Whenever we sat on our desks, during our secondary school days, the first thing that greeted us was a statement curvedly written in bold and coloured chalk like a rainbow above the blackboard, which said: ‘Apartheid is a crime against humanity.’ This sentence sank deeply more like the Nigerian National Anthem in our heads. It was later we realised what the sentence meant, though not as profound as how those who created it wanted us to understand; it was intended to sensitise Africans and the world about the injustice of Apartheid that South Africans were going through, thus as a way of solidarity. We also understood that it was not only in Jalingo (my hometown) or Africa; it was all around the world.
That campaign worked, on 11th February 1990, Mandela was released, and South Africans were liberated from the bondage of Apartheid. To my greatest shock, today, just 25 years away from this last vestige of human slavery, South Africans took to the streets with machetes, stones and stems ravaging Africans of non-South African nationality in a terrible xenophobic act or what they unduly considered an economic freedom. What went wrong? There must be a severe crack in Africa.
On 11th February 1990, Nelson Mandela freshly out from a 27-year incarceration walked down the street of Cape Town to the City Hall followed by unimaginable mammoth and a euphoric crowd of South Africans and the world citizens who committed themselves to being part of history-making, to celebrate the end of a modern human slavery. For nearly half a century, majority black South Africans suffered persecution, segregation and humiliation under the Apartheid regime of minority White. People like Nelson Mandela, Anton Lembede, Peter Mda, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Victor Mbobo and a host of others went to prison times without number for their ideals of an equal South Africa. The world cried and supported South Africans, for examples, Nigeria was reported to have spent over $6 billion to help the country. Nelson Mandela under the platform of African National Congress (ANC) travelled to many countries, especially in Africa, to canvass support, part of which was used subsequently to sentence him to death in a sabotage trial of June 1964.
I’m taking you back to this sad memories, not for any reason but to show if at all you’ve forgotten, the ordeal Black South Africans went through and the way the whole world rallied around them to make sure they got out of that mortification. The acknowledgement of this fact, I have no doubt, was what led the gentle and generous Madiba to take South African to the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. That powerful and angelic heart elated Mandela and South Africa high in the eyes of the world. He died honourably and left a legacy that touched and shaped humanity; he will forever be remembered. And if there is anyone that enjoys this legacy today is no one than the ANC, the political platform of which he led his country to freedom.
ANC is not Mandela. Madiba did his part, but the politics we see unfolding today in South Africa is far neither from his principles nor from the tenets that constitute his party. It’s unfortunate, Jacob Zuma, like the outgoing Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, appears to diminish the light of the struggle by over politicising governance and paying less attention to core values of Africa’s development. Both countries, despite their strategic position in the continent, leave a majority of their citizens in abject poverty. For Nigeria, the story hopefully will soon be over, however, for South Africa, the new story of xenophobia is over-shocking the nerves of the world, especially Africans. What on earth comes on South Africans that they think Africans deserve this brutal and disgraceful treatment?
A mob of young ‘reasonable’ (not lunatics) South Africans raiding and killings Africans with their families on the streets of Johannesburg, all for a simple, myopic and unjustifiable idea that these hard-working Africans, who left their home to find a living in a liberal society of forgiving Madiba, are depriving them of a space in the country’s economy, where all is set for everyone to thrive and excel! They did not go mad over millions of dollars squandered for the renovation of Jacob Zuma’s private home but took to the streets to kill innocent people. This was not Madiba’s spirit! Neither is it the spirit of a united Africa which Anton Lembede, during their genuine South African struggle in the 1940s, said: ‘a new spirit was stirring among the people, that ethnic differences were melting away, that young men and women thought of themselves as Africans first and foremost…’ (Mandela, 1994).
As South Africans decide at this age to retract over 500 years in their moral thinking and justification, we pray that they have not unleashed world’s anger that would affect them and loam the reputation of the continent. Let it be clear, xenophobia, like apartheid, is a crime against humanity, and needless to say, it’s a result of a failure in leadership; the ridiculous young people are either not informed or misinformed, as not all South Africans endorsed this shameful and irrational act.