For nearly a week before the 1st of September, news filtered in from South Africa that the country’s black male citizens were planning attacks on African immigrants. Their reasons were plenty and fueled by xenophobia; they believed (as purportedly suggested by their political leaders) that immigrant Africans had seen the social benefits Indigenous black South Africans enjoyed and wanted to migrate to enjoy those benefits without ‘suffering’ the consequences. They also had internalized the idea that crime was primarily imported from other countries with their defective governments and unruly people.
On Sunday morning, xenophobic attacks happened across South Africa, bringing the toll of murdered Nigerians to 160. But those Nigerians were only a fraction of the African immigrant communities that suffered violence and loss of property in the attacks, neither was this the first time attacks of this nature were happening. South Africa is a nascent democracy, even for Africa, only older than South Sudan. Aid from Nigeria and pressure from her leaders were an integral part of the fight for the end of South Africa’s apartheid.
As news of the attack broke and responses began to filter in. Africa finds South Africa’s xenophobia abhorrent and each country is responding in its own ways. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame has cancelled his state visit to the Country for the World Economic Forum Summit later this year, and Zambia cancelled a football match with the country as well. Nigerians who were most affected from the violence waited in vain for the government to respond much like they did in 2018. Buhari’s reluctance to respond robustly to the violence conmbined with the faltering missteps of his cabinet essentially spurred discussions of government incompetence and citizen protests to force the government’s hand. Combined with tweets from Tuface and Mr. Eazi that refused to directly address the violence, decisive commentary by YCee, Davido and Burna Boy that highlighted action that Nigerians could take and demanded that South African celebrities who have enjoyed Nigerian goodwill reciprocate by encouraging their fanbases to reject xenophobia, to celebrities like Toke Makinwa and Kate Henshaw who tried to apportion blame for the violence faced on Nigerian immigrants.
And to my Brothers and sisters I am not encouraging any Violence or anything but please PLEASE Protect and Defend yourselves at all times, it may not seem like it but there’s always a way. Management will now take back control of Burna Boy’s Social media. God bless AFRICA ✊?
— Burna Boy (@burnaboy) September 3, 2019
This soup of opinions eventually yielded disastrous results. Average citizens began to boycott Nigerian franchises of South African brands like MTN and Shoprite which eventually devolved into pointless damage to property and looting of goods. This action and the threads Burnaboy laid out before South African rapper AKA brought things to the futility of individual protests. They are difficult to maintain and often spiral to have unexpected consequences like looting and riots. And they make us just as reactionary as the South African men who started this chain of events.
It is not the job of any celebrity to target a brand for xenophobia in its country, These brands only exist here because they have received permission from our governments and are working to make profit and maximize the investment that was sunk into some of these cross continental partnerships, localized violence only destroys those opportunities. It is the government’s duty to assess the situation and provide adequate responses otherwise, chaoes like we saw today will continue to happen.
Never more have we needed our government to step up and prove themselves as wholly invested in the global image of our nation and the way that knowledge affects intersocial interaction and increases the risk of localized violence. Our government let this situation get ahead of us, but it is not too late to change how this discussion goes.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.