The world watched in horror at the violence in South Africa, targeted at foreigners in several cities. Gangs of weapons-wielding youth descended on hapless foreigners, killing, maiming and destroying their property. Shops and restaurants were looted, and in most cases, these went on with law enforcement agents seeming to derive some pleasure from watching.
Many trace the violence to a statement credited to the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, who called on foreigners, who he blamed for the high crime rates and unemployment among South Africans, to leave.
Nigerians were a sizeable proportion of the attacked foreigners. No death was reported, but they suffered great losses – their businesses were targets. Many were injured. These attacks have been regular since 2008, the only difference each time is the increasing intensity.
They are unofficial, but the official South African attitude to Nigerians is not much different. The repatriation of 124 Nigerians in March 2012 over alleged forged immunisation cards is one. There were sufficient grounds to believe that the Nigerians suffered that fate because they travelled on a Nigerian carrier. Only months ago, South Africa botched an arms deal with Nigeria and made headlines out of it.
Nigerians are angry about the vehemence and barbarity with which South Africans attack fellow Africans even when it is obvious that there is live television coverage of the attacks. If anything, the unwillingness of the police to act, assures the attackers that they would be immune from punishment. We recall Nigerian contributions, officially, and individually to the liberation of South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Angola. The contributions were diplomatic, financial and extended to scholarships and training for their students.
Since the collapse of apartheid, South Africa businesses have flourished in Nigeria, exploiting Nigerians, paying minimal wages, and repatriating hefty profits annually. Nigerians know these, including humiliation they face when they apply for South African visas while nationals of countries that supported apartheid require no visa to enter South Africa.
Why are South Africans so hostile to Nigerians? We think it is in the interest of both countries to find out. The excuses about unemployment and crimes are speculations, especially when the menial jobs other Africans do would not appeal to South Africans and crime statistics do not support the crime claim.
No reason justifies the attacks. We commend the patience of Nigerians who protested, instead of attacking South African interests in Nigeria.
The Nigerian protesters warned both governments that time is running out for them to address the causes of the attacks. Our government should ensure South Africa pays adequate compensations for the losses. We would no longer sacrifice Nigerians for diplomacy. Let these attacks be the last.