There will be no tears or funerals in Nigeria

Frustrated Nigerian nationals wait outside the Nigerian Consulate to register their names to be repatriated home. Hundreds ran to the consulate in Illovo, Joburg following a wave of violence across Gauteng in recent weeks.
Frustrated Nigerian nationals wait outside the Nigerian Consulate to register their names to be repatriated home. Hundreds ran to the consulate in Illovo, Joburg following a wave of violence across Gauteng in recent weeks.
Image: Thulani Mbele

They won't be coming out of a plane in flag-draped caskets when they arrive in Nigeria. There will be no bitter wind blowing, solemn hymns playing with families and friends watching and weeping.

When about 600 or so migrants arrive in Nigeria, they will be alive and relieved to be back in their mother country.

They will be met at the airport by politically conscious nationals, Pan Africanists and other citizens that believe in African brotherhood.

Many find it embarrassing that some African women, men and children had to leave this country in a cloud of fear.

What is clear to everybody is that they came here on their mission to, knowingly or not, promote better relations between the two countries.

But their presence and reputations were blemished by fellow Nigerians who are turning SA into a drug war zone and a den of prostitution, cyber-crime and cocaine smuggling.

These are the types of men, mostly, that have given Nigeria a bad name and are not welcome anywhere in the world.

Police minister Bheki Cele said two foreign nationals died in the recent senseless skirmishes and the other 10 dead were South Africans. All right-thinking South African citizens regret that people died on our soil.

The deaths will be monuments to remind South Africans that the conduct and behaviour of those who took their lives neither represent nor reflect the national sentiments of Africans in the southern tip of the continent.

For true South Africans, they hope and pray that this will be the last time that locals embarrass us in this way and blemish the integrity of a country that is widely regarded as a beacon of hope and promise in the world.

Were it true that South Africans were at war with allegedly "foreign" nationals and had killed over 300 to 600 Nigerians, the totality of that tragedy could have reverberated throughout the whole world, especially Nigeria and the African continent.

It would have justified the withdrawal from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the cancellation of beautiful soccer games by African teams scheduled to play against Bafana Bafana.

There are neither huge numbers of Nigerians nor Zimbabweans that are going home dead following the latest upheavals in some parts of the country.

President Cyril Ramaphosa had to cut short a hectic programme at the WEF to condemn this wanton violence that is, mostly, directed at fellow South Africans who were deliberately mistaken for "foreigners" because criminals and marauding unemployed people wanted to loot their property.

South Africa is a society that is more at war with itself than so-called foreign nationals. This self-destructive war is, in some quarters, conveniently distorted as a war against foreigners.

There is no need for a presidential entourage in Nigeria to arrive at the airport three hours before the start of a memorial service to pay homage to the deceased. No Nigerians will arrive in flag-draped caskets.

If truth be told, there was no multitude of victims of xenophobic violence.

In fact, their presence in SA is an indictment on how African governments, including an oil-rich country like Nigeria, are failing to create opportunities that will give hope to their people to stay in their countries.

Instead, many Africans from all over the continent are migrating to SA as their last beacon of hope and promise. They see the country as the New York or Paris of the African continent.

Many SA citizens believe in African solidarity and hero worship people such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and Robert Sobukwe. What is left for them is to move back into the streets, passages and corridors of this country to assure our brothers and sisters from the continent that this is the cradle of civilisation. We gave birth to humanity.

Many SA citizens have silently pledged to support and protect the survivors who have chosen to stay behind to help us build one beautiful African country under one African sky.

Above all, we are very glad that there will be no procession of despair in any African country where people will have to bury victims of violence in SA.

Memela is a writer, cultural critic and public servant. He writes in his personal capacity.

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