When a former presidential candidate in Nigeria’s 2019 elections, Dr. Obiageli ‘Oby’ Ezekwesili and leaders of the Nigerian community in Cape Town met to proffer solutions to recurring xenophobic attacks in South Africa, they issued a statement afterwards to say only a public apology will be good enough from South African President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa.
Anti-immigrant sentiments have consumed South Africa for decades, with mobs in the Gauteng province, Johannesburg and Pretoria, taking to the streets in recent weeks with cudgels and rocks, burning property belonging to immigrants and looting their shops for fun.
At the receiving end have been Nigerians, Somalians, Zambians, Madagascans and Zimbabweans.
Africans across the continent have responded by boycotting South Africa. Pop stars have canceled concerts. Madagascar and Zambia refused to send football teams for a game with South Africa. Nigeria has recalled its ambassador and pulled out of a major economic forum. And Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has made it clear he is ready to evacuate Nigerians in South Africa who are willing to return home.
“We have made arrangements for the immediate voluntary evacuation of all Nigerians in South Africa who are willing to return home. The recurring issue of xenophobia could negatively affect the image and standing of South Africa as one of the leading countries on the continent, if nothing is done to stop it”, Buhari said.
Nigerian community in South Africa makes contribution
On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cape Town, South Africa, last week, Ezekwesili , alongside Nigerian entrepreneurs, professionals and the Nigerian community in South Africa led by Mr Cosmos Echie ( who is the acting President of the Nigerian Community Western Cape) issued a communique in which they referred to latest events in South Africa as ‘Afrophobia’.
“It was unanimously agreed that the crisis is detrimental to the spirit of African renaissance, affirmation of black heritage, progress and development. Afrophobia compromises everything that the recently brokered intra-African trade – Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement — represents and aspires to deliver,” the communique reads.
The group also asked President Ramaphosa to apologise to Nigerians and other countries whose citizens have borne the brunt of xenophobic attacks for decades.
The South African government was also advised to trigger series of actions necessary to de-escalate the brewing conflict.
“Officials of the government of South Africa must immediately desist from making any further pejorative and incendiary comments targeting Nigerians and their country and instead publicly commit to taking preventive and surveillance measures that will foreclose a repeat of Afrophobic attacks of Nigerians and other African nationals.
“The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, should rise to the demands of leadership and reach out to the President of Nigeria to trigger the series of dialogue and actions necessary for swift de-escalation of the brewing conflict between their two countries.
“The President of South Africa should offer a sincere public apology to Nigeria, other countries affected by the attacks and the entire continent for the tragic hostility and harm perpetrated against their citizens.
“The President of South Africa should send a sharp signal to South Africans and the continent by visiting the victims of the Afrophobia attacks to empathize with and reassure them of their safety in South Africa and the government should consider paying compensations for losses sustained in the attacks.
“South Africa and Nigeria should agree a mutual legal assistance cooperation scheme for tackling cases of crimes occurring among their citizens”, the communique stated further.
The group also asked “the Nigerian High Commission and Nigerians in South Africa to design a fact-based campaign to widely convey the accurate and positive narrative of the value they contribute to their host country.
“For example, South Africans must be made aware that more than 18 per cent of lecturers in their higher institutions are Nigerians. A significant percentage of the medical personnel in rural hospitals are Nigerians.
“Most Nigerians and Nigerian-owned businesses operate responsibly in legitimate and professional practices in South Africa compared to the less than one per cent of cases of shadowy activities.
“The Nigerian government should make visible effort to guarantee the safety and security of South Africans and their businesses in Nigeria.
“The umbrella organisation of South Africa- based Nigerians will be encouraged to launch a business platform to support the formalising processes for as many informal businesses of Nigerians as possible in order to better capture the value and impact being created and contributed to South Africa’s economic and social landscape.”
Ezekwesili also promised her expertise to the cause in the days ahead.
“The leaders of South Africa-based Nigerians will collaborate to promote a citizens diplomacy programme to foster stronger personal and business relationships between Nigerians and South Africans”, the former minister said.
What Ramaphosa has been saying
South Africa is home to many immigrants. However, the country’s poorest often struggle to find employment, with some South Africans blaming competition by foreigners for their plight.
Violent attacks on outsiders, particularly those from other African nations, have become a major and recurring problem in the former apartheid enclave. Some assaults have been deadly.
The attacks have stoked tensions and threatened to sour diplomatic relations between South Africa and Nigeria–two of Africa’s biggest economies.
President Ramaphosa of South Africa has repeatedly condemned the riots , although he has refused to use the word ‘xenophobia’ in reference to the attacks.
The South African leader says the attacks are “a crime against our prosperity and stability as a nation. Those who want to upset our public order must expect to face the gravest impact of the law.”