Nigeria and South Africa might be economic and political giants as far as the continent is concerned, but they are both unfriendly powerhouses. In what appears to be repetitive actions of violence on immigrants, especially Nigerians, fresh xenophobic attacks were reported in West Pretoria, South Africa recently. The disturbances in Pretoria come after further attacks which took place in Rosetenville, Johannesburg.
These attacks on the Nigerian community sparked an outrage from the Nigerian legislators, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), and other Nigerian citizens. Fellow Africans have also been critical of the attacks on foreign African immigrants in South Africa. In response to the attacks, South African mobile telecoms giant MTN’s office in Abuja was vandalised. Following the xenophobic attacks against Nigerian citizens, NANS issue a two day ultimatum to South African companies in Nigeria to relocate.
The Nigerian Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama summoned the South African ambassador for a meeting to discuss the current crisis.
A similar incident occurred in April 2015 during President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure. The then Nigerian envoy to South Africa, ambassador Martin Cobham and the consul-general, Uche Ajulu-Okeke were recalled by the Nigerian parliament to brief the house on the welfare of Nigerians in South Africa in the wake of anti-immigrant attacks in Durban and Johannesburg. This dramatic move was slammed by the South African government as “unfortunate and regrettable”.
In 2008, 67 people were killed, with thousands fleeing to refugee camps. Homes and shops belonging to Nigerians, Somalis and others were looted and torched.
Many South Africans claim they are fighting illegal immigrants and those that engage in drug trafficking, prostitution and human trafficking. The South African police was also accused of complicity. Nigerian authorities have demanded for the security of its citizens as well as compensation for those that had their businesses destroyed.
The silence of the South African government on these attacks has been interpreted by critics and victims of these crimes as complicity. The xenophobic attacks did not deter the plans of an anti-immigrant march to take place on Friday to the Home Affairs Department in Pretoria. The organisers of the march, a group called Mamelodi Concerned Residents said they would proceed with their march against foreigners. The march tagged #Foreignmarch highlights contentious issues such as competition for jobs‚ access to economic opportunities and alleged criminal activities involving foreign nationals‚ including accusations of drug-peddling and prostitution.
Tthe South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has reportedly expressed its concern with rising violence against foreign nationals. SAHRC says there are WhatsApp reports that encourage the march to take violent action against foreigners. The human rights commission has written to various government departments asking what actions will be taken to prevent further violence. “The commission reiterates that an attack under the guise of crime prevention, aimed at a particular vulnerable group on the basis of their birth outside of South Africa is an infringement of the rights within our Constitution,” SAHRC noted.
The march has been viewed by some organisations as an encouragement to more expression of hate, to perpetuate violence and it ignite other xenophobic activities.
In response to the attacks, Aruna Kadiri, the NANS president against Nigerians gave a 48 hour ultimatum to all South Africans to leave Nigeria. This came after the organisation had registered its displeasure with MTN, MultiChoice (DSTV) and the South African embassy where they burned the South African flag. According to Premium Times Nigeria, the NANS president said that after 48 hours, if nothing was done, messages would be sent to students in all university campuses to bring down MTN masts all over the country.
Kadiri said DStv and Shoprite would also be affected as the union had put adequate strategies in place to make the action effective.
“All the South African business empires in Nigeria and their collaborators in Nigeria will be affected”.
“I don’t want to say we will be barbaric but we will not be lawful in our actions, we will do it and face the consequences, enough of this rubbish,’’ he said.
In what could be seen as retaliation against the xenophobic attacks on their compatriots, the MTN head office in Abuja was vandalised by Nigerian protesters. This incident took place at a time when Phuthuma Nhleko, MTN Group Chairman, South Africa, was in the country to meet Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
MTN has invested over $16 billion in Nigeria and reportedly recorded a loss for the first time since the beginning of their operations in Nigeria. South Africa’s leading companies in Nigeria include MTN, Power Giant, Eskom Nigeria, South African Airways, South African Breweries (SAB miller), Stanbic Merchant Bank of Nigeria, Multichoice and Umgeni Water.
The Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa said, “this is unacceptable to the people and government of Nigeria.”If reprisal attacks occur many South African businesses will be affected. According toGuardian Newspaper, in his last visit, President Zuma said there were 120 big South African companies in Nigeria, sparking off debate on obvious trade imbalance and lopsided economic ties between both countries.
There have been calls for the African Union (AU) to intervene in the crisis but previous calls have been met with a tough response by the South African Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba who said such issues were better settled diplomatically.
In response to Abike Dabiri-Erewa’s statement on 116 Nigerians killed in South Africa in the past two years, according to News Agency of Nigeria Gigaba said, “I don’t think it’s a discussion we need to get into because it will turn out very bad should we start counting how many South Africans have died at the hands of Nigerian nationals in South Africa.”
Various reactions have been posted on social media, including a comment from Julius Malema.