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Xenophobia: Why South Africans attack Nigerians – South African envoy

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The recent attacks on Nigerians and their business in South Africa has been a major topic in the last few days. What do you say about these occurrences and should Nigerians worry about another round of xenophobic attacks?

Ambassador Lulu Mnguni: Immediately the incident happened, our minister of home affairs went to the place and police were also there to stem the attacks. We are trying to normalise things, we are trying to talk to people, to expose those behind the attacks. People may have genuine concerns but I am sure this can be addressed without attacks.

DT: In your view, what is the root cause of these attacks?

Nigerians in the Durban Point area built barricades with burning tyres and debris.
Nigerians in the Durban Point area built barricades with burning tyres and debris.

Mnguni: The root cause can be viewed more as social challenges that exist when some people find out that their businesses are being threatened. When we were growing up, we had businesses that were run by our own people but now they feel that outsiders have taken over. It is a question of leadership. I think when people come in we need to see how they can consciously make sure they form partnerships so that they don’t see each other as competitors. Some believe that people who create problems come into the country illegally and they say South Africa must control the borders. It is not every foreigner who comes into the country illegally. Some of them do a lot in terms of development of South Africa. Some bring scarce skills. Education is a challenge for us because Apartheid never allowed us to have education.

Those who come from countries that have been free for quite some time, like Nigeria, help in bringing those skills to make sure that the country moves forward. People don’t know where we’ve come from with Nigeria, including our own people.

We want to create a cosmopolitan society and it is only through the coming in of people from other parts of Africa that we can achieve this. So we need to instill in our people this sense of brotherhood. However, we are doing a lot to follow up on the people who are involved. It’s not good, it does not reflect well on us as a country.

Some of the concerns raised by our citizens are sometimes genuine and the police and other state workers must begin to address them. We also appeal to fellow Africans who come to South Africa to respect the laws of the country because South Africans are generally not anti-people. But there are some things that need to be fully addressed to get rid of this problem. We need to educate our people on our history, we need to consciously welcome partnerships, even in business, between Nigerians, South Africans or Burkina Faso, and so this unnecessary fear is dispelled. Also, you cannot use only hard power to resolve this.

DT: The South African government has declared 2017 the year of O.R. Tambo, why was it important to do this?

Mnguni: Oliver Tambo is important to South Africans because he was the architect of our democracy. When we were engaged in the struggle, he was the lone star of the ANC. When he addressed us on January 8 every year, we knew what to do. All of us everywhere; whether in the villages, townships, towns working as gardeners, knew how to engage the enemy. He infused us with humanity and made us to feel that we need to humanise our society.

DT: You have said commendable things about Oliver Tambo but the world knows Nelson Mandela more than they do Oliver Tambo. Why is it so?

Mnguni: Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela were one. They were inseparable twins. That is why Nelson Mandela said “Oliver Tambo is part of me; we are joined together by an umbilical cord which cannot be broken.” It was Tambo’s strategy to showcase Mandela as the symbol of our struggle. All our leaders, including Sisulu who actually recruited and groomed them to be  politic giants, also accepted Mandela, otherwise our movement would have been divided. We saw Mandela as a figure that would be accepted by the international community. Tambo, as a disciplined member of the congress, viewed Mandela as his leader. When Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment, he said to Tambo, “guard our movement and build it to a formidable force.” When Mandela came back from prison, the ANC was much stronger than it was before his imprisonment.

DT: You have been through the struggle for South Africa and today you are serving in Nigeria, going through its own phase of struggle. How do these things impact on you?

Mnguni: I don’t see my freedom being complete when we still have challenges in Nigeria. That is why we have to assist in coming up with radical transformation that will improve the quality of life. South Africa will never be free as long as Nigeria is having those challenges just as Nigeria will also not be free as long as South Africa is having some other tendencies. We need to work together to rid our continent of these challenges. I can’t see myself as South African outside of Nigeria.

DT: What was the impact of Tambo’s struggle to your generation?

Mnguni: He infused in us a sense of service and sacrifice. You don’t get involved in the struggle for your own interest but for the sake of the people. You put the people first and that is what he made us do. He was our guide, voice and heart. To us, he was more like a prophet. In 1980, during the year referred to as the Year of the Charter, he said “we shall no doubt see the liquidation of the oppressor forces within our borders and ushering in of a united democratic non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.”

He didn’t just say this but guided us as to how to move to the realization of this process. We must make sure we make it difficult for the Apartheid forces to enjoy barbeque. We made it difficult for them on their farms because farmers were the first line of defense for Apartheid. Internationally, we made sure that Apartheid found no space. Nigeria was our first partner then, and they really helped us in making sure that we isolate Apartheid and step up the move on sanctions.

DT: How will you be celebrating this centenary commemoration in Nigeria?

Mnguni: We said in 2017, walking in the footsteps of Oliver Tambo. He also was committed to service and sacrifice and so we will celebrate by first reciprocating what the good people of Africa and the globe did for us, especially Nigeria. A country that relentlessly fought side by side with us to make sure we were free. So now that there is this challenge of Boko Haram, and challenges faced by IDPs, we’ll make sure we give whatever service we can to make life more bearable for them and make them know that they are not alone. We’ll make sure that when they go back to the North-East, they will go back better equipped, feeling stronger and of course, human.

DT: If Oliver Tambo were alive today, what do you think he would say about South Africa as it exists today?

Mnguni: If he were here, he would, maybe because of his leadership skills, have impacted on the country much more positively. He believed in collective leadership. He would have worked with the other leaders to make sure that we do everything in our power to service the interest of our people.

DT: When you look at the values of the likes of Oliver Tambo, Nyerere and the rest of them who fought for liberation, would you say that the continent is still able to uphold their values?

Mnguni: I think we are actually following what Kwame Nkrumah, Mandela, Tambo and the rest of them stood for. For instance, we have realised that political freedom without economic freedom is nothing. Those leaders were visionaries; they could easily project the future. We are dealing with different times now, but at the same time, their guidelines are relevant for the unification of our continent. For us to transcend the effects of colonialism, we need to unify as a continent and not engage in colonialist-sponsored ideologies. We need to work together – us and Nigeria – and become examples to fellow Africans. Their teachings are still relevant and we need to follow them. We also need to see how we get rid of these borders creating unnecessary tensions.

DT: How would you describe your time in Nigeria so far?

Mnguni: I don’t see myself as coming from outside the country, I see myself as a part of the people. Nigeria is generally a good place. It has got a lot of characters. When I go to Lagos, it’s different and I see a lot like Johannesburg. When I come to Abuja, it is a lot like Pretoria or a bit of Cape Town. Then I go to Cross River it also has some similarities with Cape Town. I like different parts of Nigeria for different reasons.


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