There’s a growing chorus of calls to boycott South African products and services, and some groups around Africa are seeking something more — eye-for-an-eye retaliation. Others are being slower to judge.
Consumer activists asked Malawians to wear black and boycott South African products and services today in solidarity with those affected by xenophobic attacks which claimed seven lives in the last three weeks.
“We are urging all citizens to boycott all South African-owned outlets such as Game Stores, Shoprite, Spur, Steers and PEP Stores, among others, on this day,” an official with Consumer Association of Malawi said, according to a StarAfrica report.
Lobby groups in Zimbabwe and Nigeria have called for action against South African businesses operating in their countries, and Zimbabwe’s largest student body called for attacks on South African businesses operating in Zimbabwe, according to Mail&Guardian.
Members of Parliament in Nigeria debated using existing legislation to put pressure on South African businesses and some local lobby groups threatened to attack South African businesses, according to BBC.
The smallest political party in Botswana, the Botswana Congress Party said it disagrees with the idea of boycotting South African shops in retaliation for xenophobic attacks, StarAfrica reports. Communications and Publicity Secretary Taolo Lucas said the move would be bad for South Africa’s economy.
“I do not think it would serve any good purpose to boycott South African stores in reaction to the unrest there,” Lucas said. “I think it would actually make things worse. I commend the government for deploying the army to calm the situation.”
Here’s a few examples of the footprints some South African companies have in the rest of Africa, according to Mail&Guardian. It’s just a small sampling of what’s at stake:
In 2014, Standard Bank’s operations in the rest of Africa contributed 28 percent of earnings. Barclays Africa contributed 19 percent of group revenue.
Shoprite’s non-South African operations contributed 14 percent to overall revenue in 2013.
MTN is the largest cellular service provider in Nigeria and, in 2014, it contributed 37 percent to MTN’s 146-billion-rand revenue. By comparison, South Africa contributed 27 percent, Mail&Guardian reports.
In Nigeria, the retaliatory focus has been on MTN, according to a report in Globe&Mail. Demonstrators marched to MTN offices in several Nigerian cities and delivered petitions protesting the South African violence. Others threatened to attack MTN’s outlets in revenge. MTN responded by warning that 6,000 Nigerians could lose their jobs if MTN has to leave the country.
A group called the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project in Nigeria called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini for hate speech. The group blamed Zwelithini’s public comments for the recent xenophobic killing, violence and discrimination against Nigerians and other African citizens, BusinessInsider reports.
Several South African businesses, including the Liberty Insurance and Standard Bank, placed full-page ads in local media condemning the attacks and showing solidarity with Africans.
South African energy company Sasol suspended some operations in Mozambique and evacuated 340 South Africans fearing for their safety. Mozambican protesters blocked a highway near the South African border and threw stones at South African cars and trucks, forcing the border to close temporarily.
South Africa’s policies on refugees and asylum seekers are the most liberal in Africa and more liberal than many developed economies, Globe&Mail reports.
“South Africa’s Constitution allows protections that many First World countries don’t have,” said Naseema Fakir, regional director of the Johannesburg office of the Legal Resources Centre, in a Globe&Mail interview.
But South Africa’s liberal approach is changing. Its Department of Home affairs is reviewing the immigration system. Its visa and migration policy has been tightened.
For economic immigrants in South Africa, there are compelling reasons to stay despite the hardships.
Economics are a stronger force than the threat to life, Elinor Sisulu, a human rights activist and writer, told Globe&Mail. A failed economy like Zimbabwe’s, she said, “combined with repressive human rights regime really is forcing people to migrate and, as long as that persists, it will push people out. Migrancy is normal, but tensions arise when there is an influx.”
Xenophobia is common worldwide, but in South Africa it’s especially virulent, said Rich Mkhondo, in an EyewitnessNews opinion piece.
Mkhondo runs the Media and Writers Firm, a content development and reputation management hub.
It’s impossible to underestimate how much the rest of Africa is turning against South Africa, Mkhondo said. He blames what he describes as South Africans’ “overbearing sense of entitlement, arrogance and whingeing and imperialist tendencies.”
He said xenophobia is hurting South Africa — the brand. “We cannot divorce the business and image of the brand from the look of the brand. At the moment we look like a nation of savages with thugs running amok with machetes hacking fellow Africans.”
Meanwhile, thousands of African migrants are fleeing South Africa and going back to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Foreigners are blamed for taking jobs from locals at a time of high unemployment, Globe&Mail reports. South Africa deployed its military to try to stop looting of foreign-owned shops.
South Africa is sending cabinet ministers to several African countries and temporarily closed the Lagos consulate because of the protests. And it is reminding its citizens that South Africa depends heavily on its trade with other African countries, including its oil and gas imports from Angola, Mozambique and Nigeria.