Source: | David Agyeman Duah, Ghana

Email: [email protected]

Xenophobia: Intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries. (Oxford English Dictionary, Eleventh Edition)

Recently we have been rocked with yet another shocking episode of xenophobia in The Republic of South Africa.

The visceral response to these barbaric attacks are as predictable as ever: Some say the South Africans are ungrateful to other Africans who stood by them during their time of fiery trial within the system of Apartheid, others say the South Africans lack jobs and opportunities because of the legacy of Apartheid and therefore the violence they are meting out to other Africans is a concomitance of the legacy of Apartheid.

Then there is the usual mantra of Pan Africanism and the fact that South Africans are not showing solidarity to the black cause with all these fratricidal attacks against blacks of other nationalities.

An officer aiming to shoot at shop looters

My opinion about the ongoing communal-based violence may be unpopular because it may not fit the usual mould of the what people ascribe as the underlying causes of such virulent and acerbic attacks.

South Africa has a nagging problem with violent crime in general. It is the murder capital of Africa. It rivals drug ridden countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil.

Before I fully address the problem of violent crime in South Africa and what in my opinion are the root causes of this culture of violence in South Africa, in the spirit of honesty let us stop playing ostrich and permit me to tackle the subject of violent crime in Nigeria itself and the propensity of Nigerians living abroad to engage in violent criminal activities … a point not worth repeating to Ghanaians who have been on the receiving end of kidnapping, robbery and the assassination of policemen by Nigerian Nationals in recent times.

Yet through all these trials no Nigerian has ever been lynched by Ghanaians because our country is not bedevilled with the same level of violent crime like South Africa and there is a reason for this which I will delve into soon.

Secondly the ordinary Ghanaian does not have the proclivity to resort to violence unlike our South African counterparts. All other things being equal, the reason why Ghanaians in general do not engage in violent crime is the fact that the government of Ghana is tough on violent crime and as such imposes stiff penalties for murder including the capital punishment and life sentences; thus the price to pay for murder is too great and this serves as a strong deterrence.

Protests against xenophobia and embellished criminal activities in South Africa

South Africa on the other hand treats murder with kid gloves by imposing small prison sentences of 8 to 15 years on murder convicts. These two different sets of consequences for bad behaviour in these two countries deters the citizens of one country (Ghana) from giving in to their animalistic tendencies while it emboldens citizens of the other country to take the law in their own hands and descend into their basest nature.

The objective here is not a jingoist ploy to incite and inflame passions against Nigerians, South Africans or any other group of black Africans but to throw light on internal problems which we have to deal with before we point accusing fingers at the ‘whiteman.’

The point I’m making here is that we need to take responsibility for our actions and address them head-on if we are going to find any solution to our recurring problems.

Now back to the topic of violent crime in South Africa, the statistics are alarming to say the least: According to the BBC, recent statistics released by South Africa’s Minister of Police Bheki Cele paints a grim picture because it shows that South Africa recorded an average of 20, 000 murders in 2017 ; a figure which when compared with the murder rate of a country like the United States which is awash with fire arms and violent drug gangs makes the US (17,000 murders in 2017) look like a decent place when you adjust the statistics to take into account of population size and density.

To highlight my point about South Africa having a malignant cancer of violent crime, even the Nigerian Foreign Ministry spokesperson was reported by the Vanguard news site as saying that “From the report I can authoritatively tell you that the killings of Nigeria in South Africa were more of Criminal issue” (sic).

South Africa’s descent into the abyss of violent crime is an issue which must be resolved by the South African Authorities if we are to see the situation changing anytime soon.

Laws must be updated to suit the present reality and the authorities must become tough on violent crimes. Many murders in South Africa are unsolved and even when murderers are apprehended and jailed they are released in no time.

South Africa has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world and their Supreme Court forbade the death penalty in a landmark ruling in 1995. Their criminal code imposes light sentences for homicide related crimes. All these factors cheapen the value of human life and emboldens recidivist criminals to continue in their path of violent criminality with impunity.

To prove my point, it is estimated that there have been half a million murders (500,000 murders) committed in South Africa Since the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1995 and many of the victims are women and children and almost 90% of the victims are blacks. (Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC]).

There are many instances where convicted murderers were released from jail and went back to commit more murders upon their release.

My final analysis of xenophobia in South Africa is this:

It is unfortunate that Nigerians and other African nationals are being targeted in this latest round of killings but the root cause of the problem is the inability of the South African government to tackle the elephant in the room – violent crime and the high rate of homicides in South Africa.

A call for unity between South Africa and Nigeria

If criminally-minded South Africans find it easy to murder their own kind, including women and children then murdering foreigners from other African country will come easy to them for as the saying goes “Charity begins at home”.

Moreover, the laws are lax and the punishment for taking human life in that country does nothing to deter or prevent would be murderers and recidivist criminals from pursuing their psychopathic agenda.

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