African viewpoint: Yellow fever and family demands

A crowd, armed with clubs, machetes and axes on a rampage on May 20, 2008 during xenophobic clashes at Reiger Park, south of Johannesburg There have been several recent outbreaks of xenophobic attacks in South Africa

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Nigerian writer Sola Odunfa reflects on the rise of xenophobia in post-apartheid South Africa, following the recent repatriation of a group of Nigerians, accused of having fake yellow fever vaccination certificates.

One of the trickiest problems that confronts a young couple is their relationship shortly after the wedding.

This is especially the case when the man is the financial cornerstone in his family.

The family expects him to continue to support them exactly as he used to before his new status as husband and, therefore, head of his own nuclear family.

Brothers and sisters

If he fails to live up to their expectations they turn on his wife - and accuse her of trying to turn their son against his brothers and sisters.

On her part, his wife reminds him constantly of his new responsibilities in the home and cautions that a line should be drawn somewhere between his family loyalty and the needs of his own home.

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The anti-apartheid struggle created a unique relationship between South Africans and virtually all other Africans”

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It takes wisdom and diplomacy for the man to navigate his way through these conflicting demands.

Otherwise he risks either destabilising his home or incurring the anger of his siblings and larger family.

Neither augurs well for his, and his children's, long-term happiness and well-being.

In the apartheid years, South Africa was the rallying point of almost all black African nations.

They all saw it as their political and moral duty to join in the battle for the liberation of their oppressed brothers and sisters.

At the time when the entire West was, at best, indifferent to the struggle, African nations flexed their diplomatic muscles at every international forum against the operators of white racial supremacy and their supporters.

Some of them went as far as giving both economic and military support to South Africa's freedom fighters, especially the African National Congress (ANC).

A picture taken on August 12, 2009 shows South African school girls walking past a trash bin bearing an a sticker against xenophobia in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg Some South Africans have campaigned against xenophobia

At the forefront of this effort were the countries of east and southern Africa - which became known as the Frontline States.

Nigeria - despite being far away in the west - also contributed financially and diplomatically - and so was embraced as an honorary Frontline State.

The anti-apartheid struggle created a unique relationship between South Africans and virtually all other Africans.

They became brothers and sisters in the real sense.

It was not surprising when after the victory over apartheid, there was an influx of Africans into the new South Africa.

But trouble began.

The jobs available could not go round. South Africans blamed immigrants for taking their jobs and they became hostile.

Their brothers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria and other African nations became targets of insults, physical attacks, police harassment and mass deportations.

Yellow fever row

The climax for Nigeria was the refused entry on 2 March of a planeload of Nigerians.

South Africa's immigration officials said their yellow fever certificates were fake - but they did not produce any evidence for their conclusion.

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Post-apartheid xenophobia cannot yield good fruits”

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Nigeria responded, pronto.

South Africans were turned away at Lagos airport - those working in Nigeria suddenly faced a lot of questions over their immigration papers.

Passion was so inflamed that some Nigerians even urged their government to start demanding certificates from travellers from South Africa to show they were clear of HIV/Aids.

Their, misplaced, argument was that South Africa was a major centre of the epidemic - with infection rates running at about 11% nationally - whereas yellow fever had been eradicated in Nigeria.

Luckily, common sense prevailed on both sides very quickly, within six days.

The two governments are now reconciling - but the same cannot be said of the citizens.

The diplomacy will somehow have to be extended beyond the politicians and technocrats - if the true meaning of brotherhood is to be appreciated once again.

Post-apartheid xenophobia cannot yield good fruits.

Some years ago Nigerians were shouting "Ghana Must Go" as they harried Ghanaians in droves out of the country.

Now Ghanaians are comfortable at home but Nigerians are seeking economic exile in that country.

No condition is permanent.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's latest column, please use the form below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    @29 udotn: "The Continual erosion of the Nigerian National image by criminal and other corrupt elements"

    I agree with your comments except this one. Yellow fever has got nothing todo with crime. South Africa has visa exemption for a number of countries, including Ecuador, Andorra and San Marino. Only Botswana and Zimbabwe are the African countries with few others for 30 to 90 day stay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    We Nigerians need to get serious and make our country a place to be not a place to leave. Collectively we have the talents to rival South Africa anyday.I blame our past leaders for lack of vision and frankly being stupid. For starters, start buying made in Nigeria NOT made in SA. Borrowing a page from Heman Cain - HOW IS THAT WORKING FOR US - we supported SA in time of need. Big mistake

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    This is a very interesting piece which I believe only scratches the surface of the issue or issues (as the case may be). The real issues here are:
    1. The psychological effects of apartheid in Post-Apartheid SA; which in my humble opinion has not been addressed properly and
    2. The Continual erosion of the Nigerian National image by criminal and other corrupt elements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    When two elephants engage each other in a bout of madness the forest licks its wounds. South Africa erred big time but the Nigerian govt only bothered taking action because the ego of a serving senator was shredded by being 'carted back' to Nigeria by the South Africans. If SA's action affected ordinary Nigerian citizens the Federal govt would have remained stolid and unconcerned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The South Africans know than in Nigeria you don't have to go and get the yellow fever certificates from the Hospital you can buy it on the street of Lagos
    when i went to Nigeria i did not have it what the Immigrations official ask was for 250 for him to late me pas lol
    Dont blame the South African Blame it on few Nigerians that are corrupt


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