Recurring xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and their investments in South Africa have reached its “reasonable” peak and reprisal attacks alone can’t solve this growing animosity between Africa’s two superpowers. Like wounded lions in the jungle, this diplomatic row between South Africa and Nigeria will “most likely” end in appeasements (shoulder-rubbing) or kiss to make up—a familiar approach among capitalists and politicians—which does not augur well for the masses who, in most cases, bear the brunt.
What’s going on?
Social media evidence showed that thousands of xenophobic South Africans gathered in Pretoria and Johannesburg earlier this week for a massive, violent anti-migrant protests that ended the lives of five Nigerians. The Nigerian embassy was also razed. These appalling incidents weren’t the first time that resentment against foreigners, particularly Nigerians, has triggered wanton destruction of lives and property in South Africa.
In February 2017, a strong wave of anti-immigrant protests ignited Pretoria. Amid condemnation from President Jacob Zuma and the international community, over 150 protesters were reportedly arrested within 24 hours but this growing resentment and its attendant violence have been a plague with no known cure among seemingly ignorant, unaccommodating, evil and blood-thirsty South Africans.
In response to Monday’s xenophobia attacks in South Africa which led to looting, maiming, and loss of precious lives, Nigerians in Lagos organized protests at Shoprite locations, where, unfortunately, the Nigerian police shot and killed a protester in cold blood—an act which disheartened most Nigerians expecting an equal force against South Africans’ disrespectful, inhuman and recalcitrant behaviour. SA-owned multinationals (DSTV, MTN etc) still face threats despite efforts from Nigerian security agencies to curb retaliatory attacks within the country.
Why are South Africans relishing bloodshed?
Unemployment rate in South Africa is above 25 percent and Nigerians—not the South African government—are, laughably, responsible for impoverishing lazy and jealous South Africans by working hard enough to earn a living. Further, media reports say South African men are angry with Nigerians whose wealth and “magnanimity” have “disoriented” their gluttonous vixens, leading to increased rates of promiscuity, extramarital affairs and divorce.
The xenophobic attacks in South Africa are therefore an act of cowardice among men who should, on the contrary, gain inspiration and learn from their dextrous Nigerian “competitors”. There are, however, allegations that human trafficking, drug-dealing and other heinous crimes are responsible for anti-immigrant riots in South Africa. In 2008, a total of six persons were killed in Durban. Similar violence also killed more than 60 persons in 2015.
Image shows a South African police aiming gun with rubber bullets at protesting foreign nationals in 2017
Who is to blame for South Africa’s shameless xenophobia and scandalous negrophobia?
Since 1980s, the South African government has shown commitment towards removing social barriers in its social benefits programs. The policy recorded significant success in 1993, when citizens (notwithstanding the social class) gained unrestricted access to same grant level per beneficiary. This economic strategy improved standard of living as well as development indicators (e.g. health services and education) in the middle-income country. South Africa in 2014 upgraded its social security system with investment worth $12 billion to reduce poverty and structural inequality in the labour market. This well-targeted program benefitted the elderly (7%), disabled (18%), and those taking care of children (71%), including provisions for care dependency and foster care grants.
Despite the positives recorded in the South African economy, unemployment level remains above 25%, with no indication that social grants are central in investment expenditure and job search behaviour—specifically among poor households. In addition, there is no link between labour supply and grants. These findings indicate an existing structural disequilibrium in the labour market.
The problem with South Africans is laziness. SA is the world’s largest developing country with sizeable natural and manpower resources that generate foreign earnings and impact positively on its economic growth indices. There are abundant untapped opportunities for South Africans who fold arms and cry blue murder instead—easily taking up arms against innocent foreigners who live off hard work and diligence.
What the South African government did to curb violent attacks
‘They [South Africans] are arrogant and they don’t know how to talk to people especially Nigerians,’ read one of the placards carried by one of the protesters who marched toward the foreign ministry in 2017. ‘We don’t have hate! We don’t have hate!’ Shouted one of the foreign nationals as seen in a live video posted by a South African broadcaster eNCA. Surprisingly, the Nelson Mandela Foundation slammed SA authorities for permitting a “march of hatred” which led to use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse harmless Somalians and other foreign residents calling for an end to violence in South Africa. Zuma’s office urged his countrymen to desist from xenophobic attacks and hate speech on social media, imploring them not to blame every crime on non-South Africans. But words are meaningless when not backed with action.
South Africans spearheading violent attacks on Nigerians have no legal and moral backing to do so while their citizens and investments are safeguarded by our security outfits. Nigeria is a peaceful big brother and a giant that should be respected—with or without its former glory. Nigerians aren’t weaklings by virtue of President Muhammadu Buhari’s clamour for peace; we are venomous cobras that spare nothing when life, rights and freedom are at stake.
The economic war between Nigeria and South Africa
Nigeria and South Africa are economic powerhouses in the western and southern regions of the continent. The 44-country African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) signed in Kigali, Rwanda, provided grounds for African countries to consolidate foreign direct investments. The free trade agreement was the world’s largest in terms of membership, with SA as one of the biggest beneficiaries. Most importantly, AfCFTA represents a continental vision to create a single market that allows free movement of persons and capital and create a single market for trading of goods and services, thus, improving infrastructure development for sustainable economic growth.
Unfortunately, political commitment has been a major challenge to development in Africa. In March 2018, Nigeria and South Africa withdrew from signing the AfCFTA framework agreement for unknown reasons. Whereas SA signed the Kigali Declaration, with intentions to contribute towards enhancing the AfCFTA process previously championed by Nigeria, Buhari’s government totally relinquished its leadership role at the last minute—a decision which raised concern about the level of political support shown by influential African countries. The probable reason is that both countries have different levels of economic development and sources of national income (NI). Buhari’s move was therefore considered a “wise” one in the face of looming economic consequences from trade liberalization and financial globalization.
On the other hand, signing the AfCFTA agreement is a foundational step for the required political commitment that will eventually require deeper levels of connectivity and integration across the African continent. Loss of policy space was identified as one of Nigeria and South Africa’s reason for withdrawal. In his statement on the issue, Buhari said: “Continental aspirations must complement Nigeria’s national interests”, which includes not positioning the country as “a dumping ground for finished goods.” This highlights the economic undertone of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians living in South Africa.
The root cause of xenophobic attacks
It is worth noting that the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in 2015 fined MTN Group a total of $5.2 billion for failing to meet the given deadline issued to all mobile network operators to disconnect improperly registered SIM cards. The exercise started in 2010 and was scheduled to last six months against an increasing rate of terrorism, robbery, kidnapping, internet fraud and other criminal activities. According to section 20(1) of the Telephone Subscribers Regulation (TSR), each unregistered SIM card attracts $1,000 only. Although the total fine was later reduced to $3.2 billion, South Africa has had somewhat misdirected reprisals till date.
These recurring violent attacks in South Africa highlights the level at which the country has lost its sense of dignity after many years of presenting a tolerant image to the world. Nigerians, at the moment, are South Africa’s worst nightmare since the 1994 end of apartheid. In the words of Amnesty International, “The failure of South African authorities to address toxic populist rhetoric that blames and scapegoats refugees and immigrants” has to be nipped from its bud—and the time is now. These hungry bloodhounds in South Africa need their adequate fix, and if they can’t be reached, warnings may as well be sent through SA-owned multinational corporations like Shoprite, DSTV and MTN.
Meanwhile, Geoffrey Onyeama (Minister of Foreign Affairs) has confirmed Nigeria’s demand for accountability, responsibility, and adequate compensation for all Nigerians affected by the recent xenophobic attacks. The Nigerian FG reportedly sent concrete proposals for the South African government to implement in order to avoid future attacks on Nigerians. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on such matters was signed between South Africa and Nigeria in 2018.