To anybody who knows a little about the assistance Ghana and other African countries gave to refugees from South Africa during the apartheid days, reports about attacks on African migrants in South Africa are shocking.
It is reported that on Sunday, police reinforcements had to be sent to the township of Alexandria after attacks on foreigners, leading to two deaths and some 40 injured.
A crowd of local people reportedly attacked migrants from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, telling them to leave. Some of the attackers were arrested by the police.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time such xenophobic violence has been reported in South Africa. However, there have been instances where there have been report, including from Ghanaians, about police intimidation and brutality against African migrants.
Ghanaians of a certain age will remember that during the apartheid era, refugees from South Africa and neighbouring states were welcomed here, educated and supported and prepared with skills ready for the end of apartheid.
Other African countries, too, notably Nigeria, gave similar support and thus the African National Congress even opened an office in Nigeria.
It is as a mark of his appreciation of this solidarity that on his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela came to Ghana and other African countries on a ‘thank you’ mission.
However, the issue is, does the average South African, or members of the security forces there said to be terrorising African migrants, know this history of African solidarity?
Maybe in their bid to record the true history of their country and rewrite the jaundiced apartheid era history, the South African government has neglected to also fully tell the story of the solidarity demonstrated by other African countries to South Africa in its time of need.
We suggest that it is time to put this right.
South Africans must be educated on this bond of solidarity and on the fact that it wasn’t just anti-apartheid campaigners in Europe and America that showed solidarity with their cause in those dark days.
Admittedly, there is some amount of unfriendliness or suspicion of foreigners in almost every country and Africa, too, has its share of this.
However, when this turns to violence and killing of people who are basically economic migrants, then it is a different matter.
Given the present economic woes being experienced in many African countries, relatively better off countries such as South Africa will continue to attract migrants from other parts of the continent. This should not lead to their murder by indigenes who resent them for coming to ‘steal’ their jobs.
Murder is surely not the penalty for immigration offences.
We recall that in 2001, South Africa hosted a ‘World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance’. But maybe the people perpetrating the violence against foreigners didn’t hear about it.
We suggest that the African Union should make it part of its agenda for members to teach their citizens that their fellow African is not the enemy just because he or she comes from a different country.
This is what ‘union’ should also be about.