Nigerians and South Africans – mind the gap

#150. Read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s piece in The Guardian this morning titled: “Why do South Africans hate Nigerians?” Disturbing.
The acclaimed novelist was writing in response to the wound opened up by the movie District 9.

She writes: “South Africans and Nigerians (and indeed other African immigrant groups) have simply not had the time or the neutral space to grow an organic understanding of each other. The Nigerians arrive with their different, more distant colonial experience, with their mercantile spirit, with none of the conditioning of the South African menial wage-earning experience and – yes – with that swagger. They arrive in a vulnerable country where the legacy of institutional exclusion still thrives. They create spaces for themselves in whatever way they can and, of course, they arouse resentment.”

It is a complicated relationship and until now I have been defending District 9 as part of a sci-fi thriller genre that requires an easily recognisable villain for narrative purposes (that’s what happens when you take Film and Drama III). The villain needs to talk, act and behave differently otherwise they could be a friend. It’s that simple. Or is it. Then there’s the explanation that the darkness we see in the film is really a projection of our deepest fears. I don’t recall developing an acute distrust of Russian accents after years of watching cold war James Bond movies but maybe if I was Russian I would have a very different view of things.

Although added to the mix what she says about people not having had “the time or the neutral space to grown an organic understanding of each other” seems apt for South Africans themselves. Hardly a day goes by when a news item doesn’t highlight how foreign South Africans are to each other. The national conversation is one of attack and counter-attack, of entrenching differences in the worst possible way (Mbeki style).

An alien spaceship landing on our patch of earth might be persuaded by our actions that we are ill at ease, and to some extent all foreigners in our own land. And them maybe someone will make a movie about it …

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