Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Nigerians’ woes in South Africa find literary expression

By Anote Ajeluorou

The current diplomatic face-off between South Africa and its former benefactor and champion of anti-Apartheid system, Nigeria over indignities the latter’s citizens suffer in Nelson Mandela’s enclave is not new. What may be new is that Nigerian officials have decided not to look the other way as before. Indeed, they have begun to do what many had long expected them to do – rise to the challenge of protecting Nigerians citizens wherever they may be residing abroad.
  To aid the new move by Nigerian authorities in stemming the tide of South African’s excesses in meting out ill-treatment against Nigerians is a new literary work, The Kwere Kwere Testament, written by Chukwuka Kennedy Madiebo, son of A.A. Madieba, Biafra war veteran and author of The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War, who lived in South Africa for over 13 years. He has come out with a crime thriller regarding Nigerian and West African immigrants to that country.
  In a recent chat in Lagos, Madiebo’s anger with Nigerian government is palpable. He accused the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and its embassies abroad for doing little or nothing to protect its citizens against attacks, especially in South Africa, a country Nigerians helped to attain independence from Apartheid regime. He enumerated several Nigerians, who have been murdered in cold blood, with the Nigerian Embassy in Johannesburg making feeble efforts at seeking justice, which fizzle out after a week or two.
  He said in apparent frustration, “Nigeria embassies abroad don’t treat Nigerians seriously. Nigerians are practically defenceless. I just thought that we shouldn’t sweep these things under the carpet. I admit the crimes some Nigerians commit in South Africa. I just want Nigerian, Mozambican, Swaziland and South African governments to get angry enough with what I have written about in this book and come out to effect needed changes. In South Africa, Nigerians are particularly singled out as criminals.
  The Kwere Kwere Testament (kwere kwere being a derogatory name for unwanted blacks, especially Nigerians) is a fictional account about every aspect of how foreigners surmount obstacles in South Africa to survive. Let me tell you, South African blacks hate Nigerians; they will set upon them for the slightest reason. So, it’s a crime book on foreigners in South Africa, how the system rejects immigrants and how they turn to crime to survive”.
  Having lived in South Africa for that long, Madiebo said most of the narrative is derived from personal experience, accounts he witnessed and what he heard. He said Nigerian youths emigrate to other countries because of system failure back home that force them to go in search of the golden fleece, which South Africa appears to readily offer. He, however, noted that such dream soon turn awry and many Nigerians and West Africans take to drugs dealing and other crimes.
  Madiebo also argued that the South African system that swiftly crucifies these criminals is a major culprit, saying the porous system aids and abets these crimes and their perpetrators.
  Madiebo, who bagged a Masters degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, said, “I wanted to criticise South Africa system in my book in a subtle way. Millions pour into South Africa all the time through corrupt immigration officials, with the government playing a quiet role”.
  He noted that since 1994, when the country became free from Apartheid regime, the African National Congress (ANC) has created over two million upper class blacks and has built over 1.5 million houses for blacks through the party’s Black Empowerment and African Affirmative Action Plans. Madiebo, nevertheless, pointed out that a large influx of foreigners permitted liberal marriages, which foreigners have since utilised to infiltrate the system to clinch jobs and ranks at the expense of black South Africans, who, most of the time, are indolent as against their enterprising guests.
  He said one remarkable way black South Africans express their xenophobic traits against other Africans, especially Nigerians is how they keep them at arm’s length, saying, “You can live in South Africa for up to 10 years without being friends with them. It’s extremely difficult making friends with them; you can never visit them at home. It’s extremely difficult, but their women are very nice and make living in that country bearable”.
  Madiebo also commented on the recent face-off between Nigeria and South Africa and charged Nigerian government to do more for its citizens so they could remain at home and contribute to the nation’s socio-economic and political wellbeing as away of stemming mass exodus from the country in search of greener pastures.
  He stated, “The recent face-off between Nigerian and South African governments is very important. The South Africans are xenophobic and they refer to Nigerians and other black immigrants as kwerekwere. Kwerekwere being ‘unwanted black man’.  It is debatable who is more hated in South Africa - Nigerians or Zimbabweans? My guess is that Nigerians are most hated because many Zimbabweans are able to slip into the system and are therefore accepted as South Africans. And somehow, for various reasons, Nigerians always stand out, wherever they go.
  “However, South Africa offers the black immigrant a window for survival. All you have to do is organise a marriage and wait for an average of five years in order to become a South African. If a kwerekwere becomes South African, he/she begins to benefit from the ‘Affirmative Action’ and ‘Black Empowerment’ policies that seek to redress the socio-economic injustices of the apartheid era. About 10 per cent of Nigerians have managed to slip through the “glass ceiling” of racism and xenophobia. Nigerians are incredibly competitive people, but they do this sometimes to a fault. Habitually, once a Nigerian crosses this barrier, he steers clear from other Nigerians.
  “Do Nigerians commit crimes? Of course, they do. The kwerekwere is confronted with periods when he is almost starving to death, coupled with the fact that organising your “papers” often comes at some cost and no one can move freely in South Africa without papers. The questions to ask are: Why do Nigerians flee Nigeria? Why are other nations so antagonistic to Nigerians? Why are Nigerians always linked to crime?
  “In Nigeria, 90 per cent of the people are unemployed; about 70 per cent survive on less than $2.00 a day. The end result is a significant rise in the spate of armed robberies, kidnappings and the proliferation of other criminal acts. The situation is being linked, by most of the international commentators, to the wave of deadly terrorist attacks currently occurring in Northern Nigeria. One possible answer is that Nigerians are fleeing the incompetence, maladministration and corruption of past and current governments. When they get into the host countries, they are discriminated against socially and economically. Nigerians often have to face incredible challenges to settle in anywhere they go.
  “The deportation of Nigerians by the South Africans and the subsequent retaliation by the Nigerian government could serve as a catalyst that might encourage policy makers in government and dons in the academia to seek solutions to the reasons why Nigerians flee Nigeria in the first place. As you read this, hundreds of Nigerians are currently taking amazing risks by land, air and sea to get out of Nigeria.
  “If you are a Nigerian who happens to live in The Diaspora, and who has managed to cross the “glass ceiling”, please, endeavour to help as many Nigerians as you can”.
  The Kwere Kwere Testament is due out soon.

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