The Nigerian Consul General in Johannesburg, Ambassador Uche Ajulu-Okeke, has called on the leaders of both Nigeria and South Africa to work together to find a common effective solution to the scourge of xenophobia in South Africa.
Ambassador Ajulu-Okeke told ANN7 Television in Johannesburg that it was such an approach that resulted in the eventual eradication of the oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa. She recalled the contributions made by Nigeria and Nigerians to see to the end of apartheid:
“I remember the days when we sang songs….I’ve been trying to remember the songs we sang as we marched with our fellow students in my university days: ‘South Africa my home, Azania my love…’ Our expectations are that the two governments would sit together and work it out and that it will never happen again; and that the government in South Africa would strengthen organizations like Ladies on the Frontline, support them because they are directly at the grassroots and they fill the gaps where government cannot reach, in order to be able to address these issues of xenophobia in the communities and effectively deal with the matter”
Disgruntled South Africans embarked on marches in Pretoria, the capital, on Friday to protest against drug peddling and prostitution syndicates allegedly operated by foreigners in the country. The marches turned ugly when protesters in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, broke into and looted shops owned by Somalians and other nationals.
Police drafted to the affected areas had a running battle with protesters in Marabastad, a commercial area in downtown Pretoria with many foreign-owned shops. An anonymous Somalian refugee described the action of the South Africans as pointless.
“There is no point now for local South Africans to wage war against immigrants because not all immigrants are criminals; not all immigrants are drug dealers. There is no prostitution or drugs here. The fact is that our people, especially the refugee people, Somalians, are living here in Pretoria West. We are people who emigrated from their homes because of war”.
The protesters said they wanted to hand over a memorandum to the Department of Home Affairs to protest the fact that foreign nationals had taken over buildings belonging to the municipality and converted them to drug dens and brothels while South Africans have nowhere to live in.
In a quick reaction, the government and the police department appealed for calm to prevent the ugly development from spreading. President Jacob Zuma made a televised statement stressing the challenge faced by the country and suing for understanding.
“South Africa is a leading economy on the continent and therefore some people think that when they come to South Africa, they’d find jobs, etcetera, etcetera. So, our challenge is more complex than other people’s and I think as a country we should understand that. And that’s why we need to sit back and say, ‘What else can we do?’ And then talk to the foreigners that when they are here, they must not misbehave”
Also speaking, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said everyone resident in South Africa is entitled to protection by the law.
“We are going to deal with whatever threats and risks to human lives and property as we are directed by our constitution and our laws. There is no immigrant in this country, including those who are undocumented who will become a victim willy-nilly of mobs running amok on the streets”, Gigaba said.
Acting National Police Commissioner, Kgomotso Phahlane, spoke in a similar vein. The police boss said, “We obviously cannot condone anyone, whether it’s a South African or a foreign national, who is committing crime.”
By noon on Friday, the crowd had moved to the Pretoria Central Business District (CBD) where some South Africans spoke out against the violence, saying Africans from other countries are blood brothers to black South Africans. Police had to shoot rubber bullets to contain the escalation of violence in the CBD as some foreign nationals had come out with sticks and machetes for a showdown with the rampaging South Africans.