Millions of Nigerians are visibly shocked by the sustained xenophobic onslaught against Nigerians in South Africa. Over the years, South Africans have attacked Nigerians and their businesses. Many Nigerians have been killed by South Africans without anyone being brought to book. The South African government must be held vicariously liable for the attacks and damages not only because it has the power and authority to prevent them but also because it has tended to encourage or acquiesce to them. It is on record that between the year 2000 and 2007 at least 67 people died from xenophobic attacks. In May 2008, 62 more died in one senseless outburst of violence.
In April 2015, the violence began in Durban and spread nationally. Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, was said to have fanned the flames by asking foreigners to go back to their countries, a view amplified by Edward Zuma, the then President’s son. Seven lives were lost but hundreds were injured and at least 500 were displaced and more than 300 businesses were destroyed and looted. On February 24, 2017, the xenophobic ill-wind began another large-scale destruction. Foreigners were accused of taking jobs and committing crimes.
In these incidents, the unseen and seen hands of the South African government keep fuelling the violence while pretending to be putting it off. Even as late as last week, the Minister of Small Business Development justified the attacks telling the press that foreign businesses cannot expect peace unless they share “their trade secrets” with South Africans. Last week, as Nigerian businesses were pillaged, destroyed, and looted, thugs yell “foreigners are dogs” at innocent Nigerians. It was a show of dislike for Nigerians who are earning a living in an African country.
Finally, the mob attacks on Nigerians seem to have pushed the country to some resolve. President Muhammadu Buhari took the first step to demonstrate the nation’s resolve and to register Nigeria’s shock and rejection of the barbaric treatment of its citizens by South Africans. Nigeria recalled its ambassador to South Africa. It also sent a special envoy to South Africa, Ahmed Abubakar, of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), to register its protest.
Without prejudice to the report of the President’s special envoy to South Africa, we urge the President not to be in great haste to return our High Commissioner to Pretoria. Indeed, the Federal Government should get ready a naval vessel to sail to Durban to complement the efforts of Air Peace airlines, which is evacuatung Nigerians from South Africa free.
No one should be left in doubt that we are ready to extricate Nigerians from what has become an annual ritual of violence and destruction perpetrated against Nigerians and some other Africans in South Africa.
The nation appreciates the gesture of Air Peace and we appeal to Nigerians in South Africa to do a thorough soul-searching concerning their continued stay in a country whose government is manifestly indifferent to its duties to foreigners. The bitterness, the tension, the distrust generated by this bout of South African xenophobia underscore the fact that this is a clear threat to international peace and security. Nigeria must therefore hold top level discussions with Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Zimbabwe and other African nations to present a joint case to the Security Council and the African Union. If South Africa cannot behave like civilised nations, the world needs to hear about it.
We agree with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, that the right response is not for angry Nigerians to go out to smash South African enterprises in Nigeria. We must maintain our moral high ground on this issue at all costs by following the rule of law. Inasmuch as we share the sentiments expressed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the matter, we differ on the issue of nationalisation, especially when those firms are not privy to the barbarities in Johannesburg. It might send the wrong signals to investors.
We must stick with the principle that as long as the South African companies maintain the record of good corporate citizens, they should be entitled to the protections, the rights and privileges due under Nigerian law.