SA Nigerians, Online Magazine

Sunday, 24 May 2015 10:32

EXCLUSIVE: Prof. Pitika Ntuli speaks to us on xenophobia and other issues

Prof. Pitika Ntuli

Following the anti- immigrants violence of May 2015 that shocked the South African nation and the International community alike, SANigerians Online Magazine took time to approach Professor Pitika Ntuli a fervent campaigner for peaceful co-existence of African peoples, renowned figure and a knowledgeable African elder with an impressive résumé as a culturally and formally enlightened all-round-African.

We got his invaluable perspective and advice on the causes of xenophobic behaviors in South Africa, his take on issues like crime and immigrant community assimilation and responsibilities and heard him proffer solutions to some of those issues.

The below is our interview with the African Sage:
Good morning Sir

Good morning John

First of all, I and our readers would like to know who Professor Ntuli is. Who is behind the man Professor Ntuli.

Professor Ntuli is an African man who glories in the culture and achievements of Africa, who is ready to meet the challenges of Africa. I am a Professor of Fine Arts and the History of Arts and also an Adjunct Professor of Sociology. I am a poet and also an artist.

Most people in the immigrant community got to know a lot about you during the xenophobic attacks of last month (May 2015) because you were very vocal and visible in the media speaking against xenophobia. Why do you campaign so passionately against xenophobia?

I am a South African with a very high profile in both electronics and print media as well as in radio because I tend to be able to speak my mind and the people tend to listen. Also because I have lived my life in different parts of Africa and with different peoples of Africa in their houses. I have lived amongst the Igbos, I have lived amongst the Yorubas. I lived amongst the Hausas and amongst everybody in Nigeria for example without saying anything about places like Tanzania and Swaziland. In all the places that I had lived, I felt at home, I felt understood and I understood what was happening. Now when I return here and find that the people who helped me survive and to fight my enemies come home and are being very treated badly. This xenophobia thing to me is a personal attack against my beliefs, against my sentiments and against my whole feelings.

There is a wide perception that majority of the South African populace have not always been in contact or in communication with the rest of the African continent. Do you feel that such lack of interaction fuels xenophobia?

I think the answer to that one is going to be a yes and a no. We are 53 million people the people who get involved in this xenophobic acts are less than a 100 thousand. Which means to say that there must be somebody or something that is actually pushing them. Yes South Africans are very ignorant when it gets on to the rest of Africa. When I was in Nigeria, in Sudan, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Zambia or even Malawi, I found out that the people there know more about the rest of Africa than South Africans. South Africa because of its very developed and technological savvy nature makes many of its citizens think that South Africa is an extension of the United States of America. When you cross the boarder from the Zambezi, you will see people here saying ‘oh yah you are from Africa!’ because subconsciously, we tend to believe that we are not from Africa. Having said that, we can recall that when the xenophobic attacks came in 2008, it was very fierce However, this time around in 2015 when it happened yet again, it was South Africans themselves who stood in between the people perpetrating these crime and their victims to stop them saying ‘not in our names!’. You see? Now what you don’t realise is that 1884-1886 when gold was discovered in Johannesburg people came from Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, the old Rhodesia and many other parts, some of them even came from Ethiopia to come and work in the mines. They intermarried with South Africans. The whole of half of Africa has got South African blood in it but because our education does not see the need to understand the rest of Africa, we will attack somebody from Tanzania or from Malawi. We are erroneously attacking our own blood.

Talking about education and information, do you think that the Government or authorities responsible are doing enough to educate the South African populace about their membership of the wider African community?

No. I do not think we are doing enough, nothing in our curriculum speaks specifically of Africa. The Minister of Arts and culture- Nathi Mthethwa was complaining about the same thing that many South Africans do not even know the flag of the African Union. They don’t even know the anthem of the AU and what it exactly says. Now when we organize these anti-xenophobic activities in partnership with Government and Government departments( the ministries of Defence and that of Arts and culture was with us in our last meeting) we agreed that one of the things we are going to recommend is the subject of Life Orientation which is studies in schools all across South Africa, it should be made compulsory to learn about Africa and also learn about the evils of Xenophobia. The South African Government has so far now, come up with an inter-ministerial committee to look at the issues of Xenophobia and not to react to xenophobia but to find preventive measures to it -which means that the inter-ministerial committee has to link with us in the civil society. People from the Nigerian Union, Africa Diaspora, the Somali Association, Ethiopians and so forth, to meet with this inter-ministerial team and connectively as African people address these problems. As the saying goes ‘African solutions for the problems in Africa’.

There is a perception amongst the immigrant community that most or majority of South Africans are not xenophobic and we agree with those statistics. However, we believe also that immigrants’ assimilation in South Africa has remained a problem. How do you suggest that the large African immigrant population be assimilated with their host communities to avoid the skirmishes we have most of the time?

You see in the indigenous society, in the indigenous traditional society of Africans in South Africa, when you come from the outside of a community and you stay in a particular community for a length of time, they will give you a cow and tell you that the cow is for your milk. However, they will include a condition by saying to you that ‘ if the cow gives birth, you will have to give us any of its female calf’. By accepting the cow, you are telling us that you are not in a hurry to go; therefore we will give you a plot of land. We find you a wife if you are a man and if you are a woman, we find you a husband and we will integrate you into the community. It is a practice called ukusisa meaning we give you something in a way to bring you in. That is the traditional natural way of integration in our communities. Now how can we bring back the values around that practice to address the problem we have now? The association we are forming now that will involve us i.e. the people from South Africa and other African peoples from the other parts of Africa will look at how do we get into business together? How do we get into partnership with each other so that a shop that is owned by an Ethiopian for example can be jointly run 80% Ethiopian and 20% South Africa? That partnership in itself (without stealing the idea of the other) could ensure that the 20% holder protects the 80% interest of the people who came with those entrepreneurial ideas. We will need to come up with ideas that every month or quarterly, we get the communities from outside to come and get involved with us in common dances, poetry and interaction to at least make us know each other. We have to encourage the people to come to our Churches or we go to their Churches and generally interact with each other. Otherwise South Africa has got to come up with organisations of young people who have to become ‘community dynamisers’ in order to preach the gospel of true Pan-Africanism

.Prof. Ntuli with the Publisher of SANigerians.com Mr. Sunny-Unachukwu John @his Wynberg Gallery

Prof. Ntuli with the Publisher of SANigerians.com Mr. Sunny-Unachukwu John @his Wynberg Gallery


You mentioned something very interesting as per sharing ideas. The Minister for Small Businesses Lindiwe Zulu sometime made a call to that kind of practice but was maybe largely misunderstood in the way her call was interpreted as trying to force foreigner to reveal their trade secrets. Do you think that the formation that you are planning to put together will go in that line to make foreigners with superior business ideas for example Somali’s who engage in collective bulk stocking to want to share their successfully proven business ideas with the local/host community’s business people?

Last week here in my office, we had a discussion with the people of Somalia and there were other people from around who were saying ‘these Somalians here ruin our businesses here because they sell things cheap’. So we asked them, why do you think they are selling things cheap? How do they make their profits if they are doing so? And they answered ‘no they sell these things cheap in order to bring our businesses down’. Then I said to the Somalis ‘tell them why you sell your wares cheap’. The Somali said, we form co-operatives. Let’s say I have R300 and want to buy stock, I put it together with maybe ten other persons in my co-operative and we poll our R300 each together to make R3,000 this increasing our bulk baying capacity. However, our friends here (the local competitor) may go with his R300 to buy the same sock and will not get it at competitive prices because he cannot stock in bulk like we do. He said that they were not against the locals joining their cooperatives as long as they are all trading at different locations and surprise surprise! -the local business people started seeing the point that it is not because their Somali competitors want to break them but that they were applying an advanced method trading. Our Education has been a type where you are educated to be employed by someone else. We have to understand African history to understand what drives entrepreneurial behaviors. For instance in my understanding of the Nigerian society, when the Eastern part of Nigeria (Biafra) wanted to break away from the country, and the larger rest of the country stopped that attempt, the Igbo people were punished as a result of that. Their properties were confiscated and they were given only £20 of all the money in banks and left to survive. That created a particular entrepreneurial spirit because the people were faced with the issues of life and death. Ironically in South Africa, we are faced with more life and death issues than any African country but for some reasons we have not developed those entrepreneurial skill. However, those South Africans who developed entrepreneurial/enterprising skills are some of the richest Africans. Now, how do we get that knowledge to trickle down to the ordinary people? We need to have conversations between the people in the high economic echelons, immigrants, and those in the low echelons of the economy, if we are to build a strong Africa that is not going to be pushed around by the global North.

It is not all positives when we talk of the immigrant community in South Africa as we all know, some members of the immigrant community are known to engage in crime and all what not. What is your sincere advice to the African immigrant community in terms or responsibilities towards their country?

Your question is linked to the former question which you raised earlier, -in terms of acknowledging the need for integration and understanding the sensibilities of each other. The thing that sparked off the xenophobic attacks this time was when some citizens in Durban who were mostly Zulu’s went on a strike; some immigrants went in and occupied those jobs. They would even kill you if you are Zulu and you betray their cause or jeopardize their means of livelihood -you see what I mean? Because the immigrants were desperate for jobs and because they had nobody to advise them appropriately against taking up those jobs, they just walked in to occupy the vacancy created. This contributed to the outrage of the locals. In terms of crimes, we speak about crimes like it is only the immigrants that commit them. It is not so. Perpetration of crimes cut across all groups and communities. There are many foreign immigrants that commit crimes and we have got plenty of criminals that are also South Africans. I think it is a question of generally minimizing the criminality, and maximizing the entrepreneurial spirit of peoples to live and let live and work and let work. I mean for everyone to thrive together because there is ample space for that in the communities.

There are many organisation that have noble intentions on how to assist the authorities and country rid the society of crimes and vices. For example, there was a Nigerian organisation called Nzuko Ndigbo Pretoria who were annoyed by the illicit drug dealing and child prostitution activities done by a few from within their ranks and went on an awareness campaign by walking the streets to hand out flyers, marching against those despicable ills and denouncing them as not done in their names. However, in my conversation with them, they feel let down because the Government/authorities do nothing to encourage their anti-crime efforts. Why it so? And since you are planning on organizing a platform for co-operation and addressing these issues of common worry, what is the place of organisations like the one I have mentioned in your plans?

I think if those Nigerian groups went to the Metro Police which to my knowledge has safety and security structures. I think if they went to those structures to inform them of what they were planning and say to them ‘let us plan this together’.

…..they did from what I gathered. They even shared flyers educating the public of the effects of child prostitution, drugs and crimes in general. I have pictorial evidence of the campaign. However, I am not a member of that organisation but used them as an instance. Generally what must immigrant organisations wanting to make positive differences in their community do and how will they be assisted?

Well generally a new climate has been created this time around with the involvement of even relevant political people, from the Premier of Kwa Zulu Natal to the Minister of Arts and culture, the Minister of defence, mayors of municipalities etc. You see! All of those people are very visible showing any immigrant or immigrant organisation that may have thought otherwise in the past to see clearly that South Africa by even creating the inter-ministerial task group signals a readiness to cooperate with such immigrant formations. Let such people restart their programs again.

Thank you sir for making out time to grant us this important interview and we hope to be approaching you anytime the need arises, to get your invaluable perspectives and advice on issues of interest.

I am a child of exile. I suckled in the floating clouds and inherited torrential rains from mother Africa. I have traversed the length and the breadth of my land. From Nigeria, to Liberia, from Libya to Namibia, from Mauritania to Ethiopia. All those countries with the ia ia ias of Africa, I have traversed. Thank you.