Emotions have run high on social media in the past two weeks, during yet another flare-up of deadly attacks launched by locals on foreigners. As is normally the case with social media and pressing issues, the attacks dominated Twitter for days, with thousands of voices of celebrities, politicians and ordinary citizens chiming in on the matter.
Dominant among these voices was the Twitter war between AKA and Nigerian artists Burna Boy and YCee, which started after YCee pulled old tweets of AKA bemoaning SA’s loss to Nigeria during the Afcon quarter finals earlier this year. Based on these tweets, he concluded that AKA, like some South Africans, is xenophobic.
Burna Boy joined in, condemning what he called the “butchering” of his people, saying the attacks were not a reflection of what he stands for, which is to unify Africans. The question of how exactly he seeks to achieve this when he has used his voice to spread baseless claims that his people were being “butchered”, is a conversation I’d rather spare for another day.
AKA, in his latest tweet, said “10 South Africans dead in the last two weeks of violence. zero Nigerians. Twitter made you turn on your own country.” This statement is dangerous in that it is not entirely backed by facts and, although possibly unintended, it weighs the importance of a single group of African migrants in SA against the rest.
The statement also reduced the attacks to some petty mini-war between Nigeria and SA, almost as if the lives of the two foreigners from Malawi and Zimbabwe who died do not matter simply because they’re not Nigerian, and they don’t fit into the narrative that was pushed on social media, which is that Nigerians were the most affected by the attacks.
In addressing the issue of xenophobia, AKA should have considered how the text would be interpreted, as well as its impact, especially as unlike most South Africans, his voice is magnified through the millions of followers he is able to reach instantly through his social media platforms, with which comes the power to influence people’s thoughts and opinions.
While he was correct in saying that among the 12 people killed most were locals, there are no facts backing up the rest of the statement, which is that South Africans are at war with each other and that the victims were murdered by fellow South Africans. Because of this, it was careless of him to say, “Twitter has made you turn on your own country”.
What AKA fails to acknowledge is the fear that many foreigners have experienced at the hands of South Africans. That the Nigerian government was so concerned, it sent an envoy to speak to our government and sent buses to help Nigerians leave the country. AKA’s statement also does not address the fact that some people were hurt and remain in hospital. There is no official record of how many or their nationality.
Police arrested at least 680 perpetrators and have not released a report stating whether they are foreigners or locals.
AKA also used the issue of the attacks to engage in the Twar between himself and his Nigerian counterparts. But his voice could have been used to spread a simple message, which is unity and tolerance among all Africans regardless of where they come from and their representation on social media.
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