Outrage spread with fire and blood across Africa as the demon of xenophobia took control of the mind and conscience of hundreds of South African youths. Thirsty for blood and destruction, they struck their African brothers to death, looted the fruits of their victims’ labour, burned down the remnant of their hard work, and cursed them to hell. The streets of Johannesburg were covered with the fog of wailing and lamentation. This madness is tagged xenophobia – the fear, resentment, dislike, intolerance of strangers. But after a critical look at the victims of this violence, many have re-christened the orgy of violence as Afrophobia – the dislike, resentment, intolerance, fear of [other] Africans.
Attacks on African immigrants in South Africa is not new. It manifests in the daily police crackdown on ‘undocumented migrants.’ In 2015, hoodlums took the law into their hands in mass onslaught against African immigrants. The shock wave of the merciless attacks reverberated, not only in South Africa, but in many countries of Africa. Friends and foes of the former Apartheid enclave did not spare their condemnations. So widespread and bitter was the denunciation of Pretoria that many thought it would be the last time scoundrels would engage in such a shameless and senseless assault on African immigrants. But the mayhem which began on September 1, 2019 proved optimists wrong and pessimists right.
The loud refrain from the protesters who ambushed and raided other Africans in Johannesburg could be paraphrased thus: ‘foreigners [other Africans] are taking jobs meant for South Africans. They have caused crime rate to surge.’
With the use of data obtained from South Africa this impression is examined as follows in relation to the roles Nigerians are accused to have played in that country’s predicaments:
Are Nigerians taking jobs that belong to South Africans?
A 2015 release by Statistics South Africa, an organization that “processes and analyses data collected by immigration officers of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) at all air, land and sea ports of entry/exit,” provides a range of evidence on what Nigerians do in South Africa. For instance, in 2015, a total of 10,334 Nigerians was given temporary residence permits in South Africa to enable them study, get medical treatment, visit family members, work or engage in business activities. The report says, priority was given to those who intended to establish business or invest in existing business ventures in South Africa. In the order of priority, the South African immigration least considers requests for temporary residence permits for work. But for those considered, their requests must meet three conditions: “critical skills permit, general work permit and corporate work permit.”
From Stats South Africa data, the temporary residence permits given to Nigerians in 2015 were categorized thus: Work (14.1%) – barely above 1,000; Business (25.7%) – above 2,500; Study (15.1%) – about 1,600; Health (11.1%) – about 1,200; Visiting relatives (15.9%) – about 1,700. From this figure, it is apparent that the majority of Nigerians in South Africa engage in business activities, not taking up paid jobs. For those who go there to work, many of them are medical doctors, university lecturers, and those who possess “critical skills,” while those who go to South Africa to study actually pay their way – they take money from the Nigerian economy to inject into South Africa’s economy in the search for knowledge. Below is a bar chart showing the distribution of temporary residence permits issued to Nigerians in 2015.
From the data it is clear that 84.7% of Nigerians who received temporary residence permits contributed to the growth of the South African economy as businessmen, tourists, students, or those who went there on medical tourism.
What role do Nigerian businesses play in South Africa
In 2015, Nigerians took the lion share of the number of temporary residence permits issued from those who sought to engage in business activities in South Africa. Of the total number of such permits, Nigerians received some 25.7% of the total number. This was followed by nationals from Bangladesh (15.7%) and Ethiopia (13.4%). This signifies that from among African nationals in South Africa, Nigerians have invested more than any other. But this is better understood in the context of the decline in investment in South African economy by multinationals and even white South Africans. In this last 10 years, the South African economy has grown at snail speed, performing at less than 4 per cent.
A report by Stats SA last year provides an insight. It says, “Almost all industries contracted when compared to the fourth quarter of 2018…manufacturing falling by 8.8%, mining down by 10.8%, agriculture down by 13.2% and electricity shrinking by 6.9%. Transportation fell by 4.4%, trade was down by 3.6% and construction declined by 2.2%. Government, on the other hand, grew by 1.2%, finance by 1.1% and personal services by 1.1%.” Under this atmosphere it is the informal sector of the economy that attempts to rescue the situation, and that is the arena where Nigerians with temporary residence permits for business play. This aligns with a report by Migrating for Work Research Consortium quoted by City Press of South Africa which indicates that international migrants were “less likely to be unemployed,” but were “more likely to create work in the informal sector.” City Press reports further that “for non-migrants, only 5% are employees and 9% are self-employed. So rather than taking jobs, migrants are net job-creators, a trend our country desperately needs.”
In spite of the fact that Nigerians top the chart of Africans who invest in the informal sector in South Africa, they are not preferred when South Africans approve permanent residence permits. The SA immigration gives preferences to Zimbabweans, Indians and Chinese, over and above Nigerians. In 2015, the number of Zimbabweans granted permanent residence permit was 2,152, Indians (619), Chinese (583), Nigerians (355), closely followed by DRC applicants (325). The chart below shows the preferences:
Source: Stats South Africa
Are Nigerians [or foreigners] responsible for upsurge of crime in South Africa?
There is hardly empirical data to support the impression that foreigners are responsible for the upsurge in crimes in South Africa. What is apparent is that crime is very high in South Africa. Data obtained from Statistics SA shows trend, as shown in the table below
Source: Stats SA
However, the South African police cannot link the upsurge in crime to drugs or the activities of other Africans. In 2017, Africa Check quoted Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha as saying that as at July that year only 7.5% of people in South African prisons were foreign nationals. Apparently, this assertion suggests that most people (92.5%) who committed crimes were South Africans, not foreign nationals. As at the time he made the statement, there were 157,013 inmates in SA prisons, out of which 11,842 were foreigners. Among the foreigners were Zimbabweans (41.5%), and Mozambicans (24%). In spite of this, most of these foreigners may not have committed violent crimes like murder, rape, armed robbery, arson, car-snatching, burglary, etc. They may have been arrested in raids by South African police because they were ‘undocumented immigrants.’
Is South African government preventing xenophobic [Afrophobic] attacks?
Multiple reports say the South African police have arrested over 400 persons involved in xenophobic [Afrophobic] attacks. On his own South African President Cyril Ramaphosa denounced the killers, called for their arrest, and declared that “We are against xenophobia. These attacks are completely against the rule of law.” The criticism of Pretoria over the current attacks stems from the lack of evidence that the authorities had done much to prevent Afrophobic attacks. After the attacks in 2015, the UNHCR carried out an investigation and published a 108-page report on the mayhem. Its major recommendation included “the creation of strategic advocacy platforms,” and the creation of “evidence-based [programmes that would facilitate the] understanding of current socio-political and socioeconomic conditions and theoretically sound and empirically supported behavioural change models” and to “dedicate more oversight, training, human and financial resources to anti-xenophobia programming.” The UN body and South Africa were supposed to have enlightened the people against a repeat of xenophobic outburst. It is not clear if UNHCR or South African government have carried out activities in line with these recommendations. If they have, then the recent attacks on Africans show that the behavioural change envisaged did not take place.
How would Afrophobic attacks affect Nigeria-South Africa relations
The Afrophobic attack is a low point in the relations between Nigeria and South Africa. In 2018, the trade between the two countries hit N1.5 trillion, as Nigeria is a major supplier of oil and gas to South Africa, while South Africa ships automobiles, wine, paperboard, etc to Nigeria. Nigeria’s exports to South Africa in 2016 was put at about $2 billion but import from South Africa was $438 million. As at 2003, about 55 South African companies had made investments in Nigerian economy. This shows that the attacks are not good for business between the two countries. It is also the reason why South Africa should put in place measures that would prevent a future outbreak of violence that targets African immigrants. Nigeria and South Africa need to close ranks in order to lift Africa from poverty and under-development.
Author: Theophilus Abbah
I’m a journalist, writer, researcher and trainer. I hold a PhD in English Language with specialization in Forensic Linguistics – Language and Law.
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