“Who is South Africa to humiliate Nigeria?”

Attacks on Nigerians and other foreigners in South Africa have prompted an angry backlash back at home.

Students protest against the recent violence in South Africa.

Outbreaks of xenophobic violence in South Africa are now frequent enough that they follow a familiar pattern. Riots targeting foreign-owned shops are followed by clashes, dispersed by security forces with the likes of stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannons.

This was the case in 2008 as over 60 people were killed in xenophobic attacks. It happened again in April 2016 as at least six people lost their lives. And the past two weeks have seen anti-foreigner violence erupt once again with protesters accusing non-South Africans of stealing scarce jobs and bringing crime.

However, this time, there appears to be a particularly strong emphasis on Nigerians. On 24 February for instance, protesters wielding sticks and pipes in Pretoria marched to the foreign ministry with a petition in hand. Amongst other things, the document claimed of non-nationals: “They are arrogant and they don’t know how to talk to people, especially Nigerians.”

Statements such as these as well as media claims that Nigerian businesses have been particularly targeted in the attacks have spurred outrage back home.

In Abuja, for example, Nigerian students retaliated by marching on the offices of South African businesses such as mobile phone giant MTN and television network DStv. According to an MTN spokesperson, the demonstrators stole phones and tablets, vandalised vehicles, and destroyed office equipment.

“We are saying that enough is enough as South Africans have openly attacked and bullied Nigerians,” said Aruna Kadiri, president of National Association of Nigerian Students, which organised the protests.

In a later press conference, he warned ominously that South Africans in Nigeria must leave immediately because their security can no longer be guaranteed, saying: “It is in their interest to keep themselves and whatever businesses they may have safe by leaving our country”.

Other groups have also marched on the foreign ministry to demand concrete actions and expressed their outrage, while some have suggested actions such as boycotts. Lashley Oladigbolu, a media and public health practitioner, told African Arguments: “I have decided to stop using MTN phone line and other products of South African [businesses].”

Shaky diplomatic relations

In South Africa, it is of course a tiny minority that is directly engaging in the xenophobic protests, and many have condemned the attacks.

For instance, Thabiso Mondlane, a student of the University of Cape Town, says of the episode: “South Africa stands before the African community naked and exposed. Today is not a good day to be South Africa.”

The South African government has also denounced the violence. But, at the same time, said it will “respond to the concerns” of protesters and recently deported 97 Nigerian nationals for a range of offences, including lack of documentation.

Abike Dabiri-Erewa, special assistant to Nigeria’s president on diaspora matters, has heavily criticised the South African government’s suggestion that diplomacy is the solution to the attacks, noting that several Nigerians have lost their lives in the past few years. She also condemned the deportations of Nigerians, saying: “They have been arbitrarily raided”.

Relations with South Africa dominated proceedings in the senate this week as lawmakers decided that they would not sever diplomatic relations, but send a delegation to South Africa to demand concrete actions and an explanation.

“This attack has become one too many,” said Senate President Bukola Saraki. “We must put a stop to these attacks. We must take the bull by the horn. That is why we have resolved to meet with the South African parliament.”

Nigeria has also urged the African Union to find solutions to halt xenophobic attacks of other African nationals in South Africa.

Lost love

Analysts consistently maintain that cooperation between Africa’s two largest economies is crucial for the continent’s overall wellbeing and development. But despite the establishment of a bi-national commission in 1999 to boost economic cooperation, the relationship between the two countries has often been more defined by quarrels and diplomatic spats than collaboration.

For many ordinary Nigerians though, it is the memory of solidarity during South Africa’s experience of apartheid that makes the recent anti-Nigerian attacks most frustrating.

Ngozi Obi-ani, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, says that Nigeria put Africa at the centre of its foreign policy after its independence and offered invaluable political and financial support to the now ruling African National Congress to fight white minority rule.

Amongst other things, Nigeria chaired the United Nations special committee against apartheid. And at one point, public servants in Nigeria committed to donate 2% of their monthly salaries to help the struggle.

“Who is South Africa to humiliate Nigeria?,” asked Kadiri. “They forget things so soon, let them go back to history and records to see how much financial assistance and what the country did to save them.”

More demonstrations on the horizon?

According to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, it is on red alert in the southern state of Bayelsa after intelligence reports suggested some Nigerians are planning reprisal attacks on MTN facilities.

At the same time, trade unions, civil society organisations and Nigerian students have made clear their anger at the violence in South Africa, suggesting there are likely to be further protests. With tensions running high, there are concerns these could degenerate into the destruction of property belonging to South African businesses.

As Oluyemi Fayomi, an international relations expert, notes, the attacks against Nigerians in South Africa have had a deep impact – politically, economically and socially – on both countries, from the highest level down to the grassroots. Unless this is resolved quickly, the rift will only deepen.

“Continued xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other African nationals in South Africa will definitely create tensions and lead to unrest and uproar in [both] South Africa and Nigeria,” she says.

Linus Unah is a Nigerian journalist based in Enugu, Nigeria.

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21 thoughts on ““Who is South Africa to humiliate Nigeria?”

  1. Sunbae Linus, this is a beautiful article, I read it till the last full stop. I enjoyed every bit of it.
    Keep leaving marks for me to follow.
    I’m so proud of you.

    Besides, I don’t support South Africa’s attitude towards Nigeria.
    I sincerely hope this issue is resolved without further violence.
    Indeed, those who fail to know their past are doomed to fail.
    South Africa, be wise!

  2. The Ruling party is the cause of all xenophobic acts. I’ve heard a man from another African country who said that the only country you can get away with crime in Africa is South Africa. Are there individuals producing illegal drugs and selling it to young kids among foreigners? Yes, but the South African government is not combating crime and so the people are taking the law into their own hands. Same issues with attacks on Farmers; the South African government hasn’t taken concrete steps to resolve this plague. People will get tired and start taking matters into their own hands.

  3. Nigerian Lawmakers are afraid to confront any situation head on because, they don’t want to lose their stolen wealth in the event of a war. They would rather sacrifice their own citizens and continue business as usual. Otherwise, why would every cricket on the planet continue to bully and denigrate Nigerians? Because, the Nigerian government does not value its own people. If this is not lack of self worth, I wonder what is!

  4. As an African, a Tanzanian, I am outraged by these xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africans – black Africans – in South Africa. And I fully support the position taken by some Nigerians in Nigeria, asking South Africans to leave the country.

    It may be a radical move but necessary because the South African government has done nothing, virtually nothing, to stop the attacks. The violence perpetrated against black foreigners is nothing new in South Africa since the end of apartheid.

    Africans from other countries on the continent are resented and even hated by many South Africans including some highly educated ones. They don’t appreciate the sacrifices we made to help them during the struggle against apartheid. Other African countries should respond in kind.

    The Pan-African solidarity that was preached and practised by our leaders such as Nkrumah, Nyerere, Azikiwe, Sekou Toure, Kaunda, Obote and others means nothing, absolutely nothing, to many South Africans, probably millions.

  5. The bane of African continent is education, not literacy, because there is quite some ‘sizable’ literate Africans. Because, the way and manner the African leadership and elites react to issues is quite baffling.
    The leaderships of South Africa must have on record the effort of Nigerian leadership and the general mass of Nigerians played in the liberation of South Africa.
    Many of these so called elites of South Africa today went to school on Nigerian govt scholarship. Nigeria is not saying ‘don’t prosecute any Nigerian with criminal activity. No. If any Nigerian runs fowl of the law, the person is on his or her own’.
    But to destroy people’s hard earned properties because they are foreigners is disheartening.
    We Nigerians suffered and sacrificed for the well-being of South Africans. And this is the payment.

  6. The mass Zenophobia is just the tip of the iceberg. Foreign nationals are robbed daily at Park Station by police. Robbing a foreigner is easy especially since many are not there legally and so can not go to the police for fear of deportation.
    The ruling party the ANC is openly hostile to any who are from other countries, not issuing them with work permits even though they know that their people can’t do the work.

  7. It is great madness for your own brothers (BLACKS )to attack and even kill you!i would suggest that all other African Governments should immediately resolve to severe links with South Africa,to send a clear message to the South African Government and its citizens that primitivity has serious consequences.By so doing,the problem will not only come to an end in South Africa, but other countries will learn a lesson as well.There is virtually no reason whatsoever for even one person to die in such kind of attacks!

  8. You are right Lionel,yes the government has not done much to stop the violence,same like with the drug dealers.That is why these attacks has started again.I feel sorry for the incomers who make an honest living and the students but I feel the attacks against the drug dealers,using their shops as decoys should not stop.They are killing our people and promote prostitution.They must LEAVE South Africa.

    If other South Africand are breaking the laws in other countries they must follow the consequenses.

  9. If other Africa country can attack Africans, what message are they sending to other races. Come to think of it, did Nigeria ask companies in South Africa not to give their own citizen Job, this people must be very stupid or they are jealous of Nigerians, otherwise i see no reason why they will attack a black man like you, its pathetic, to the south africa President i think he should just step down because he is not a president. If they know the capability of one Nigeria citizen, they will rush to put an end to this shame some illitrate citizen and bringing upon the country. South africa my arse.

  10. The South African Business community in Nigeria (with MTN leading) should put pressure on the South African Government & Parliament to protect the lives and interests of Nigerians and other foreigners living in South Africa. Also, the African Union should intervene as this could impact on relations in Africa.

  11. South Africans are wrong to attack Nigerians and other Africans. The Nigerian government must urgently address reputational issues that have dogged Nigeria and Nigerians in China, India, UK, USA, Europe, Canada, and basically throughout the world. It is not fair for millions of law -abiding Nigerians to be tarnished by the criminality of a deviant minority. It’s just the stench of scamming, credit card fraud and cyber-criminality that wafts whenever the word Nigeria is mentioned. Nigerians can no longer pretend that this is not part of the problem in SA.

  12. Things are getting worse for ‘foreigners’ everywhere unfortunately – speaking as a South African in Britain.

    A sincere hand of friendship to Nigerians in South Africa and in Nigeria, for what it’s worth. I don’t know what’s going on in my country (or the one I’m living in now) but I hope that reasonable groups of people with empathy and understanding can work together to stop things like this happening.

  13. Terrible, I watched a video where South Africans mobbed a Nigerian(guy), he was shot multiple times. I’ve read several articles of how Nigerians helped SA in the past. Apparently, the SA citizens are not reading all these articles, only few knows their history. I blame our rulers in Nigeria, because if they had built Nigeria without blemish, our people won’t travel around the world seeking greener pastures. Instead, they chose to enrich their pockets. Killing Nigerians is an act of war. I think if you are a Nigerian in SA be careful and try to defend yourself, be sharp and kill anything that tries to harm you. I can’t ask you to come home, home is bad… until our government makes meaningful moves to end this mess, I think they don’t care. That’s it. Where is our Military? Silent I guess.. lol, you can’t kill 100 Americans in a country and not be punished for it… Nigerians should wake up and let’s better our country. Nigerians are being humiliated everywhere… God help us all…

  14. Because of its immense oil wealth, Nigeria is potentially one of world’s richest countries. Nigerians are also amongst the most educated people on the planet, so why is Nigeria a failed state? Why have Nigerians been humiliated, not on only in Africa, but in Europe? It is largely due to spineless and corrupt politicians. Africans continue to be amongst thousands of the fatalities as many take the perilous journey across the Mediterranean into Europe, but the silence of African leaders has been quite profound. Every African leader has sat on the fence as their nationals perish in the Mediterranean sea.

  15. Please stop this war, The Lord wouldn’t want it. Think of all the little children innocent ones don’t need this,they want peace and tranquility in there lives.
    Remember the song We are the world,make it a better place to live on. Everyone from any country must of heard that song go by it pls. All music artists sang in it and got together to help Africans, Nigerians. And all of Africa as mush as they could follow their song.
    Thanks for hearing what I have to say.
    Please stop fighting and reunite,and I heard Africa is a beautiful place to visit,especially the safari area.

  16. Nigeria has been a huge blessing to all the African countries and across. I wonder why South Africa could be so hardhearted not reflecting on the financial benefits they gotten from Nigeria over years. They should better stop this insanity because its going to bring a lot of havoc between them and other African countries. I vividly know that the reason why Nigeria is still not retaliating so much on it is because they have made so much investment in their country and made a lot of positive impact on their indegienes and THAT had triggered envy and animosity from them to Nigerians. I have read almost all the pages about this crisis online and I have not come across any comment made by South African president relating to this rebellion. My advice to my Nigerian brothers over there is to lie low in prayer and allow God to take over the battle since the government can not do anything about it. My condolences to those who have lost their loved ones over the years through this.

  17. Nigerians ,the truth is that keeping quiet and waiting for them to adjourn their killing spree wont help to save our brothers.these pple are so ungrateful .they are shamelessly displaying these awful acts.how can u kill ur fellow man and post it on the net?keeping the video as a trophy like a group of serial killers.dialogue cant solve this.we aren’t bitter enough to get results.all we have been doing is talking and that wont do us any good.i just watched a gruesome footage of the killings.at first, i turned my face away.but then i realise the perpetrators weren’t turning their faces away. they loved every second of it.that was when i had the courage to watch every frame of the video and it got me pissed.The government, the people and the country as a whole has to take on the responsibility of taking this big step in educating these ragamuffins.showing our enemies that we aren’t weak because we prefer peace,we aren’t weak because we love and we aren’t weak because we prefer to forgive their past trespasses.is this the example we wish to set for the next generation?we are only saying “kill us !!! as long as we shake hands afterwards ”
    . but remember,violence isn’t always the solution. that is all i have to say,NIGERIA.stay blessed

  18. This message is to the South African government, you are making a big mistake to allow your people to kill and push the foreigners out of your country specially the Nigerians. As your Haitian sister and a former decedent of slaves, we should never allow history to repeat. We need to build Africa for our future generations. I cannot close my eyes and allow your country to treat these people like animals. South Africa wake up!

  19. Thank you, Ingrid, for the spirit of Pan-African solidarity that animates you.

    I believe there are many people in the diaspora who have never forgotten their African origin and identity. You are a part of us, continental Africans, as much as we are a part of you. We are one in spite of the divisions within which have been exploited by some people to ignite and fuel xenophobic attacks in South Africa against our African brothers and sisters from other parts of the continent – not just Nigeria but Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Congo and elsewhere.

    These narrow-minded black South Africans should remember that there was no South Africa, no Nigeria, no Ghana, no Tanganyika (now mainland Tanzania), no Cameroon, no Sierra Leone, no Kenya, Mali, Uganda, Mozambique, Guinea and so on, until our European conquerors came and formed those countries for their own benefit, giving us our new identities we unfortunately cherish so much – in fact far more than we do our common African identity and brotherhood and sisterhood. As Kwame Nkrumah said:

    “I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me….All people of African descent, whether they live in North America or South America, the Caribbean, or in any part of the world are Africans and belong to the African nation.”

    Nyerere put it this way:

    “Africans all over the continent, without a word being spoken either from one individual to another, or from one country to another, looked at the European, looked at one another, and knew that in relation to the European they were one.”

    Nyerere also had this to say about our new identities – as Nigerians, Tanzanians, Ghanaians, etc. – and our African-ness in his speech in Accra on Ghana’s 40th independence anniversary::

    “I reject the glorification of the nation-state [that] we inherited from colonialism, and the artificial nations we are trying to forge from that inheritance. We are all Africans trying very hard to be Ghanaians or Tanzanians. Fortunately for Africa, we have not been completely successful. The outside world hardly recognises our Ghanaianness or Tanzanian-ness. What the outside world recognises about us is our Africanness.”

    And in the words of Sekou Toure on the one-ness and indivisibility of Africa:

    “It is exactly as if you take the example of a man who has cut his finger. The finger itself does not alone feel the pain,. . .it is the whole body of that man that feels it.”

    Sadly, this Pan-African spirit died with those leaders as we become more and divided, whipping up nationalist sentiments at the expense of Pan-Africanism: “I am a Tanzanian first, a South African first, a Kenya first, a Ghanaian, Nigerian, Guinean, Angolan, Zimbabwean, Zambian, Gambian, Sierra Leonian, Liberian, Ugandan, Cameroonian first before I am an African.”

    I weep for Mother Africa.

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