Xenophobia, protest mar South Africa’s investment showcase

September 5, 2019
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  • Migrants living in fear

The lead-up to the gathering of political and business leaders in Cape Town  for the World Economic Forum was marred by a series of violence and protest, with scores of foreign-owned businesses burnt and looted, and mass protests against femicide.

The World Economic Forum on Africa was supposed to be President Cyril Ramaphosa’s chance to prove South Africa’s claim to being the continent’s top investment destination.

On Thursday, about 10,000 protesters gathered outside parliament in the city to demand the government do more to tackle the murder of women — one woman is killed in South Africa every three hours, police statistics show.

Ramaphosa canceled an appearance at WEF to address them, and he pledged to announce an action plan in a nationwide address later in the day.

The country has been plagued by intermittent attacks on foreigners, who are seen by some in poor communities as competitors for jobs, housing and business opportunities.

At least seven people have been killed in the latest wave of attacks that destroyed more than 50 shops and business premises mainly owned by Africans from countries such as Nigeria and Somalia.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time for Ramaphosa, who’s been on a drive to attract $100 billion of new investment, revive the economy and tackle a 29% unemployment rate.

The violence drew outrage from other African governments. Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama summoned South African High Commissioner Bobboy Moroe over the attacks.

On Thursday, Jim Ovia, the chairman of Nigeria’s biggest lender and a co-chair of WEF on Africa, pulled out of the conference after facing criticism on social media for attending the event in the wake of the violence.

Ovia withdrew “following the hypersensitivity of the issues surrounding the lives and well-being of Nigerian citizens living in South Africa and to contribute his voice against the poor state of security regarding foreign nationals living in Africa,” according to a statement on the LinkedIn page of Ovia’s foundation confirmed by his spokesman.

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