Nigerians Helped SA Liberation. ‘Now We’re Expendable.’ Are South Africans Naijaphobic?

Nigerians Helped SA Liberation. ‘Now We’re Expendable.’ Are South Africans Naijaphobic?

In April 2016, Somalis, Mozambicans, Zimbabweans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were the target of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Last week it was Nigerians’ turn.

Protesters accused Nigerians of dealing in drugs and prostitution. At least 20 shops belonging to immigrants were looted in Pretoria.

In retaliation, Nigerian protesters on Thursday attacked and vandalized the head office of South African mobile phone giant MTN in Abuja, Times Live reported.

Anti-immigrant violence flares sporadically in South Africa, fueled by persistent 26 percent unemployment and a belief that African foreigners, some of them illegal immigrants, are taking jobs from locals.

From Daily Trust. Story by Wole Olaoye.


It is important to refresh our minds with the facts of the South African reality. Research findings released in 2015 showed that 82 percent of the working population aged between 15 and 64 were “non-migrants”; 14 percent were “domestic migrants” who had moved between provinces in the past five years and just 4 percent could be classed as “international migrants”.

With an official working population of 33,017,579 people, this means that around 1.2 million of them were international migrants. A racial breakdown of the statistics reveals that 79 percent of international migrants were African; 17 percent were white and around three percent were Indian or Asian.

A good many of the foreigners were employers of labor or self-employed.

But many South Africans hold on to the false belief that foreigners are taking their jobs. They call foreigners makwerekwere, that is, scavengers.

In a classic display of misplaced aggression, they lash out at foreigners, singling out Nigerians in the latest edition of what is beginning to look like their annual festival of gore.

The allegation that Nigerians were taking up jobs that could otherwise have gone to black South Africans is false. Rather, many Nigerians employ the local people in the small businesses they set up. Also, the claim that Nigerians were destroying the moral fabric of the South African society through drug peddling and prostitution is not entirely true. Yes, some Nigerians may be in the drug and prostitution business but their number is negligible. They are however irreverently loud and showy – which could trigger envy.

Most of the Nigerians in South Africa are carrying out legitimate businesses as academics, professionals, artisans and providers of several other services required in their environment. The blanket categorization of every Nigerian doing business in South Africa as an operative in the drug and prostitution ring is the unkindest cut that rainbow country can do to its biggest backer in the dark lonely days of apartheid. Several decades ago when we were categorised as a frontline state in the liberation struggles of Southern Africa, we were called brothers. Now, we are expendable strangers.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a panegyric about the saintliness of Nigerians. I have indeed seen some of my countrymen and women abroad in circumstances that would shame their families back home, but on balance the good that Nigerians do worldwide is greater than their evil.

The retaliatory attack on a South African company in Abuja is not the answer to the problem. It will hurt Nigeria more than it will hurt South Africa. You don’t use hate to fight hate. In the same vein, South Africans have to grow up and realize that they are poorer without foreigners than when they receive others with open arms.

To the Nigerian government, it is about time we initiated a program to monitor Nigerians abroad through the embassies with a view to helping in the peaceful repatriation of those of them not legally resident or who are constituting themselves into a nuisance in their host countries. Let’s do our own bit to win back respect for ourselves.

To our South African brothers and sisters, I commend the words of a Zambian, Mighti Jamie, who was so horrified by your thirst for foreigners’ blood last year that he wrote:

“You bring down statues of hate and yet you build the biggest statue of all. To kill the very people who helped liberate you. You have made this soil a monument of hatred for your brother. We trained Mandela, we funded and armed Umkhonto we Sizwe. Chief Albert Luthuli was born in what is now Zimbabwe. The Greek lives safely in this country. The Asian lives safely in this country. The American lives safely in this country. The English, the Dutch, the Jewish, the Indian lives safely in this country. Yet the brother who shares your story, the very sisters who share your bloodline – this is who you burn on the streets, axe and slaughter…”

Read more at Daily Trust.