Hundreds of Nigerians are being repatriated from South Africa as a result of the bloody xenophobic attacks on ‘outsiders’ by hoodlums. One hundred and eighty-seven Nigerians were airlifted from Johannesburg by Air Peace last week. Three hundred more were expected to arrive in Lagos last night.
Many who returned had tales of woes to tell about how their businesses were looted and vandalized by hoodlums. Though no Nigerian was confirmed killed in the latest round of attacks, the Diaspora Commission headed by Abike Dabiri has said 127 Nigerians had been killed in South Africa in the last three years. Thirteen out of those were murdered by South African police.
In an effort to repair its battered image in Africa, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has dispatched envoys to African countries whose nationals suffered most from the xenophobic attacks. In this regard, South Africa’s Energy Minister Jeff Radebe came to Nigeria and had a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari where he apologized to Nigerians and Nigeria over the xenophobic, or what is now better described as Afrophobic, attacks.
Radebe, while tendering the apology at Aso Rock Presidential Villa said, “We met a short while ago with President Muhammadu Buhari to convey our President Ramaphosa’s sincerest apologies about the incidents that have recently transpired in South Africa. Those incidents do not represent what we stand for as constitutional democracy in South Africa and the President has apologized for these incidents and he has also instructed law enforcement agencies to leave no stone unturned so that all those involved must be brought to book so that the rule of law must prevail in South Africa.”
The Energy Minister may be right when he said the mob who attacked foreigners do not represent the people of South Africa. However, the slap-on-the-wrist reactions of South African government to previous xenophobic attacks that threatened the lives and livelihood of refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants and those locally described as ‘outsiders,’ has encouraged the mob to do more. Human Rights Watch, in a statement on September 13, 2019, stated that in 2008, as many as 62 foreign nationals were killed in xenophobic attacks, but the perpetrators rarely faced penalties for their crimes. In the statement, HRW said “the vicious cycles of xenophobic violence are spurred by lack of effective policing to protect foreign nationals,” adding that though the police claimed that 600 persons had been arrested in connection with the recent attacks, if the police did not carry out thorough investigation, there would be no prosecution.
We commend the Federal Government and Air Peace management for taking the initiative of repatriating hundreds of Nigerians from South Africa. It shows how responsive the government is to the plight of Nigerian nationals in other countries. However, it is necessary for Nigeria to escalate the problem of xenophobic attacks on foreigners by taking it to the African Union (AU) for a thorough deliberation. It is surprising that the AU did not call an extraordinary meeting to take a critical look at the mayhem that took place recently. What South African mobs have done and the non-challant attitude of their police to xenophobia run contrary to the objectives of the AU. The founding fathers of AU envisaged a united Africa, a kind of brotherhood, not the racial discrimination that xenophobia clearly represents.
South Africa has benefited from this brotherhood. This is not the way to pay back those whose forefathers made sacrifices to free the country from Apartheid. We, therefore, call on President Ramaphosa to make good his promise to punish those involved in the violence. Government should take measures that would, in future, deter others from joining violent mobs to kill other Africans who are tagged ‘outsiders.’ Ramaphosa should enlighten the people on the negative consequences of xenophobia. This should have been done long before now. Miscreants should not be allowed to destroy hard-earned African brotherhood.