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Xenophobic Attacks Threaten Relations Between South Africa and Nigeria

As Nigerians face recurrent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, Nigeria has urged the southern African country to end the cycle of violence and xenophobia

Rabat – Nigeria and South Africa may be on the verge of a diplomatic row as Nigerians appeared to be the primary targets of recent waves of anti-immigrant sentiment in Pretoria and Johannesburg, the two biggest cities in South Africa.

According to reports, mobs attacked foreign-owned shops and other businesses starting in the late hours of September 1. The violence exacerbated by September 2, with more people joining mobs to vandalize foreign-owned businesses, AFP reported.

The recent waves of violence and shop looting come in the wake of reported killings of foreigners, mostly Nigerians, in popular neighborhoods in Johannesburg.

The most recent such incident, reported by the BBC in late August, is the death of a Nigerian woman who was allegedly strangled in her hotel room, Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani recently wrote in the BBC’s Letter from Africa series.

Nwaubani referred to the events as “animosity between Africa’s two superpowers.” While South Africans think that migrants, especially Nigerians, are “arrogant and don’t know how to talk to people,” she writes, “Nigerians believe that South Africans are simply jealous of us. Of our self confidence, and our ability to thrive and outshine.”

Under pressure from Nigerians, who have demanded en masse on social media that the “killings stop,” the Nigerian government has requested that Pretoria take “urgent measures” to end what Nigerian news outlets have portrayed as chilling scenes of xenophobia and negrophobia.

On Tuesday, September 3, Nigeria’s President Buhari sent an envoy to South Africa to deliver a message about “Nigeria’s displeasure over the treatment of her people.” Other high-level meetings are expected in the coming days between officials from the two countries.

Meanwhile, in response to the scenes of violence in Johannesburg, some Nigerians have taken to the streets to loot South African-owned businesses in the West African country. According to reports, offices of MTN, South Africa’s telecoms giant, bore the bulk of violent protests in Nigeria.

The strong sentiments felt by Nigerians in the wake of these events were especially evidenced in the sour language that some Nigerian representatives have used in reference to the events in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

“Anarchy” was, for instance, the word Nigeria’s high commission in South Africa used to highlight what it described as South African police’s failure to effectively deal with the violent, xenophobic attacks.

The Nigerian ministry of foreign affairs has suggested it is keenly waiting for an explanation from Pretoria, stressing that the West African country is resolved to end what many Nigerians have said is a usual occurrence in South Africa.

There have also been reports in the Nigerian press that President Buhari has been advised by his cabinet to consider military action against South Africa.

While not as firm and condemnatory as Nigeria, other African countries have also urged Pretoria to take measures to end the violence, but also avoid a repeat of such strong anti-migrants movements.

In discussions on social media, citizens from other sub-Saharan African countries have decried “shameless xenophobia” and “scandalous negrophobia” from “black South African brothers.”

In a statement, the African Union (AU) condemned “the despicable acts in the strongest terms.”

Meanwhile, for all the opprobrium being heaped on the southern African country, authorities in Pretoria are adamant that the recent wave of violence has very little to do with xenophobia and anti-migration sentiments.

Bheki Cele, south Africa’s police minister said that “criminality rather than xenophobia” is the primary factor for the “senseless violence.” xenophobia, he added, “is an excuse.”