Xenophobic Attacks: Fear of A Diplomatic War Between Nigeria And South Africa Looms

By Elizabeth Chukwuma

Between 2006  and now,   angry  South Africans had  targeted  Nigerians and other  foreigners in the guise of  Xenophobia attacks in Johannesburg, the  country’s Commercial nerve center, KwaZulu-Natal, Durban and other major Cities and towns  in the country,  destroying vehicles  and looting shops.  The  Xenophobic attacks , was said to have  become pronounced  in 2008 and 2015 as many Nigerians  were forced to close down their businesses to avoid being looted.  Nigerians who fell into the waiting hands of the Xenophobic attackers had  their shops  looted  and vehicles destroyed.

Former Goodluck Jonathan had  the opportunity of talking tough to Oliver Thabo Mbeki, who was the country ‘s President as at 2008  and Jacob Zuma, who was President in 2015 to extract a Commitment from them  to guarantee the  protection and security of Nigerians  living in South Africa.  Perhaps,  his  failure to take up the matter at the highest level of  government with the two South African former Presidents may have encouraged the   Youths to continue the Xenophobic attacks in subsequent years with Nigerians being the major target on alleged Criminality.

Note that  about 70 percent of the foreigners living in South Africa  were said  to have come from the neighbouring Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. The remaining 30 percent , according to the country Immigration sources  were  made up of people from Malawi, United Kingdom, UK, Namibia, Swaziland , now Swatini,  India and other countries including Nigeria.

 Going by the country’s Statistical  report,  there  an estimated  3.6 million  immigrants in the country, out of an overall population of well  over 50 million. The BBC, in its report revealed that the’’ violence  were often triggered by local disputes , with migrants  being accused of taking jobs away from  South Africans’’.  Indeed, the causes , according  to Ekambaran,   who, runs a the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme  for Lawyers and Human Rights Organisations are’’ poverty which had its roots in apartheid’’.

Going by Province to Province break down of the Xenophobic attacks  between 1994 and 2018 alone, it was said to have occurred 212 times in Gauteng Province, which includes Johanesburg,  Western Cape 111, KwaZulu Natal 67, Limpo 40, Eastern Cape 33, Mpumalanga 22, North West 20, Free State 19 and Northern Cape 5 incidents.The South African Youths may have been attacking foreigners in the past  and get away with it but thy got it wrong this time around  in attacking Nigerians in Johanesburg and Durban and looting their shops.

The situation was so bad that Yemi Osinbajo , a Professor and Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, described the attacks on Nigerians as unacceptable. ‘’ it is very sad and very unfortunate that the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians living  in South Africa are once again  being destroyed with such carelessness and recklessness’’. 

The worry of Osinbajo, was that Nigerians had invested  a great deal  in the businesses that had been  destroyed  and pull down by angry South African Youths. Given that South African Security Operatives, particular the police, had watched  while Nigerians  were  being killed may have prompted the  National Association of Nigerian Students , NANS, to take to the streets in Lagos, Ibadan , Kaduna and other major cities in the country to attack  South African owned Companies .

Note that South Africa, has three major multi-million dollar investments in Nigeria:MTN, Multi-choice,  a digital Television and Shoprite , which is scattered all over the country. The aggrieved Nigerian students may have sent a signal to the South African Xenophobic  attackers , that the battle line has been drawn when they shut down Shoprite in Ogun state  on Saturday, August 10, 2019. They were said to have also shut down MTN offices in Kaduna ,north west Nigeria. 

Last Tuesday, the protesters  had set fire  to many entrances  leading  into the busy  mall housing  the country’s retail  store, Shoprite , at Lekki, a high brow area of Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve center  allegedly looting  the shops. Another outlet belonging to the chain  and  owned by the Country’s  Mobile Company, MTN,  were vandalized in Ibadan, a major city in south  west Nigeria.

 Recall that Lai Mohammed, the minister of Information and Culture had  appealed to Nigerians  not to attack  South African Companies operating in the country  in anger over the treatment being meted to Nigerians in school and doing business in South Africa. The appeal may have fallen on deaf ears as the protesters still touched some  South African businesses in Nigeria.

The minister who could not hide his feelings had  said that  targeting  the South African Companies  operating in the country  for attack  was not in the best interest of Nigerians, noting that ‘’it is a classic case of  cutting off your nose  to spite your face’’.

 He insists  that the South African Investors have nothing to lose  as  the major Investors in MTN and Shoprite , were Nigerians. Take for instance, Pascal Dozie, a business mogul and Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state and National leader of the All Progressive Congress, APC, have been linked to the two prominent South African Companies. Dozie, the Imo state –born investor was  said to have invited  MTN  from South Africa to open an outlet in Nigeria  and became one of the major shareholders while Tinubu, allegedly  brought in Shoprite and became one its   major shareholders.

Mohammed who may  have spoken  the mind of President Muhammadu Buhari when he urged Nigerians to exercise restraints  as  majority  of the workers in the Companies  were Nigerians. He fears that many Nigerians would be thrown  into  the  Labour market if the businesses are closed in Nigeria.

Worried at the backlash effect of Xenophobic attacks, on South African  Companies in Nigerian and other  African countries, particular Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Management of Shoprite  has  condemned the violence attacks on Nigerians and other foreigners and their business in South Africa to show that they  were not in support of what the irate South Africans had done.   The Company has vowed with the Ramaphosa government , Industry  and Consumer groups  to ensure that decisive action s are taken against those who were involved in the violent Crime  Crimes  against foreign nationals  in South Africa.

Despite the position taken by Shoprite  Management  against the Xenophobic  atackers in Johanesburg and other major Cities in South Africa,  the Katsina state –born Nigerian President  ,  has given a matching  order  Geofrey Onyeama, minister of Foreign Affairs  to summon  Bobby Moore , the country’s High Commissioner to Nigeria  to get a brief on the situation and also express  the country’s  displeasure over the ill- treatment of Nigerians in their own country and  endeavor to extract a commitment from him  that  Nigerians would no longer be molested. 

The President was said to have also  dispatched  a special envoy to convey  to President Ramaphosa,  his counterpart in South Africa about his concerns over the Xenophobic attacks   and also interact  with his South African leader  on the situation. The Envoy was expected to have left the  country , to Pretoria on the Diplomatic assignment.  For the first time since 2008, the government is taking the Xenophobic attack on Nigerians serious that  that it has vowed  to address it once and for all. ‘’Enough is enough’’, Onyeama said.

President Muhammadu Buhari and President Ramaphosa

Recall that  Moore, South African Foreign Affairs minister, had said  last Tuesday, August 3, 2019,  at a  Joint Media briefing  with   the  Ministry of Foreign Affairs  , that the’’ attacks in South Africa  were not Xenophobic   neither were they targeted at Nigerians. Moore disclosed that   ‘’they were only sporadic attacks of violence’’. He noted that businesses  belonging to South Africans were also touched in the violence.

 Also, Ramaphosa, the South African President had confirmed some months ago that all the Xenophobic violence was between South Africa against Nigerians  but  most of the times ‘’it was Nigerians against Nigerians ‘’ostensibly to exonerate his country from blame.

 But Femi Adesina, Special Assistant to the President on  Media  and Publicity, would not take it.  Adesina  had  told those that cares to listen that the g that there is nothing sporadic about the attack. He assured that  the government would continue  to ‘’demand for  the protection of Nigerians from the South African government’’, noting  that failure to do so may force the government  to adopt stronger measures to deal with the  situation.

  Already there have been pressures on the government to withdraw its High Commissioner from South Africa. Ike Ekweremadu, a  Senator of Federal Republic  of Nigeria, said there is no other better time to do it than now  that Nigerians  are constantly been subjected to Xenophobic attacks .

  Pressures from different quarters may have forced the government to quickly  recall  Kabiru Bala,  the High Commissioner to South Africa for  Consultations. The government was said to have also stepped down its participation  at the World Economic  Forum to be hosted by South Africa.

The President was said to approved Osinbajo, the Vice President to attend the forum but was said to have asked him to withdraw  at the last minute  following the violent attack on Nigerians. The government was to have made it clear to the Ramaphosa led South African government  that  that the losses suffered by Nigerians in the aftermath of the  recent Xenophobia attack in the country must be fully Compensated.     

  Meanwhile Buhari  and  Osibajo,  were said to have held a strategic engagement with Onyeama,  the minister of Foreign Affairs, following the renewed  hostilities   against Nigerians in South Africa. There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that the  recall of  Bala, the High Commissioner, may  encourage  the south African  government to also recall Moore, its High Commissioner in Nigeria , which may trigger a Diplomatic war. Between the  two countries.  

In apparent reaction to the attack on MTN, Shoprite and Some Multichoice offices  in Nigeria by angry youths in retaliation to the Xenophobia – attack on Nigerians in South Africa, Moore , the country’s High Commissioner has shut down its  offices  and Consulate in Nigeria  for fear of attack. The High Commissioner reportedly said  the  Mission  has no option but to suspend operations  in Nigeria till further notice.

Diplomatic  sources said the closure of the South African Embassy  and Consulate in Nigeria, was at the instance of President Ramaphosa, the country ‘s President called for the recall of Bala, the Nigerian High Commissioner in South Africa by the government. 

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