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Attacks on Nigerians in South Africa

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Two successive alerts by the Nigerian community in South Africa about the latest xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in that country leave another sour taste in the mouth.This barbaric treatment of Nigerians in what is supposed to be a friendly country is unacceptable and the Nigerian government should not hesitate to make its feelings known in unmistakable terms.

The death toll of Nigerians killed in South Africa has continued to climb with two young Nigerians being the latest victims, bringing the number of those killed in the former apartheid enclave since February, 2016 to 118. About 800,000 Nigerians, mostly young people, reside in South Africa, according to unofficial estimates.

Publicity Secretary of the Nigeria Union in South Africa, Habib Miller confirmed the latest victims as Francis Ochuba, a native of Ngodo community in the Umnneochi Local Government Area of Abia State. He named the other victim as Chidi Ibebuike, a native of Uturu in Isikwuato Local Government Area also of Abia State.

Ochuba, a property owner, was shot dead alongside his estate agent, a female South African on May 5 as they visited the tenant occupying Ochuba’s house to collect rent.Ibebuike was shot dead at the entrance to his house at Hazyview in Mpumalanga on May 13. Ibebuike’s car was subsequently, snatched by yet-to-be identified gunmen.

Miller said the latest killings came on the heels of the murder of ThankGod Okoro, a native of Ogbaku in the Agwu Local Government Area of Enugu State on April 9 and that of Clement Nwaogu, a native of Njikoka in Anambra State on April 22.

He noted that Okoro was reportedly shot dead by a member of the South African Police Flying Squad at Florida in Johannesburg. Nwaogu was burnt alive by a mob in Rustenburg in the North West Province. The spokesman said a violent group in Rustenburg had earlier given Nigerians notice to vacate the area or get killed.

He said since the order was issued, there had been numerous cases of Nigerians being kidnapped with ransom paid to their abductors.The incessant looting and killings in the area prompted some Nigerians to protest the injustice and the lack of police protection. And consequently, the Nigerian protesters were attested and had been detained since January 21 this year in Rustenburg.

This extra-judicial killing of Nigerians in South Africa is, of course, a stark contrast to the general goodwill and protection South Africans and their businesses enjoy in Nigeria.It is a sad paradox that while South African companies transfer billions of dollars in profit made from doing business in Nigeria, Nigerians in South Africa are sending body bags of murdered breadwinners back home to their families.

In the April attack, eyewitnesses said the victim beckoned for help from the police to intervene and help him, but they turned a blind eye. “When Nwaogu could no longer persevere, he ran for safety; but the mob chased and caught him, poured petrol on him and set him ablaze.”

Meanwhile, the most worrisome aspect of the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa is that Nigerians in the southern African country are worried that the Nigerian government hasn’t taken serious diplomatic steps to stop the killings.As this newspaper noted in February last year, the wave of xenophobic attacks by South Africans on fellow Africans appear to be a snake only scorched and not killed.

The Federal Government had then asked the South African government to investigate and punish those involved in the killing and end such vices as extra-judicial killings, immigrants profiling and xenophobic attacks. However, there haven’t been remarkable follow-ups that Nigerian citizens could recall up to this time of resurgence in 2018.

These attacks, ironically, occur in a country, which sets so much store of inclusivity and have a gory history of disgusting discrimination against its native African citizens that Nigeria helped in no small measure to end.What is more worrisome is the fact that much of South Africans’ anti-foreigner sentiment is aimed at black Africans.

Poverty and desperation, of course, are only a part of the cause of this barbaric xenophobic attacks in South Africa.Extensive research by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) has shown that South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, are among the most xenophobic countries in the world and that South Africans hold by far the harshest anti-immigrant sentiments.

Furthermore, these anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments cut across all major socio-economic and demographic categories: young and old, black and white, educated or not. They “display an extraordinary consistency in their antagonism towards foreigners, particularly those from other countries in Africa and especially those deemed to be “illegal immigrants.” Even refugees are viewed negatively.

Most South Africans are too sheltered in their own world, do not even have passports and rarely travel into the rest of the continent. Those who do, mostly whites, go to Europe (which they culturally identify with), Australia and North America. The education system, even after apartheid, has not done much to improve this state of affairs. Former President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki’s African Renaissance programme, indeed, failed largely because it did not connect well with the country’s Black majority.

Having not interacted with other nationals, South Africans’ misinformation and sentiments against foreigners must have come from the public utterances of their political leaders as well as public officials (police, municipal officials) and more importantly from media images, as surveys have shown.

In a research study by SAMP, it was found that South African media coverage of foreigners in a wide range of sources (from television news documentaries, broadsheets to tabloids) are overwhelmingly negative, relying on stereotypes about foreigners as “criminals,” “illegals” and “job stealers.”

In the main, the goodwill once lavished on South Africa by people from across the globe is now being squandered. As once said, with those attacks on foreigners, South Africans are destroying the foundation laid over so many years by those who dreamt that their country would take its place as a leading moral force in the world.

As this newspaper has repeatedly noted, no one certainly, expected a democratic South Africa to turn out like the former apartheid state and what is happening is not a fitting tribute to the memories of the founding fathers and their allies.

Unemployment and economic distress may be the motivators but unnecessary envy also plays a part. Some South Africans are well known to be irked by the competition offered by foreigners as well as the spectacle of Africans who are more successful than they are. Perhaps because of the culture of entitlement, which many South Africans have imbibed, the entrepreneurial spirit and hard work so evident in immigrant communities have become a source of resentment.While the so-called foreigners, including Nigerians, must be admonished to be law-abiding, the anti-Nigerian sentiment must be condemned in the strongest terms.
And an end must be put to such attacks.


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