The latest round of xenophobic or, as some say, Afrophobic killing of Nigerians and other non-native Africans in the South African cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg and the burning of their businesses was heinous, wicked, un-African and totally unacceptable. It was a severe test for the doctrine of African unity and inter-African brotherhood, a besmirch on the reputation of South African leaders and institutions and a desecration of the graves of the leaders of African liberation and the founding fathers of African unity.
Nor was it the first time that South African hoodlums would set upon citizens of Nigeria and other, mostly neighbouring African countries, maim, kill them and destroy their business. The first such episode happened more than ten years ago when many Africans were killed. Despite assurances by South Africa’s leaders, two more rounds of xenophobic killings occurred again in the country. Last Monday’s latest round of killings claimed ten lives, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, but it left a very deep scar in the African psyche. It will require many years of work by all sides to repair the damage done, address the root causes of this ugly phenomenon and avoid a repeat performance.
That said, we also condemn in strong terms the so-called “reprisals” attempted by hoodlums in Nigeria against South African owned businesses. Even as we condemn South Africa’s leaders for either inciting or at least allowing their hoodlums to conduct national policy, we must not fall into the same trap. We salute the Nigeria police for taking prompt steps to arrest the situation. Enough security should be provided for these businesses to resume their operations, not the least because they contribute immensely to our economy.
Although the Buhari Administration has expressed its anger and frustration at these events, it did not lose its head and it acted in a respectable and measured way by boycotting the World Economic Forum in South Africa and sending a special envoy to meet President Ramaphosa. The government also said it is going for de-escalation; this is a very wise measure and we commend the government for adopting it.
Many issues were thrown up by this crisis. It became clear that many South African politicians speak words that serve to incite their people into xenophobic violence. Another important issue that emerged is that the criminal activities of some Nigerians in South Africa attracted the anger of its citizens. A way must be found to checkmate the criminal deeds of some our nationals which help to attract odium and resentment in foreign lands.
However, rather than relying on hoodlums to deal with criminals, we expect the South African police to apprehend all criminals and deal with them according to their country’s laws. South Africa is an industrial economy with a strong police force. If any Nigerians, however numerous, had been rounded up for engaging in criminal activities and dealt with in South African courts, no one would protest.
On the other hand, the Federal Government should quietly undertake a deep study into the problem and consider long term measures. These could include forcible repatriation of any Nigerians that are not productively engaged in South Africa. It was revealing, for example, that Air Peace, which offered to send planes to bring back beleaguered Nigerians from South Africa, said many of them could not be brought back because they have no valid travel documents.
We sympathise with the families of those who lost loved ones as well as property in this episode but we urge government to stay the course of de-escalation while we, together with the South Africans, work on a permanent solution to these xenophobic attacks.