Nige­ri­ans still don’t feel safe in South Africa

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More than a year af­ter the South African gov­ern­ment promised to set up an ear­ly­warn­ing sys­tem for xeno­pho­bic at­tacks to help keep Nige­ri­ans on soil safe, noth­ing much has ma­te­ri­alised.

Re­newed ef­forts will be made to ad­dress the is­sue, which has caused se­ri­ous diplo­matic fric­tion be­tween the two coun­tries and which has seen South African busi­nesses in Nige­ria be­ing crit­i­cised.

Nige­ria’s for­eign min­is­ter, Ge­of­frey Onyeama, told City Press at the 31st African Union sum­mit last Sun­day he was op­ti­mistic the is­sue would be re­solved now that a new min­is­ter was in place.

He had met In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu on the side­lines of the sum­mit and said he was “very, very hope­ful”.

He said Sisulu’s back­ground in se­cu­rity af­fairs helped and “she has also come with new ini­tia­tives that we be­lieve will be a gamechanger in the whole process”.

Dur­ing his visit to South Africa last year, the two coun­tries agreed to es­tab­lish an ear­ly­warn­ing sys­tem to stop xeno­pho­bic at­tacks be­fore they hap­pened.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the po­lit­i­cal will wasn’t there, so that never ac­tu­ally came to fruition,” Onyeama said.

“We are very ex­cited by the new min­is­ter’s stance on the is­sue and, with her spe­cialised back­ground, we feel we can get a more in­sti­tu­tional and per­ma­nent en­gage­ment with the two sides.”

He said there was “a kind of trust deficit be­tween the po­lice and the Nige­rian com­mu­nity”.

Sisulu had sug­gested ways for the two to work to­gether through com­mu­nity polic­ing fo­rums.

“We feel if they are on the same page, it will make a big dif­fer­ence.”

He said Nige­ri­ans were of­ten scared to co­op­er­ate with the po­lice, be­cause when they did in­form on crim­i­nals, “that in­for­ma­tion goes back to the crim­i­nals and their lives are of­ten in dan­ger”.

He said if or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Nige­rian Union SA (Nusa) had di­rect ac­cess to the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, they could give early in­di­ca­tions of when they thought there might be prob­lems that needed a re­sponse.

Sisulu said it might be a slight ex­ag­ger­a­tion for Nige­ri­ans to say they felt dis­crim­i­nated against in South Africa, be­cause it wasn’t al­ways pos­si­ble to tell Nige­ri­ans from other for­eign­ers.

She ac­knowl­edged, how­ever, that “per­haps [Nige­ri­ans] are sub­jected to tough ac­tion from the po­lice”.

She said when she was a min­is­ter in the se­cu­rity clus­ter in the past, she found Nige­ri­ans “have a ro­bust way of deal­ing with the po­lice and that the po­lice would deal very ro­bustly back”. But, she said, “we need to find a mid­dle ground in which the Nige­ri­ans will ad­here to the laws of the coun­try” so that po­lice did not treat peo­ple “in a way that made them feel we are xeno­pho­bic”.

Sisulu said she had re­ferred Onyeama to a po­lice fo­rum “that is open to all per­ma­nent ci­ti­zens”, which also in­cluded Nige­ri­ans in South Africa. “They would be wel­come to be part of this po­lice fo­rum.”

Sisulu said there would be more meet­ings be­tween her and Onyeama to deal with the mat­ter, “but I said to him that, you know, Nige­ri­ans by their very na­ture are very en­tre­pre­neur­ial peo­ple, prob­a­bly more than South Africans. But when that en­trepreneur­ship strays into il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity, it is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able.”

She said the South African gov­ern­ment on its part had been grap­pling with the is­sue of xeno­pho­bia, in­clud­ing en­gage­ments with peo­ple in the di­as­pora, “be­cause we do not want to be por­trayed as xeno­pho­bic”.

Nige­ri­ans reg­u­larly com­plain about vi­o­lence di­rected at their ci­ti­zens in South Africa.

Ef­forts to ad­dress the vi­o­lence also ap­peared to be frus­trated by a lack of trust be­tween Nusa and Nige­rian gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives in South Africa.

Nusa pres­i­dent Adetola Olubajo said in the past two months seven Nige­ri­ans had been “bru­tally mur­dered [in South Africa] with­out any mean­ing­ful in­ter­ven­tion to bring the per­pe­tra­tors to book”.

He said their ef­forts to re­sist this vi­o­lence were frus­trated be­cause Nige­rian gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives held the view “that most of the mur­der vic­tims are crim­i­nals”.

In May The Guardian in Nige­ria re­ported that its House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives had called on the gov­ern­ment to take diplo­matic ac­tion against South Africa on the xeno­pho­bic at­tacks and even to ap­peal to the UN with re­gards to the hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions of its ci­ti­zens.

Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa is ex­pected to pay a state visit to Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari in the near fu­ture, where th­ese at­tacks are likely to be dis­cussed, along­side trade and in­vest­ment is­sues.

Un­for­tu­nately the po­lit­i­cal will wasn’t there, so that never ac­tu­ally came to fruition

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