Top Nigerian celebrities have been practically unanimous in condemning the recent spate of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Many of them have pulled out of pre-booked events, while others have sworn not to have anything to do with the country. It was evidently a way of sending a strong message by the entertainment industry to the government and people of South Africa
The ignorance factor
Veteran actor and broadcaster, Pete Edochie, said those behind the attacks were ignorant of how Nigeria had helped their country in the past. He told Saturday Beats, “Unfortunately, most of the youth who carried out the xenophobic attacks know little or nothing about apartheid, and the role Nigeria played in ending it. Nigeria invested a lot of money to ensure that South Africans got freedom from the apartheid rule they were under for years.
“Some may not know this but at a time, Nelson Mandela fled South Africa and came to Nigeria. He stayed with a man called Uwazurike Amaechi in Lagos and he always accompanied Uwazurike to Mkpor, his hometown near Nnewi. And I am talking authoritatively as a 72-year-old man. Even Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as president, also took refuge in Nigeria at a time.”
According to Edochie, Nigeria guaranteed that South African and Angola were free.
He continued, “If you go to Angola today, there is a very long street named after Murtala Mohammed called Avenida Murtala Mohammed. We also played a very significant role in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other African countries in crisis. Nigeria has always distinguished itself in trying to bring peace to most areas of Africa and guarantee freedom for them.
“Many of those South Africans are lazy. There is no area you can point to and say that is where they are skilled; there is none! Outside singing and dancing, they are good at absolutely nothing. A lot of them depend on crime for survival. Incidents of violence come so they can explore the situation and steal.”
Similarly, video director and former manager of the pop group, P-Square, Jude Okoye, described the attacks as hate-induced and not xenophobic. He stated, “It is condemnable. I don’t think it is xenophobic, but a case of people hating their fellow men. We didn’t see any Chinese, Japanese, Indians, or white men being killed; it was only Africans that lost their lives. I am short of words. It is heartbreaking.”
Also, Bryan Okwara, who used to live in South Africa, seemed to have a clear understanding of the issues at hand. Expressing his annoyance at the attacks, he said, “I’m shocked we are still having xenophobia issues between South Africans and other African countries. When I lived in South Africa in 2009, we protested against the xenophobic attacks. I experienced those attacks first-hand, so this isn’t my first time of hearing about it.
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“I recall that we had talks, and there were press releases targeted towards putting an end to xenophobia. It’s high time something concrete was done. They (South Africans) must be educated about what is really going on because it’s a case of misplaced priorities and anger. It’s a black person against black person crime. I’m surprised that they haven’t broken this down to education.”
The jealousy angle
Plus-sized actress, Eniola Badmus, was of the view that the attacks were spurred by jealousy. In a chat with Saturday Beats, she said, “I feel the South African men who are engaging in this nefarious acts are rather ignorant about what’s going on generally in Africa. Most of their men are quite lazy and they don’t understand life. I’ve been to South Africa before and I’ve seen that it’s their women who actually work, so the men are angry and hungry.
“They feel threatened by our people because we try to do wonders wherever we find ourselves. These attacks are just out of jealousy. They feel Nigerians have come to their country to do exploits, take their businesses and even women. Interestingly, South African women want to be with Nigerian men.”
Boycott South Africa
Filmmaker and organiser of the Abuja International Film Festival, Fidelis Duker, was obviously enraged by the attacks in South Africa. He wasted no time in cancelling his ‘production co-arrangements’ with South African partners. He also announced that all South African entries for the AIFF would be rejected ‘until further notice’. Explaining why he took those actions, Duker told Saturday Beats, “It is our little way of sending signals back to them. We have about 14 films from South Africa for the festival this year, and if they are not screened, the filmmakers there would caution their brothers if they had plans of carrying arms to attack people, because it would affect their films in Nigeria. I am not in support of violence, and that is why we must look for a strategic way to send a message to them.”
Edochie also challenged Nigerian entertainers, especially filmmakers, to explore other parts of the continent and abandon South Africa. He stated, “I will encourage our people to abandon South Africa completely. In the movie industry, we (Nigeria) are far ahead of South Africa. I don’t see any reason why we should stick to South Africa or give the impression that we are dependent on them. It doesn’t make sense. We can explore other parts of Africa for our market and leave South Africa.”
Veteran actress, Idowu Phillips, aka Iya Rainbow, who had gone to the beach during the week to pray for a cessation of violence vehemently stated that she would reject any job from South Africa. She said, “I will not accept any job from them. I would rather go and stay in Ijebu (Ogun State) or Oyo State, than accept any offer from them; at least until this matter is resolved.”
Music video director, Buari Oluwasegun, aka Unlimited LA, said as long as artistes decide to boycott South Africa, it would remain a no-go area for video directors. He stated, “For now, South Africa is a no-go area for us. If there are no artistes, there would be nobody to work with; so if artistes are boycotting South Africa, I have no reason to go there.”
Actor, Bryan Okwara, also said he aligned with other entertainers who had decided to suspend all business dealings with South Africans. He added, “If I were booked for an event or movie, I would cancel it. It’s not just about the show; it’s what it stands for. I won’t host a show in South Africa when I know that people aren’t happy with the situation on the ground; it is distasteful. You can’t see what they are doing to your countrymen and still go there to perform. It would seem like you don’t care about the situation.”
Prayer is the key– Iya Rainbow
Meanwhile, Iya Rainbow said she believed that prayer was the only way through which the issue could permanently be resolved. She stated, “I want to advise everyone, both Nigerians and South Africans, to exercise patience. Those that have been killing people are just committing sins. And for the Nigerians going around destroying things, would that bring the dead back?
“All these things are happening because there is no more love; love has left the hearts of everyone completely. However, my prayer is that God should help us restore Nigeria (to what is used to be). If Nigeria were good, our citizens wouldn’t be travelling everywhere, looking for greener pastures. That is why we all need to be prayerful because things were not like this in this country before. Now, people are killing children for rituals and Nigeria is basically upside down. Irrespective of religion, we all need to say genuine prayers to God.”
Many of the entertainers also agreed that a large chunk of the blame sat comfortably on the doorstep of government. Eniola Badmus stated, “If the country was a good place for our citizens, those people there wouldn’t have travelled abroad.
“The government should improve on whatever they are doing. This is the time our government should stand up for us and get it right in our country. There are South Africans in Nigeria but I see more Nigerians in South Africa. I find it embarrassing. This isn’t just about South Africa. Another country could stand up tomorrow and do the same to Nigerians in their land because we are everywhere, so our government should buckle down. We need our President to stand up for us.”
Meanwhile, Okwara was of the view that a public statement should have been released from the Presidency, saying they were aware of what was happening and what moves they were making to take charge of the situation. He added, “The citizens have to be armed with the information they need to know so they can channel their energy to the right place.”
Urging the government to take decisive steps in addressing the issue, Edochie said, “Sometimes, if you try to be too pacifist in reacting to violence, it appears like weakness and an encouragement to the opposition to continue to be violent. Sometimes, you have to meet violence with equal force.”
Like Okwara, Jude Okoye also opined that the government should have spoken directly to the people in the aftermath of the attacks. He stated, “I have to be very honest with you, our government has failed us. When things like this happen, the government should give the people hope that things are under control. We have not heard anything tangible from either the President or Vice President. Meanwhile, if the attack had occurred in Europe or someplace else, they would be the first to sympathise with the country. A lot of things are happening in the country and our government is just mute.”
Inasmuch as the celebrities who spoke with Saturday Beats were in accordance that some forms of boycott had to take place, they were also insistent that violence was not the answer.
Decrying the bloody protests that attended the South African attacks, Badmus admonished the protesters to channel their energy to the ‘right quarters’. She said, “We are humans with blood running through our veins. We can’t watch our people being treated that way and sit back. But I’ll suggest that we don’t use violence to solve violence.
“What’s going on isn’t what we need right now. We need our government to work more on our economy and stand for us; not people vandalising South African brands and properties. That’s not the right approach. The energy they are using to do these should be channeled to the right quarters. If our economy were excellent, you wouldn’t find so many Nigerians outside the country.”
Veteran filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, also urged Nigerians to exercise restraint in carrying out reprisals. He said, “We have to be very careful about retaliating. We shouldn’t attack anybody in Nigeria, because we are a civilised and very cultured people. We shouldn’t stoop so low to their level. To me, it doesn’t make sense to destroy those businesses as Nigerians work in those places.”
Jude Okoye decried the looting of Nigerian-owned businesses. He said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right. Some Nigerians only used it as an opportunity to loot. They are destroying themselves. Even the so-called foreigners they were attacking, do they look like South Africans? It is just crazy.”
Okoye noted that celebs shouldn’t be blamed if they didn’t initiate or participate in protests. He added, “Can you imagine what would have happened if someone like Tuface had called for a protest and in the course of it, stores were looted and buildings were burnt; all the blames would have been on his head.
“That’s one reason why celebrities don’t get involved in certain things–some bad eggs are waiting for them to talk, so they would use it as an excuse to start vandalising properties. In light of that, why would I go outside and call people for protest, even a peaceful one? If things turn awry, I would be held responsible.”
Describing it as shooting oneself in the foot, Unlimited LA argued that Nigerians would bear the brunt if the looting and destruction of South African-owned businesses continued. He said, “I don’t think it makes any sense for some Nigerians to have vandalised businesses they believed were owned by South Africans.
“Even if they are owned by South African companies, don’t forget that Nigerians are the ones mostly employed there. At the end of the day, it would amount to fighting ourselves.”
Okwara also condemned the violence, saying it was not the right way to go. “This is an ‘an-eye-for-an-eye’ situation and people have to be informed. Many of the businesses they are destroying are franchises and are owned by Nigerians here.
“Destroying those offices has put Nigerians in harm’s way by putting them out of jobs. If people want to boycott those brands, they can do that, perhaps until the brands post a message or take a side. But destroying stores here in Nigeria is tantamount to damaging our compatriots’ items,” he said.