we should understand that migration comes with the risk of inserting oneself into a delicate situation like this. We must never take that country, or any other at all, for granted. And we must never mock their struggles. We must to learn history as we migrate all over the place. And perhaps, we will now begins to appreciate our own country. Charity begins at home.