South Africa’s Afrophobia: Colonial imprints, self-hate and the urgent need for black consciousness

Alhaji U. N’jai: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 September 2019:

What is happening today in South Africa with attacks on fellow Africans will have Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Steve Biko, Mangaliso Sobukwe, and Chris Hani turning in their graves. At the height of the anti- apartheid struggle in South Africa, they turned to their African brothers and sisters for support, and the African family in the continent and diaspora stood with them.

African leaders from Nyerere, Nkrumah, Balewa, Sekou Toure, Haile Selassie, Modibo Keita, Kenneth Kaunda, Samora Machel, King Hassan II, and Muammar Gaddafi did more than moral support. They spent their financial resources on the South African liberation struggle.

Nelson Mandela was taught how to use a gun by an Ethiopian and on his arrival in Guinea, Sekou Toure dispatched him with bundles of currency. Miriam Makeba found home in Dalaba, Guinea and was granted citizenship by Sekou Toure. My mum has fond memories of Makeba in their home town of Dalaba as young women.

I remember my School, Kabala Secondary School hosting Namibian refugees and the fundraisers in every school across Sierra Leone to raise money for the South African liberation movement. The Soweto 1977 Massacre of students in South Africa is now widely commemorated and celebrated across Africa, June 16th, the day of the African child.

I went into Pan Africanism because of this movement against apartheid and black consciousness movement led by Steve Biko in South Africa, which had also taken hold in the US and Caribbean led by notables like Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) and Angela Davis.

Black consciousness movement in Africa, Caribbean and US had largely been influenced by the seminal work of black intellectual philosophers like French Caribbean Frantz Fanon (author of Wretched of the Earth), Trinidadian CLR James (author of Black Jacobins), and Guyanese Walter Rodney (author of how Europe underdeveloped Africa), Senegalese Cheikh Anta Diop (Author of Cultural Unity of Black Africa), Guinea Bissau’s Amilcar Cabral (author of resistance and decolonization), American W.E.B Dubois (author of Souls of Black Folk), and others.

This rise in Pan African collective consciousness and unity of thought proved pivotal then in the successful liberation of many African nations, which culminated in the clarion call for total liberation of the continent including ending apartheid in South Africa.

Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and the subsequent end of the apartheid in South Africa was the pivotal culmination of hard work, resistance, activism and sacrifices across Africa and the diaspora.

Africans from across the continent solidarize with South Africa and wept tears of joy at the dawn of new beginning for their compatriots in South Africa.

This South Africa of the Biko’s, Tambo’s, Winnie Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, and great freedom fighters was expected to offer economic and political leadership alongside Nigeria and other countries. There were high hopes throughout the continent that the compassionate and inspirational leadership that comes with Mandela, could have positive effect on the rest of Africa and deliver us from socio- economic stagnation.

It is that fundamental hope of such leadership that has been dashed by violent hateful attacks on other Africans in South Africa.

One thing that has become clear in the light of these attacks in South Africa seems to be the seeds of discord have grown among us. As Chinua Achebe aptly put it in Things Fall Apart, it is as if a knife has been put on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart. The results of over 400 years of programming, imprinting and domination has been self-hate, self-doubt, and psychological damage to our psyche as Africans.

“Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.”, writes Frantz Fanon. Although it may seem like we are now politically ‘independent’ and physically free, the lingering post traumatic imprints of colonialism and domination still exists and continue to weigh us down.

Our forefathers who fought for independence or liberation with huge dreams for Africa and its people will be utterly shocked at the degree of decadence, abysmal state of affairs, utter lack of unity of the masses, our continual dependence syndrome, and our gross failures to emancipate our minds from mental slavery, achieve economic freedom and build resilient nations.

Of all, mental slavery appears to be the biggest post traumatic effect of colonialism. It feeds into our self-hate and self-doubt, which impacts our ability to attain economic freedom.

As Fanon writes again, “The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.” This mental state of self-hate, self-doubt in us, our cultural systems, our societies is further perpetuated by our education systems (primary through universities) that puts everything about the African as inferior and becoming more like the oppressor, is the ultimate way out of our moral, social and economic decadence.

Worst of all, our neoliberal education shifts the blame for the political or socio-economic malaise from the colonialists, the oppressors, and the looters of our resources to the Africans, who invariably are the victims of the same colonial and neo-colonial systems.

The result of this continuous neo-colonial brainwash curriculum education in schools and universities has further deepened the victim blaming, lowered self-esteem among the Africans, entrenched self- hate and doubt with increased tendencies to attack one another, rather than the oppressors or colonialists, who bear the most responsibility for our current socio-economic stagnation.

We all have been conditioned to hate ourselves; to hate our dark skins; to hate ourselves based on imaginary national boundaries of colonial construct. We are Sierra Leoneans, Guineans, Liberians, Gambians, Senegalese, Malians divided by a colonial construct despite strong family and ethnic ties.

Ebola virus taught us the hard lesson that we are all connected as a people but we continue to work in silos and in line with our colonial masters (Sierra Leone with Britain, Liberia with US, and Guinea with France). We can’t get ECOWAS or Mano River Union to work for us and address common issues simply because of colonial allegiances.

In our countries, we practice democracy based on ethnic numbers and self-hate; We elect our political leaders, hire and fire people based on ethnic sentiments and differences; we care less whether our actions hurt others or communities, so long as we perceive them to be different.

Cameroon as a country is going through a massive civil war and violence, yet as a people we give a blind eye to what is happening to our fellow compatriots. Our leaders will fly into Paris to solidarize with France over terror attacks but care less about events in Cameroon, Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, or xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

The self-hate and doubt goes deep and extends far and wide from leaders to the ordinary person in the continent. Interestingly, even in the very things as in sports, we choose to pay more interests in European leagues with the badge of superiority placed on those compared to the African game.

At this crucial juncture, in humiliation of our fellow Africans in South Africa, our African leaders seem powerless to take a common stance to make South Africa come to terms with the brutal and dastardly actions of its citizenry.

At the minimum, all African leaders should solidarize with Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Zambia by boycotting the World Economic Forum event in South Africa. This should be followed by a boycott or trade or business restrictions with South Africa. The confederation of African Football and all Sporting entities must isolate South Africa from all competitions.

South Africa must come to terms with the concept of Ubuntu, that we are what we are because of what we all are. They cannot go it alone; they are not better than the rest of Africa, and the collective is needed for sustainable future. Interestingly, our puppet present African leadership will not take such steps as they are tied to neoliberal policies and personal interests over social well-being of the collective. They practiced nationalism only in their self-interest; to remain in power and self-aggrandizement.

Interestingly, our leaders have been mute and impotent in the face of violence against blacks in the United States, racist abuse of African football players or citizens in Europe, or modern day enslavement of African migrants in Libya and Middle East, and more.

Our history of self-hate extends deep into our countries and communities; it’s not that long in our history, approximately 1983 that Nigerians asked all Ghanaians to leave their country, from where the “Ghana must go” bag emerged as Ghanaians scrambled to leave Nigeria in haste. Fulas in Sierra Leone were also asked to leave the country in the 70’s and early 80’s, a move that resulted in immense discrimination and untold suffering for a specific segment of the country.

As much as I strongly condemn South Africans for the violent attacks on other Africans, it calls for a thorough reflection and introspection on our collective Africanness; our consciousness as Africans and how mindful we are on social injustices happening across the continent.

The truth is some of the mental and psychological damage over 400 years cannot be fixed in a day; the imprinting has happened over a long time. It cannot be fixed by the puppet mediocre leadership we call Presidents now across the continent. It will require mass social black consciousness education across all schools, Universities and communities in Africa.

No one African – be they in Africa or in the Diaspora, should be a foreigner in any African land. Also, it will require responding with vigor to any acts of humiliation or racism against Africans in any society around the world. We must learn to uphold and maintain the dignity of our people wherever they find themselves.

Above all, it will require the emergence of radical transformational black conscious leaders in the likes of Thomas Sankara, Amilcar Cabral, Mangalisu Sobukwe, and Kwame Nkrumah.

In South Africa, Julius Malema currently offers that hope for African leadership that is fearless and ready to completely decolonize the structures that weigh us down. Malema may probably after all be the redeemer that restores the hope and promise of South Africa to the rest of Africa. At that time, we in Africa will be willing to forgive our brothers and sisters in South Africa. We are after all one family united by the same mother, Mama Africa. Amandla! Aluta Continua!

About the author

Alhaji Umar N’jai is a Senior Scientist, Lecturer, Panafrican Scholar, Founder of Project 1808, Inc., and Freelance writer ‘Roaming in the Mountains of Kabala Republic’.


  1. What a moving article. It is authentic all round, from start to finish. It also exemplifies what is happening, or about to happen today in our beloved country, Sierra Leone. This is my take from this article: “In our countries, we practice democracy based on ethnic numbers and self-hate; we elect our political leaders, hire and fire people based on ethnic sentiments and differences; we care less whether our actions hurt others or communities, so long as we perceive them to be different”.

    There are now various types of phobias breeding all around the world. And, one is not wrong to say Sierra Leone is presently gripped by TRIBOPHOBIA; as the process of ethnic marginalization is gradually taking centre stage in the ‘new direction’ SLPP administration. How did we find ourselves in this precarious situation?

  2. Indeed and I quote ‘Roaming in the Mountains of Kabala Republic’ tearing into the HEART of South Africa’s Afrophobia. When you see someone running behind you with an AXE because he thinks you are in his/her country for their jobs/business, then you have to return to your country. These are all wake-up calls for African Leaders to deliver for their citizens. No African country is immune to such acts of VIOLENCE.

    By the way, this is not the first time such incidents are happening in South Africa. What is happening in South Africa can happen anywhere in Africa. Let’s take Sierra Leone for example. Foreigners enter the country to do business. In matter of months, they get LUCRATIVE CONTRACTS from the government through UNSCRUPULOUS and ROGUE POLITICIANS/GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS. Later, they have access to LOANS and FOREIGN EXCHANGE from our banks. Why is such unfortunate situations happening is very simple.

    The FOREIGNERS have the money to pay the Mr. PERCENTAGE and BRIBE. The locals don’t have the money to bribe or pay the Mr. PERCENTAGE. So, they will never prosper with their businesses. What do you expect to happen when the cup overflows with ANGER filled with JEALOUSY? I don’t condone such acts of violence but, what can you do? There’s no doubt in my mind that, the South African government will find a solution and sort things out.

    Finally, I hope the Bio Administration will study what is happening right now in South Africa and take the necessary measures for it not to happen in Sierra Leone because, there are a lot of foreigners doing business in our country and getting the LIONS SHARE of almost all government contracts. Think about that Mr. President. GOD BLESS the writer and I wish him all the best in the MOUNTAINS OF KABALA REPUBLIC.

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