Today, on Nigeria’s Independence Day, the Nigerian Community Western Cape (NCWC) held a press conference to interrogate some of the factors that led to the latest xenophobic attacks in parts of the country – which seemed to particularly target Nigerian nationals – in an attempt to challenge the negative perceptions of Nigerians and highlight the many legitimate contributions of Nigerians in SA.
According to Acting President of NCWC Mr. Cosmos Echie, “Our two nations – which together, contribute a significant portion of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – are too important to the continent, to ignore the impact the violence is having on inter-country relations. Nigeria and South Africa has a strong economic and political relationship, but for some reason this does not reflect in the lives and activities of the wider community of Nigerian professionals and entrepreneurs living here.”
The press conference was also an opportunity to share the NCWC’s optimism for the upcoming South Africa/Nigeria Bi-National Commission (BNC) and hopes that it will indeed help strengthen bilateral relations. The BNC takes place on Thursday 3 October in Pretoria and preparations between the two countries are well-underway. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is also scheduled to be in the country to participate in the BNC.
Echie says, “While we acknowledge that there are some Nigerian nationals who may be involved in illegal activity, many more of us are not. We need South Africans to recognise what we are putting into this country, which we also call home. If we do not address the underlying reasons of the Afrophobia, the relationship between our two countries will always be at risk. We need to change the narrative, because the stereotyping of all Nigerian people as bad people, drug dealers and criminals is having far-reaching impacts.”
According to Echie, the latest spate of xenophobic violence that erupted in August 2019, was largely the result of a rumour which claimed that a South African taxi driver was killed by a Nigerian drug dealer. This was later confirmed to be false. But, it was too late for the many Nigerian-owned businesses in Pretoria and Johannesburg that were the most affected in these attacks.
“In the heat of the crises, we also found that some very respectable statesmen and women, made statements that supported the dominant narrative which demonises all Nigerians. This was irresponsible and must be avoided in future. We need the country’s leaders, at all levels of government, to consider the negative impact their inflammatory public statements has on the overall morale of the country.”
The NCWC acknowledges that South Africa has its own challenges and its primary responsibility should be to its millions of citizens, especially those who are still struggling with poverty, a lack of access to jobs and basic services.
“We understand the frustration and concern amongst our black South African brothers and sisters. It is clear that the greatest proportion of resources and means of production of this country have neither been fairly nor judiciously distributed, to truly address the legacies of apartheid. This inability to spread the country’s wealth and resources, to more-fully include the formerly oppressed people of SA, is having a ripple-effect. Africans, living here legally and according to the law, have become the scapegoats.”
“While we are optimistic about the BNC, we are concerned that the many bilateral trade agreements that already exist between the two countries, have done little to uplift small businesses or recognise the activities of Nigerian professionals. Furthermore, despite these numerous agreements, it appears very little is done to promote social cohesion and harmony. These last attacks almost had an irreparable effect on the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa.”
The NCWC strongly believes that a more comprehensive approach is needed. The group suggests involving South Africa’s government departments like Department of Arts and Culture, in addressing the Afrophobia/xenophobic violence in South Africa. “There needs to be more programmes and projects that will actively bring our community closer to the indigenous peoples of South Africa. Through the expression of culture and art, we will be better able to understand each other.”
The NCWC calls on other SA government departments – such as Home Affairs, Small & Medium Scale Enterprises and Economic Development – to also urgently consider the economic and employment contributions made by small- and medium-scale businesses that are owned and run by African migrants.