Spotlight: African alienation
Share | Scary, intimidating and rude are only some of the words used to describe Africans in Malaysia. Are we allowing a few bad apples to spoil the bunch? AUDREY VIJAINDREN and SONIA RAMACHANDRAN take a look at the issue.
MOST Malaysians are guilty of clutching their handbags a little tighter and avoiding eye contact when they spot an African.
They have, after all, been accused of committing various crimes in the country, especially black money scams.
Some have also described them as raucous and loud, and labelled them as troublemakers.
Are we allowing our prejudices to get the better of us?
Condominium, Apartment and Highrise Committee adviser Peter Chong said the general perception among Malaysians was that Africans caused trouble.
"We immediately have a negative thought when we mention them.
"In actual fact, it's our perception that is the problem. We are intimidated by their size and the way they look.
"They do cause trouble to a certain extent, but there are many other cultural differences that contribute to this.
"For example, for them, it is normal to say, 'Hello darling, how are you?', when they see a girl. But in Malaysia, that is rude and unacceptable."
Chong said the many black money scams had also contributed to this negative stigma.
"We assume that they are all bad, but that is not necessarily true. You see many of them actively involved in church music ministries.
"But this happens everywhere -- the good ones suffer because of the bad apples. Even our cab drivers suffer from this."
He said in many cases, the Africans, especially those who came here to study, were the victims.
"When African students arrive here, they need a place to stay. Because landed property is expensive, most of them end up renting apartments.
"Unfortunately, some colleges have taken advantage of this. They advertise pictures of apartments on their websites, claiming it's part of their campus.
"When the students arrive, many colleges put more than ten people in one unit, charging RM250 per person.
"But the actual rental for the unit may only be RM1,200. They are maximising the space because of greed," he said.
Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (MAPCU) president Dr Parmjit Singh said it was wrong to stereotype people.
"We must also recognise that not all the Africans in this country are students."
He said the Malaysian public had not matured enough to the level of living in a cosmopolitan environment.
"A large number of students from Africa are sponsored by their respective governments. That means, they are bound to be students who are bright and qualified for such scholarships.
"As much as we would like them to change and adjust to our culture, we should be equally ready to accept everyone from all parts of the world, in order to become an international hub for higher education."
Responsible colleges and universities, he said, had induction processes for their foreign students.
"Besides the higher learning institutions, the embassies and high commissions also play an active role in inducting students from their countries and educating them on the social norms of this country."
On renting residential units for students, he said the institutions had a major role to play.
"When we rent private residences to place our students, we play an active part in the meetings of the residential associations.
"We are willing to listen to any problems they might have with our students."
He said the number of African students in this country was not on the rise.
"It is a mature market and the population growth is from countries that are not mature."
Property management firm, VPC Alliance (PJ) senior general manager Daniel Kat, however, said there had been complaints about African students from other apartment and condominium owners.
Most complaints were over the students making noise after stipulated hours.
"I won't say all are misbehaving, but generally most of the complaints are related to breaking house rules and making noise at night.
"Some also get drunk and start misbehaving."
The problem with most of the students, he said, was that they brought their friends home to party.
"In some condominiums, more than 70 per cent of the units are occupied by students. It does not help that many of them bring their friends back."
What's the solution?
"Unit owners, colleges and universities must be more responsible.
"If the local government enforces a limit on the number of people in one apartment, there won't be many problems," said Chong.
The Higher Education Ministry, he said, should make it a licence condition for colleges and universities to have induction courses for all foreign students.
"It must also make sure these foreign students are actually here to study and not for other activities," he said.
Kat said a lot of local residents want the management of condominiums and apartments to reduce the number of foreign students in their units.
"We've talked to the agents and asked that they find local tenants instead.
"Another strategy is to try to increase rentals in order to deter foreign students from renting apartments."
'We are not monsters'
ABDULRAHMAN Muazu loves Malaysia but is thinking of leaving the country.
"I'm thinking of studying somewhere else as I don't have any local friends here. Malaysians don't talk to us and I think they are generally afraid of us. I feel really, really bad. People treat you as if you are a monster. We are not monsters.
"I think Malaysians are shy and they don't like socialising with foreigners. I don't blame them as some foreigners have been behaving badly and giving the rest of us a bad reputation," said the 19-year-old business information systems student from Nigeria.
That the locals were not talking with him, said Abdulrahman, had affected him psychologically.
"How would you feel if people don't talk to you? I love this country but I don't really enjoy it because I don't have any friends. Even our classmates just mix with us for group discussions and studies but there is no exchanging of phone numbers or socialising after class," he said.
When asked what he would wish for from the locals, Abdulrahman said: "I think they should judge each person individually. Please don't be prejudiced. People could be good and people could be bad. Try giving us a chance."
Ibrahim Muhammad Sakanau, 23, and his brother Shafie Sakanau, 20, said Malaysians were not at all friendly to them.
"Only my brothers are my friends. It bothers me. Maybe they don't talk to us because some Nigerians are behaving arrogantly in Malaysia. Maybe they think we are all like that. I've never been invited to the homes of any Malaysian during festive seasons and my classmates only mix with me during assignments.
"It hurts me a lot. Not all of us are bad," said Ibrahim.
Their house owner, Rachael Philip, has got no problems with renting her apartment out to African students.
"They are really nice. They always ask about my children when I go and collect the rental and there's always chocolates for the children. They are also very prompt with payments and always pay two months' rent in advance.
"The apartment is also in good condition. I am lucky I have good tenants. I had a local tenant previously and I had to beg him for rental every month. I feel we must not be so quick to judge," said Rachael.
Universiti Malaya education faculty department of mathematics and science visiting lecturer, Dr Kunle Oke Oloruntegbe, said Malaysians were generally accommodating and friendly.
However, Oloruntegbe, who is from Nigeria, said it did bother him that Malaysians rarely mingled with Africans.
"Many here seem to generalise all Africans as being the same and they stay away from us."
The father of six, who arrived here in October last year, said: "I am here alone so sometimes it does get lonely for me. Even the locals at the apartment I live in do not mix with me. They are friendly and they would greet me but it ends there.
"I would like to ask Malaysians to please look at us as individuals. Judge a person based on his character, integrity and honesty, not his face."
Abdul Aziz Abba Goni said there are many Africans who come to Malaysia with good intentions.
"Do not let colour or nationality stand in the way of one's perception of a human being. I have worked hard to obtain my degree and am looking forward to a brighter future because of what Malaysian education has offered me. I believe studying here was a wise choice and I am grateful for this experience.
"I wish no harm onto my hosts. I hope more Malaysians will meet positive ambassadors in the near future," said the 25-year-old postgraduate student.
'Too many ugly incidents'
AFTER living comfortably in the same apartment in Sunway for more than 10 years, Sylvia (not real name) is now afraid to step out of her home.
"When my husband and I first moved here, it was a really decent place.
"Our neighbours were nice and friendly, and we thought it was a great place to bring up children.
"We saw ourselves swimming with our kids in the pool and pushing them on the swings in the playground."
However, all that changed.
"In August last year, I noticed an influx of African residents. I believe most of them are students from Nigeria, but it's difficult to tell.
"It's extremely intimidating, because they go about in large groups, talking loudly and drinking alcohol.
"The way they speak and stand can be very intimidating. Even the way they look at you.
"You can see that some are serious in their studies. But many others leave their apartments everyday wearing 'bling-bling'.
"The girls are no different -- you can't help but wonder whether they are here to study or party."
She said there had also been many "ugly" incidents.
"More than once, these students parked their cars in my lot. When I asked them to move, they claimed to have diplomatic immunity."
She said in the past six months, she had taken extra precautions.
"I'm more aware of my surroundings. It can get very scary being alone in the lift with a bunch of foreign students, so I wait for the next lift.
"I've even stopped my daughter from going to the swimming pool and playing on the slides.
"It's unfortunate that we are so afraid to go out of our own apartment. I own a unit but can't even enjoy the rest of the facilities."
Sylvia said the situation had got so bad that she and her family were moving out.
"It may be unfair to judge them because they could actually be really nice people."
Read more: Spotlight: African alienation http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/28avafrican-2/Article#ixzz0oqPM4bxQ