Xenophobic attacks: More Bark than Bite

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Goddy Ikeh
Goddy Ikeh

By Goddy Ikeh

THE recent diplomatic move by South African president to quickly apologise for the xenophobic attacks on fellow Africans and douse the tension created by such madness appears to be yielding positive results in Nigeria. But what is not certain yet is if there is the political will on the part of South Africa to put a stop to this heinous crimes against fellow Africans.

Except for the news of the return of the second batch of 319 Nigerian returnees from South Africa and the tales of woes by the lucky returnees, the news of the xenophobic attacks and the barking by some African countries, whose nationals were the victims of the attacks that had always grabbed the headlines, have since disappeared. And as it usual with us, the victims have been left to grieve and sort themselves out.

Undoubtedly, in the wake of the attacks, the Nigerian press was inundated with numerous outbursts from Nigerian officials, artists and politicians and philanthropists, who were quick to condemn the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other foreigners in South Africa.

For instance, Nigeria’s minister of foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said on Monday, Sept. 2: “Enough is enough. We will take definitive measures.”

Onyeama also announced some interim measures taken by the Nigerian government to include the boycott of the just ended World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa and the dispatch of a special envoy from President Muhammadu Buhari to meet with his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa on the issue.

Aside from the condemnation of the attacks by many prominent Nigerians and institutions, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Adams Oshiohmole, who called on the government to nationalize South African companies in Nigeria, some foreign groups as well as Nigerian and African artistes have also condemned the attacks.

Reacting to the attacks, the lawmakers of the House of Peoples Representatives, gave a stern statement on xenophobic violence in South Africa. The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila and his team of lawmakers stressed the importance of protecting all citizens wherever they find themselves as much as Nigeria welcomes and respects the rights of others within its jurisdiction.

Among the major issues that he raised were that the federal government should continue its efforts to secure the interest of citizens and that the South African government should fully probe the recent xenophobic incident. They also said that Nigerians should desist from all acts of reprisals as it affects fellow citizens most and that efforts should be made to seek justice for persons affected and push for reparations, while the federal government should work towards tackling the country’s internal security issues.

For the Ghanaian government, its Foreign Affairs Ministry said that five Ghanaians were arrested in Pretoria, following an operation by the South African security agencies, while three Ghanaians were also injured in the xenophobic attacks of earlier this week, a statement said.

“Our Mission in Pretoria has reported that three Ghanaians have been injured in the xenophobic unrest. The Mission is ensuring that the injured Ghanaians receive the necessary medical attention,” the ministry said.

And as South African officials were contemplating reasons for the attacks. the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference came out with its position on the attacks and condemned the upsurge in violence against foreign nationals in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Malvern, Turffontein and Krugersdorp.

“Once again we receive reports of the authorities doing very little to protect the victims. We received report of police standing by idly in Pretoria while shops were looted and people attacked. Not a single arrest was made on that day.

“Once again the authorities resort to the old explanation: that this is not xenophobia, but the work of criminal elements,” the bishops said in a statement.

“Let us be absolutely clear – this is not an attempt by concerned South Africans to rid our cities of drug dealers. And this is not the work of a few criminal elements. It is xenophobia, plain and simple,” the bishops said.

Some African diplomats believe that the South African government is not doing enough to quell the xenophobic attacks, while the comments by some South African officials are fueling the attacks.

“It is precisely this kind of outrageous stigmatization of a people from senior government officials that fuel xenophobia and embolden criminals,” this is a Twitter reaction by Nigeria’s Foreign Minister to a pronouncement by his South African counterpart.

For instance, one official was quoted as saying that drug peddlers and human traffickers needed to be kept out of their country and that the Nigerian government should help the government of South Africa to address the belief and the reality that South Africans have that there are many persons from Nigeria, who are dealing in drugs in South Africa, who are harming their young people by making drugs easily available to them.

However, South Africa is now paying huge material and diplomatic costs in tackling and dismantling xenophobia which has been with them for decades.

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, condemned in the strongest terms, the incidents of violence against nationals of fellow African countries in South Africa, including the looting and destruction of their property. This condemnation was followed by the Peace and Security Council, PSC, of the African Union, AU, had an unscheduled meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss the attacks. It was gathered that during the debate on the attacks that the South African ambassador Ndumiso Ntshinga condemned the xenophobic violence, saying that “no matter what the grievances, such actions cannot be justified; no matter the frustrations, the loss of even a single life cannot be condoned”.

Ntshinga also assured the PSC that the Douth African government was taking all necessary steps to address the problem and to deal with the influx of refugees and economic migrants to South Africa in an organised manner and solicited the support of fellow African countries for it to succeed. This recent madnes is capable of scuttling South Africa’s chances of assuming its position of chairing the African Union in 2020. And South Africa also currently serving as a non-permanent member on the United Nations Security Council, mandated by the AU Assembly.

In the field of sports, Zambia and Madagascar boycotted the friendly matches early planned as warm up matches for Bafana Bafana and the camping for the team had to be disbanded since the football association failed to secure a friendly match for the team.

In addition, the South African Consulate, businesses were attacked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Air Tanzania suspended flights to South Africa, while some South African companies and business in Nigeria and Zambia were attacked.

The Nigeria musician Burna Boy, who condemned the attacks, said that he would not be visiting South Africa ever again, while another Nigerian musician, Tiwa Savage, posted on her Twitter that she had suspended an upcoming engagement in Johannesburg in the light of recent developments.

“I refuse to watch the barbaric butchering of my people in SA. This is SICK. For this reason I will NOT be performing at the upcoming DSTV delicious Festival in Johannesburg on the 21st of September. My prayers are with all the victims and families affected by this,” she said in a tweet.

And a number of African leaders, who were billed to attend the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, pulled out barely hours to the opening of the proceedings. Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peter Mutharika of Malawi were listed among those that opted out.

In the midst of these xenophobic attacks, the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, condemned the attacks and dispatched a team of special envoys to Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia to brief the governments on a the steps being taken by his government to bring a stop to the attacks and hold the perpetrators to account.

Perhaps, this move paid off as the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari assured the special envoy, Jeff Radebe, that the relationship between the two countries “will be solidified”.

Although President Buhari described the attacks on Nigerians and other victims as “very unfortunate”, extended appreciation to Ramaphosa “for coming to explain to us what happened in South Africa recently, leading to killing and displacement of foreigners”.

Receiving South Africa’s Special Envoy, went down memory lane, recalling the roles played by Nigeria in engendering majority rule in South Africa and ending the apartheid segregationist policy.

Earlier, Radebe apologised on behalf of his President for what he called “acts of criminality and violence” that recently occurred in his country.

“Such do not represent our value system or those of the larger number of South Africans,” he stated.

The special envoy stressed that South Africa was an integral part of Africa and fully committed to peace and integration of the continent.

On the death toll as a result of the attacks in South Africa, he informed the President that there was no Nigerian casualty.

According to Radebe, 10 people died during the attacks – two Zimbabweans and eight South Africans.

He added that South Africa remains eternally grateful for the role Nigeria played in ending apartheid.

The envoy was also hopeful that the scheduled visit of President Buhari to South Africa would solidify the relationship between the two countries once again.

In line with solidifying the relationship, Nigeria is expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with South Africa to end xenophobia.

The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mustapha Suleiman, who disclosed this in Abuja recently, said that Nigeria and South Africa would set up a bi-national commission to ensure the safety of Nigerians and protect their property in South Africa.

Suleiman told the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs that both countries would also sign a memorandum of understanding that would among others, put an end to xenophobic attacks on Nigerians.

He said the establishment of the bi-national commission and the signing of the MoU, would coincide with the visit of Buhari to the South African country in October.

From all indications, the apology for the xenophobic attacks by the South African president has been able to douse tensions in Nigeria, while the Nigerian government has promised to establish a joint commission with South Africa, which will among other functions, tackle xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in that country.

– Sept. 23, 2019 @ 10:05 GMT |

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