The latest spate of attacks on migrants in South Africa began from the suburbs of Johannesburg on Sunday, September 1, 2019.
By Monday, September 2, South African men and women clutching cudgels and stones were chanting war songs and marching to the central business district of South Africa’s biggest city to burn shops and businesses owned by Nigerians, Somalians and other foreign nationals.
Before long, more than 50 shops and business premises mainly owned by Nigerians and Somalians, had been burnt to the ground.
Cars and properties were torched and widespread looting took place across the city.
“The means of livelihood of people were looted and destroyed by fire overnight which have left many Nigerians traumatized. Nigeria-owned businesses were seriously affected. A car sales business owned by a Nigerian were among the several businesses set ablaze overnight”, says Adetola Olubajo, President of the Nigeria Union of South Africa (NUSA).
The police steps in
According to a Bloomberg report, the looting of shops would soon spread to Alexandra, an impoverished community in northern Johannesburg.
702 Talk Radio also reported unrest in Marabastad, Pretoria.
On Tuesday, September 3, the police was making its presence felt in central Johannesburg. Some shops and schools had been closed at this point.
Major companies including Anglo American Plc, Absa Group Ltd. and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. were left with no option but to close their offices in the city center or reduce staffing, according to Bloomberg.
“It is barbaric to attack people simply because they are foreigners. It is not acceptable,” Chanda Kasolo, permanent secretary in Zambia’s information ministry, declared on national television. “Our leaders are doing everything possible to communicate with the South African government to ask them to take better control of things.”
South African Police Minister General Bheki Cele “condemned the violence and all its manifestations but has assured South Africans that these acts are nothing but criminality that must be stopped in its tracks”, a statement from the police ministry read.
The police in South Africa says it has arrested 110 people in connection to the outbreak of violence. The police says it is “condemning all acts of violence directed at the businesses and the looting of shops described as those of foreign nationals by criminal opportunists in areas that include Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Johannesburg Central.
“Several arrests have also been effected for serious crimes including public violence, malicious damage to property and theft. The arrests were affected in various areas that includes:
- 20 in Rossettenville
- 35 in Malvern
- 10 in Thembisa
- 26 in Jeppe
- 9 in Germiston
“Police are also investigating a case of murder following the fatal shooting of a member of the public. He was allegedly shot by a group of people who had gathered in Hillbrow.
“At this stage police are still interviewing several people to establish the motive for the shooting. No one has been arrested for the murder. Several operations are still continuing in Thembisa and more people are expected to be arrested. Police are also appealing to any person affected by violence to contact police Emergency number 10111”.
Nigeria is upset
The Nigerian government has been left fuming by it all.
“The continuing attacks on Nigerian nationals and businesses in South Africa are unacceptable. Enough is enough. Nigeria will take definitive measures to ensure safety and protection of her citizens,” the federal government of Nigeria posted on Twitter.
Nigerian politicians have also been reacting to the latest xenophobic attacks from the rainbow nation.
“Reported attacks against Nigerians in South Africa is unacceptable and stands condemned”, says Atiku Abubakar, a presidential candidate in the 2019 elections and a former vice president of Nigeria. “Urgent steps need to be taken with the SA authorities and the African Union to bring an end to this ill wind that can only end up destroying the fabric of our African brotherhood”.
Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili who also ran for the office of president in the 2019 elections says "Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa and government of South Africa,,the maiming and killing of citizens of Nigeria and other African countries in South Africa dishonors everything our collective fight for freedom was about. Even as children in Primary School, we played our part. Please STOP IT”.
Nigeria has summoned the South African Ambassador for explanations.
Some South African politicians do not really like what's going on
South African politicians have also been condemning the violence. However, politicians from South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) have made anti-immigrant comments in the past.
For instance, Johannesburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba, has attracted criticism from human rights groups for his frequent attacks on undocumented migrants.
Mashaba is a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa has denounced the attacks in the strongest terms possible.
Like most of the African continent, inequality is rife in South Africa. Xenophobic South Africans often see migrants as competition for scarce jobs, resources and government services.
Bad publicity for a host nation
The latest xenophobic attacks arrive just hours before South Africa hosts political and business leaders from around the world in the African edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The WEF holds in Cape Town from September 4-6.
South Africa has played host to some of the worst xenophobic attacks in recent memory. In 2008, about 60 people were killed and over 50,000 forced from their homes in the suburbs of the former apartheid colony.
In 2015, seven people died in xenophobic related violence.
At least 127 Nigerians have died from xenophobic attacks in South Africa in the last three years.
At least 13 of those were documented to have been killed by officers of the South African Police Service (SAPS).