Having lived in South Africa for more than ten years albeit, punctuated by my brief sojourn in Ghana from 2008-2009, my sense is that I possess a fair understanding of the Nigerian community in South Africa. Who are we? Nigerians in South Africa began arriving in small doses in the early 1990s and the numbers grew after the fall of apartheid and the emergence of black majority rule in 1994. The experiences of the early settlers were one of nostalgia as the locals embraced them wholeheartedly and the new country opened vistas of opportunity and freedom.
Adetunji Omotola on Stereotype Representation of Nigerians in South Africa
Ten years later, a decent size Nigerian community had emerged, however, the narrative had now changed to a very negative one. The average South African now saw Nigerians in terms of drugs racketeering, 419, bogus marriages, money laundering and philandering. It did not help also that some politicians and elites who visited South Africa and still continue till today to waste vast amounts of money, especially towards ladies. Some of these elites simply chose to export the ladies to their stately mansions in Nigeria. All of these set of facts surely began to threaten the otherwise warm relations between Nigerians and their hosts.
The South African government was however taking notice at about this time of the opportunities Nigeria presented to its companies seeking to expand into Nigeria’s large market and thanks to MTN, the narrative of Nigeria shifted to an economic success story and later with Nollywood and the success of Nigerian musicians like Asa, Tiwa Savage, Femi Kuti, Dbanj, Tuface, Flavour and others things began to brighten a little.
The new shift that these changes brought about would not have been lost on the average Nigerian in South Africa, and in 2014 Nigeria’s economic advancement which now surpasses that of South Africa would have provided both great happiness, and a welcome relief for many who have been battered for many years by the negative stereotypes of our people for so long. To boost our morale, the Super Eagles came to win the AFCON soccer completion on South African soil in 2013.
Adetunji Omotola on Unity of Nigerians
The topic of this article is the unity of Nigerians and surely by now, I am also wondering what unity? Unity on what basis? Where are Nigerians based? How do they live? What sports do they partake in and where do they meet? Who are their leaders? How do they celebrate their culture or National Day? Where do they celebrate their Christmas or Ramadan? Are they fully integrated and on what level?
Firstly, how can Nigerians be united in diaspora when they come from different tribes, land at various times, belong to different churches, live in diverse settings and work in diverse fields and have no clear hierarchical structures. Moreso, there are just too many different organisations with multiple interests to enable centrality of intent. Then there are those who use the positions they occupy to create divisions amongst the people whom they have sworn to assist so there is a feeling of remorse and disenchantment.
The above represents the dilemma faced by those who seek the unity of purpose and a compact which the Nigerian people here in South Africa can work from. There is also the issue of gender representation, the youth and the collaboration of different strata which never gains much traction. A society where the same individuals lock up the space without adding new entrants risks lacking a clear succession plan. There are very few females in fact hardly any heading any Nigerian organization and very few youths on the executive of almost all the organisations.
It is interesting that despite living in the country where Malema heads the EFF and Maimane heads the DA we see gerontocrats that are above fifty leading almost all the organisations. It is a tragedy at once that David Cameron who is 45 is a lot younger than most of the leaders of our organisations. If our women are not worthy and our youth are not worthy then who is worthy of unifying our people. We can only be unified when we are keen to promote our culture, language, tradition and way of life and the family which is the unit of the nation ought to be strong.
It is when families are strong that society becomes strong. It is similar to the Obama scenario where his grandparents instilled good values in him and he married right and the mother-in-law is close by keeping an eye on the kids. Obama’s mother and grandmother also played key roles in his upbringing. Where are our women in our society? A society that ignores a greater part of its demography will not reach its true potential. It is like going into a boxing match with one hand tied behind your back.
Adetunji Omotola: Who Are The Nigerians in South Africa?
Let’s now turn our attention to who we are here in SA. We are surely remote from home and we think we are all the same because we all come from the same country but what do we have in common? We say we are diaspora right? Yes, we are but what does diaspora mean?
A diaspora is a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area. Diaspora can also refer to the movement of the population from its original homeland. Diaspora has come to refer particularly to historical mass dispersions of an involuntary nature, such as the expulsion of Jews from Judea, the fleeing of Greeks after the fall of Constantinople, the African Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the southern Chinese or Hindus of South Asia during the coolie trade, the deportation of Palestinians in the 20th century and the exile and deportation of Circassians.
Recently, scholars have distinguished between different kinds of diaspora, based on its causes such as imperialism, trade or labour migrations, or by the kind of social coherence within the diaspora community and its ties to the ancestral lands. Some diaspora communities maintain strong political ties with their homeland. Other qualities that may be typical of many diasporas are thoughts of return, relationships with other communities in the diaspora, and lack of full integration into the host country.
From the above, it is clear that Nigerians in South Africa though from the same country still possess different upbringing, education, exposure, social leanings, religion, tribe, culture, ideals, interests and ambition. For example, there are some Nigerians who eat the local food almost always and there are those who do not at all. Also, there are some Nigerians who plan never to go back home whereas some go at the slightest opportunity and some only do the yearly pilgrimage. There are also many Nigerians who are married to South Africans or other foreigners and there are those who are married to fellow Nigerians.
The cases are numerous and diverse and complex and not easy to consolidate. Some Nigerians have citizenship, some have residency, some have only temporary residence relating to employment while for some it is student-based. In essence, the divergence of purpose and mission further complicates the unity project. It must also be noted that our organisations are not sufficiently engaged in the unity project because most of them lack what is referred to in Nigeria as Federal Character.
The only hope for a united Nigerian diaspora in South Africa is to address some of these cleavages, particularly gender imbalance, lack of youth representation, focused programmes aimed at drawing out the best and brightest, and consistent and effective media awareness of the Nigerian unity project, academic research on the issue of what really binds us as a people and motivation for being part of the unity project and benefits thereof. A very good theme could be the need to change perception and get everyone to work on the project with defined roles and clear benefits. If all of these efforts are made all Nigerians will take the cue and be part of the unity that is so vitally needed.
Final Words From Adetunji Omotola
Nigeria is a story that has not truly been told and it is an opportunity through the prism of Nigerian unity in South Africa that the story can also begin to be told. A nation divided cannot stand. A people with no leader cannot dream. The Nigerian story must be told and since the unity of Nigeria is not and cannot be discussed back home then why are we in a dilemma when we are charged with uniting our own?
When I got married, my wife’s dress was made by a Nigerian and our wedding rings were made by a Nigerian and our pastor who conducted our vows was also a Nigerian and we played Nigerian music in Paarl, Western Cape and we had at least 8 people visit from Nigeria to add the Nigerian touch. This, in my view is the best expression of Nigerian unity on some small scale.
- Adetunji Omotola is a researcher and consultant who holds degrees in communications research, law, and sociology. He frequently appears on TV and radio to talk about issues affecting African economies, markets, opportunities, and challenges. Adetunji Omotola founded the Guild of Nigerian Professionals-South Africa to foster unity among Nigerian professionals in South Africa. For more info, you can reach him via his website here. To buy his book, please click here.