Emmanuel Onwubiko: Xenophobic violence and law-based response

September 10, 2019

For the umpteenth time throughout last week, thousands of black Africans and other strangers from Asia living in South African townships doing businesses came under highly coordinated premeditated violent attacks from black South Africans who killed, maimed and looted the property and business premises of these unfortunate Africans and strangers in South Africa.

Sadly, these latest rounds of attacks are not the first.

South Africans have unleashed xenophobic attacks on other black Africans living in South African townships for over a dozen times with hundreds of deaths recorded and still several hundreds of persons of black African origin killed and slaughtered by their fellow black Africans whose only reason for doing these atrocious and unlawful acts is their common hatred for strangers of black colour living amongst them and seemingly doing well economically in the midst of pervasive and intolerable mass poverty amongst black South Africans brought upon them by their successive inept and ineffective administrations since the end of White minority rule many years back.

For instance the last President of South Africa Jacob Zuma spent years in office amassing illicit wealth and has come under a string of prosecutions for corruption related allegations whilst in office.

But rather than focus on mounting pressures on their local administrators made up essentially of African National Congress which has the clear majority in the Parliament of South Africa, these black South Africans have diverted their angst against other Blacks living in South African townships.

In the previous cases, not much fuss was made by global leaders which is why the attacks seems to be unending.

These attacks are also motivated by some rhetorical statements by some top South African politicians including the current President Cyril Ramaphosa who was seen on television accusing hundreds of thousands of Black non South Africans of setting up unregistered businesses.

One of the cabinet level ministers in South Africa was also quoted as accusing non South Africans especially Nigerians living in South Africa of engaging in hard drugs.

These kinds of wrong xenophobic statements from South African ministers and the President of South Africa are the elements that fuel the persistent xenophobic violence against Blacks in South Africa who are not indigenous to South Africa. There are some 800,000 Legal residents of Nigerian origin and most of them are married to South African women and are engaged in legitimate businesses in South Africa. Sadly, these constant xenophobic attacks have led to the destruction of lives and property of Nigerians and other black non South Africans living in South African townships.

The United Nations and the African Union have failed to take concrete actions by way of sanctions to get the government of South Africa to carry out its international obligations to stop any forms of genocide or XENOPHOBIC attacks.

At best the African Union only made some weak responses by way of press statements.

The African Union ought to send African Military peace keepers to protect the victims of Xenophobic attacks in South Africa since this has become a pattern amongst black South Africans and it is now as clear as the daylight that the South African government officials are enjoying the attacks since these attacks are clearly transferring aggression of the people of South Africa away from the non performing political elite to the strangers and Africans of non South Africa origin who in most cases struggle to make ends meet and only a little fraction are really into crimes and hard drugs. An expert of Nigerian origin recently wrote a well researched piece whereby he made it clear that Nigerians are not the ones controlling the criminal enterprises in South Africa. I will highlight this study of this Nigerian who schooled and settled in South Africa before concluding this reflection.

The nearest to the remedial measures and actions which have so far emerged as one of the law based responses from corporate bodies and governments of nations whose citizens are under attacks in South African townships is the decision of the Privately owned air liner- Air Peace to airlift Nigerians back to Nigeria.

The magnanimous and phenomenal decision of the leading Nigerian commercial air liner – Air Peace to freely air lift Nigerians from South Africa to escape the violent xenophic attacks has been described as the true manifestation of the Nigerian core value of humanitarianism and mercy in times of need.

There is also the urgent necessity to call for the setting up of an economic restoration trust fund of N10 billion to be managed by credible Nigerian Statesmen/Women by the Nigerian government and prominent multinational companies and wealthy Nigerians so those Nigerians returning from South Africa can be supported with financial assistance to be able to immediately resume their legitimate businesses which have now been destroyed by black south Africans. The Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives Demi Gbajabiamila who convoked emergency plenary session of the house also spoke along this line.

The donation of free air tickets and planes to fly in Nigerians by Air Peace is also a vote of confidence on President Muhammadu Buhari.

It is not out of place to describe Air Peace as an excellent corporate citizen/Ambassador of Nigeria and one of those companies that have identified positively with the president Muhammadu Buhari’s interventions to save the lives of Nigerians endangered by the widening spectre of violent xenophobia in south Africa.

The free air lift of Nigerians from south Africa by Air Peace is the most practical steps of advancing the Right to life of the Nigerian citizens enshrined in section 33(1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended).

The writer is hereby asking president Muhammadu Buhari to confer a national honour to Air Peace on behalf of all Nigerians to encourage the company to continue to implement pro-poor corporate social responsibility and to motivate other Nigerian and multinational firms doing legitimate businesses in the country to place the highest value to the respect of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.

The fact remains that generations yet unborn will remember this good gesture of Air Peace with nostalgia and will similarly remember that the Country was under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari when a commercial air liner called Air Peace came forward to offer free air lift of Nigerians who are subjected to bloody violence by their hosts in South African townships.

As one concerned about the well being of Nigerians and as a stakeholder in the project Nigeria i will say that the entire organized civil rights community received the news that Air Peace has volunteered to send planes to freely air lift Nigerians to escape the bloody attacks in South Africa with overwhelming excitement.

This show of solidarity with president Buhari and the Nigerian people by the Air Peace commercial company is a demonstration of the rare quality of hospitality and excellent corporate social responsibility.” Also, the Nigerian government seems happy about the gesture.

The Nigerian government had advised its citizens to “inform their relatives in South Africa to take advantage” of a free return trip to Nigeria.

Recalled that this is because Air Peace, a Nigerian airline, volunteered to send an aircraft to South Africa to bring back Nigerians willing to return.

This gesture of Air Peace was announced by Ferdinand Nwonye, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement on Thursday.

It is indeed a notorious fact that many Nigerians in South Africa have suffered from the latest xenophobic attacks with many businesses destroyed and looted. Although at least five people have been killed in the attacks targeting foreigners of African descent, the Nigerian government has said no Nigerians were killed.

Another interesting dimension in the whole issue of a clear law based response to the renewed Xenophobic violence can be contextualized under the insistence by the minister of foreign affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, who said on Wednesday last week that Nigeria would not ‘cave in’ on its two demands from South Africa, which are compensation for Nigerians whose properties were destroyed and provision of adequate security for Nigerians in South Africa.

We commend the government for using the instrumentality of The foreign affairs ministry’s statement on Wednesday to suggest that the government was encouraging Nigerians in South Africa to return.

The statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that informed the general public that following the recent unfortunate xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, including Nigerians in South Africa, the Proprietor of Air Peace Airlines Chief Allen Onyema, has volunteered to send an aircraft from Friday 6th September 2019 to evacuate Nigerians who wish to return to Nigeria free of charge remains a phenomenal show of solidarity and the greatest manifestation of the African cultural value system of hospitality and respect for the sanctity of life. The air lift was moved to this week because majority of those to be brought back have invalid travelling papers which are being updated.

It is appropriate to reecall that the general public was clearly advised to inform their relatives in South Africa to take advantage of this laudable gesture of Air Peace and return to Nigeria.

May I used this medium to join the government to say that Interested Nigerians are therefore advised to liaise with the High Commission of Nigeria in Pretoria and the Consulate General of Nigeria in Johannesburg for further necessary arrangement.”

As aforementioned the recent xenophobic attacks targeting Nigerians and other nationals in Johannesburg, Pretoria and other cities have left at least five people dead and businesses and private properties burnt.

Several others have been injured. The South African President claimed that 10 deaths have so far been recorded and as at the Weekend the attackers were going around the townships killing and destroying business premises of foreigners in South Africa and the South African police and government have not succeeded in stopping these attacks.

It is therefore shocking and disappointing that the South African authorities say they are responding promptly to curb the violence. More than 70 persons have been reportedly taken into custody since Monday.

Nigerians have expressed outrage about the attacks, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to take decisive measures against South Africa.

The Nigerian president announced on Tuesday last week that he was sending a special envoy for an on-the-ground assessment of the situation.

The Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was also scheduled to attend the World Economic Summit in Cape Town, has now boycotted the event. He rather jetted off to Ghana to attend another event. The attacks in South Africa boiled over in Nigeria and other African countries whereby South African owned businesses were also attacked in retaliation.

On his part, President Buhari appealed to Nigerians looting shops, others to stop.

He spoke through Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama:

Mr. President he said is particularly distraught at the act of vandalism that has taken place here in Nigeria, in retaliation of what is happening in South Africa.

“The government believes that we have to take the moral high ground on this matter. We are victims here and have made that position clear to the international community and to the South African government. We in Nigeria must not fall into the temptation of also resorting to the acts that we are condemning in others.”

“So, Mr. President has pleaded and he is likely to make a statement on this, addressing the Nigerian people to please desist from acts of vandalism and aggression, destroying properties.

Now, these businesses- Shoprite, MTN and others, yes there are South African but these are subsidiaries in Nigeria owned by Nigerians. So, as attacks are made against shoprite and other such institutions, it is actually the property owned by Nigerians within Nigeria and the people working there are Nigerians.”

The foreign minister said too that “So the people that will suffer from those acts of vandalism and aggression are not South Africans or anyone else but Nigerians. But morally, it is wrong not even because of who will suffer and not suffer.

Mr. President is appealing to Nigerians, the government is acting, we cannot state everything out in public domain with regards to what we are doing obviously, but we want to assure all Nigerians that this government is determined that the redline has been drawn and we will not give in on this occasion and that the South African government has to assumed its responsibilities and do the right thing. Protect Nigerians and other Africans I might say, in South Africa and we have to hold them to count.”

“Full compensation has to be paid because as we have discovered from previous experience, a lot of these Nigerians loss their property and it is a long drawn out process and very often are not compensated for it. But on this occasion, the Nigerian government is going to fight for full compensation and hold the government of South Africa to count. And we are going to consider other options to ensure that the message gets across to the government of South Africa.

It is not a question of weakness or anything of the sort but we have to move decisively and that is precisely what the government is going to do. We have all the options on the table and on the return of the special envoy, we will all sit down and look at all the options and assess the report.”

“And there is no measure that we consider to be appropriate that we will shrink from taking. We will take whatever and all measures necessary to ensure that never again are we going back to this whole issue of Nigerians being attacked and properties destroyed and in some cases killed in South Africa.”

He said too that “It is an ongoing story, we will keep you informed but the important message is that Mr. President is fully engaged in this process, he is being briefed on an hourly basis and we are not going to shrink from taking all the necessary steps to make it the last time this kind of thing will happen.”

But I sincerely think that these responses by Nigerian government are few and far between and not strategically coordinated.

Nigeria ought to show that it means what it has said and not present a graphic impression of a government that lacks coordination and coherence.

Why will this government give out an information that it will recall the Country’s Ambassador in South Africa only to footdrag and then stampede itself into a public denial? It would seem that the present administration is weak, indecisive and lacks patriotism.

People are even beginning to read Ethno religious meanings into these clearly uncoordinated responses of President Muhammadu Buhari to the xenophobic attacks against Nigerians with some persons saying that Buhari could have acted swiftly if the victims of the xenophobic attacks are from his Northern region and are MOSLEMS.

Those saying this may have a valid point because this President was proactive in getting the Kano born youngster sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for drugs to be set free through a well coordinated internal propaganda which in a way convinced the Saudi government that the girl sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for trafficking in hard drug was innocent. Why then is President Muhammadu Buhari prevaricating on what strong diplomatic steps to adopt to stave off the XENOPHOBIC violence against Nigerians and other non South African blacks living in South African townships? Is Nigeria not a big player in the African Union anymore? Is Nigeria not a big player in the United Nations anymore even when the Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed from Gombe state a Fulani served the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration as Environment minister before the current Secretary General of the United Nations Mr Gutteress made her his adviser.

Speaking about Nigeria, Drug Cartels And Xenophobia In South Africa a graduate of the University of the Witwaterstrand now University of Jounesbourg faulted the South African ministers for linking Nigerians with drugs and then XENOPHOBIC attacks.

Ifeanyi Amadi was reported as stating that he has a lot of problem with the authenticity and accuracy of these stories. “I’m a graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand, now University of Johannesburg, I am married to a South African, I worked for the African union from inception until 2009, when I decided to relocate, so, from 1996-2009, that would be 13 years of living in South Africa, by virtue of having studied and worked in South Africa and speak Zulu fluently. Also, due to the nature of the work, it afforded me the opportunity to travel extensively within South Africa and Africa generally. So I can conveniently and confidently say that, I know South Africa and its people, very well.”

“Now, the issues raised in this write up concerning drugs is untrue, yes, some Nigerians are involved in drugs, but they didn’t start it nor are they even in the majority, neither are they the kingpins of drugs, but the thing is Nigerians in South Africa are like the children of the Third Reich, damned for what they are and damned for what they’re not.”

“Encapsulating the drug business in South Africa and prostitution, it would be wise to recognise that drug business was going on before the earliest Nigerians settled in SA, in Cape town, gang wars started in Cape flats amongst the colored people long before Nigerians got there, in Durban, there was drug trade by Indians from Pine town to the Promenade long before Nigerians saw the Indian Ocean in Kwazulu Natal,( note Durban is not a capital city like JHB. Pietermaritzburg is the capital city)”

He wrote too that: “Now, in JHB, drug business by Nigerians are heavily situated in places like, Hillbrow, Berea, Yeovil, Orange grove, Ellis park, Rossettenville. These are areas heavily populated by foreigners of diverse origin.”

“Let me also shine some light on Prostitution before I conclude. Prostitution is a right of passage of 90% of South Africans, white, black, Indian, colored, the remaining 10% are Khoisan. An average South African girl of 15 years already has a child before the family will now aid her to move from the locations to JHB, Durban, Port Elisabeth, East London, Cape town or Tswane, which is by the way, the real name of Pretoria.”

According to him: “Native South Africans are extremely poor and as as a result crime and prostitution thrive in the Locations ( informal settlements) like Soweto, Alexandra, Tembisa, Lenasia and Eldorado park in Gauteng province, with JHB as capital city. Lamontville, port Shepstone, Umlazi, Umtata, Bluff, and other locations spread out in the Zululand, feed the crime and whore needs of Durban KZN. While in the Cape town is fed by, Gugulethu, Kylitsha, cape flats and neighbouring East London and Port Elizabeth.”

“The other provinces, like Bloemfontein, Limpopo and basically all of the former Northern Transvaal, Boputhatswana, flock to JHB, supported by migrating prostitutes from Namibian, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and a smattering handful from Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and Angola, not forgetting assassins from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. These completes the Violent crimes and Prostitution ring in South Africa.

Looking at drugs holistically, Nigerians, Tanzanians, Indians, Pakistanis’ Italians and the Boer South Africans are indictable here, but in different categories.”

So, in conclusion he submitted that, Nigerians are not as was described in that write up, but they have simply constituted themselves into a “nuisance” in South Africa by their show-off. If they were the biggest drug dealers in South Africa, they would all be in prison by now. The biggest barons are big South Africans and are known to the government, that’s why they are untouchables. Don’t regard all their blame-shifting

“There are lots of Nigerian professionals living and working in South Africa, even the face of Vodacom the largest telecom service provider is a Nigerian. Many small and medium scale businesses in South Africa are established and run by Nigerians. They create several jobs for South Africans.

There are so many Nigerian Doctors, lecturers, business men , Engineers holding places in the economy of South Africa “.

Nigeria must make hay whilst the sun shines.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko was a Federal Commissioner of the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria and now heads Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

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