Nigerian High Commission takes inventory of attack victims in SA

Tony Ekata, Pretoria

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The Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria, together with the Consulate General in Johannesburg, is taking inventory of the number of victims of the ongoing violence against Nigerians in South Africa, and the extent of their losses, with a view to assisting them.

This was disclosed  in a statement issued by the High Commissioner, Mr Kabiru Bala.

The High Commissioner said xenophobic attacks are unacceptable anywhere in the world and gave the assurance that the upcoming state visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to South Africa would substantially address at Summit level, all existing concerns in the consular relations between Nigeria and South Africa.

The Nigerian Consul-General in South Africa, Ambassador Godwin Adama, also on Tuesday condemned in strong terms the ongoing attacks on foreigners and the attendant destruction and looting of their properties.

The CG told eNCA Television on its morning live programme that the South African police should live up to its responsibility fully:

“They should tackle the situation more decisively, because from what I have heard and what we’ve watched also on the screen, people were allowed to go out looting and getting out of the shops without anyone stopping them in some of the cases; in some other cases, the police were there to handle the situation effectively”

He commended the South African Department of International Relations and Police Minister Bheki Cele, for condemning the attacks on foreigners and called for more diplomatic engagement on the matter.

Revenge

Adama however cautioned against calls for revenge by Nigerians in the country and at home, which he considers not a rational solution to the problem:

“We are not used to revenge as Nigerians, in terms of things like this.  Nigerians love foreigners a lot. It takes a lot of pain for them to be able to attack any foreigner. I’ve seen that; Nigerians would rather protect a foreigner than attack a foreigner. That is how the image of Nigerians within Nigeria has always been, and I don’t encourage any form of revenge because it will not solve the problem,” he declared.

The CG used the opportunity to debunk the allegation that the current crisis was triggered by the shooting of a South African taxi driver by a Nigerian, as reported by several media outfits, including the eNCA.

Call for Calm

In a related development, the Nigerians in South Africa organisation (NISA) has called on Nigerian citizens to remain calm and not take the laws into their hands in the face of the provocative attacks on them and the destruction of their property.

Mr Sam Owolabi made the appeal on behalf of NISA while speaking to Power97 FM, a local radio station.

Owolabi said NISA was in constant engagement with the Nigeria High Commission in Pretoria and the Consulate-General in Johannesburg to chart a course to an enduring solution to the recurrent violence against foreigners.

He pointed out that retaliation would only escalate the crisis and urged the South African authorities to tackle the endemic issues of poverty, alcoholism and drug abuse among the local population, which according to him are some of the triggers of the violence.

While acknowledging that there are bad Nigerians in South Africa just as there are good and bad people all over the world, Owolabi reasoned that unless these problems are addressed there would still be crime and violence in South Africa even if all foreigners were to be expelled from the country.

He said the police should rather arrest and prosecute criminals, no matter their nationality and according to the laws of the land.

A Nigerian caller into the radio programme also expressed the same sentiment and urged the South African authorities to tackle the issues of corruption in the Department of Home Affairs and the police which fuel illegal migration into and illicit businesses in South Africa.

Also, the African Diaspora Forum has charged all African leaders to come together to address the unending tensions and conflicts between locals and foreigners in South Africa.

Complicity

Meanwhile, the Right2Know Campaign, a civil rights advocacy organisation has put the recent attacks on foreigners squarely at the feet of government.

In a statement issued on Monday amid the continued looting and burning of foreign-owned shops in Gauteng, the organisation accused Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and President Cyril Ramaphosa of complicity.

It said the attacks on non-South Africans can be directly linked to calls by politicians to ‘defend the sovereignty of the state’ and confirm a dangerous emerging trend of “xenophobic populism” which leads to attacks on foreign nationals.

We recognise that there are many sources of the violence but it is also clear that statements of outrage and condemnation by state officials at all levels (Cabinet, Parliament, the Gauteng Province, SAPS and Metros) fuelled the actions of ordinary citizens who interpreted those statements to be licence to take the law into their own hands. 

“Senior political leaders find an easy target in the vulnerable Africans seeking to make a new home in South Africa,” the organisation said.

The Right2Know Campaign recalled that a 2015 speech by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini in which he said foreigners must pack their loads and leave South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2019 election campaign pronouncements, the Minister of Health’s comments on the strain placed on health services by foreign migrants, and the attribution of crime in Johannesburg’ to foreigners by Mayor Herman Mashaba had been followed by xenophobic attacks in different localities.

It said denial, which manifests in always ascribing the attacks to crime rather than xenophobia, and community leaders blaming local economic conditions on the presence of migrants, also incite violence against migrants.

Leadership deficit

The leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), Mmusi Maimane, told a media contingent in Pretoria on Tuesday that the apparent leadership deficit in the country was also fueling the crisis.

Maimane, who spoke while inspecting the carnage in the capital city during Monday’s violence, said the people were bound to take the laws into their hands when they had no clear directives from the government. The DA leader concluded that in the present instance, “silence is not golden.”

Marching order

President Cyril Ramaphosa has, after an awkward silence, ordered the Police Minister to engage with the communities in order to get to to the root of the problem. Ramaphosa condemned the violence and summoned a ministers and security cluster meeting to keep an eye on the situation.

This came on the heels of the announcement that Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari had dispatched a special envoy to South Africa to work with the authorities to resolve the matter.

So far, over 90 people have been reportedly arrested in the violence that has claimed an unspecified number of lives.

At least 50 cars belonging to genuine Nigerian businessmen have been reportedly burnt down by protesters in the Gauteng province.

Ime Njoku