The government of Nigeria is repatriating some of its citizens who are based in South Africa, amid a wave of xenophobic attacks that have led to looting and physical violence in Pretoria and Johannesburg.
It’s been reported that at least 10 people — eight South Africans and two African immigrants — have so far been killed in the violence.
Nigeria's Consul General in Johannesburg, Godwin Adama, told the BBC that Nigeria’s government will help 600 citizens who have been left distressed by the recent xenophobic attacks to return.
Speaking to journalists in Abuja in Nigeria, Abike Dabiri, head of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, said the Nigerian government will hold South Africa accountable for the violence — including seeking financial compensation for the loss incurred as a result of the xenophobic attacks.
The first departures back to Nigeria are expected to be on Wednesday.
South Africa, one of the more developed countries in Africa, has a history of violent attacks aimed at immigrants from other parts of the continent.
The current wave of attacks were strongly condemned by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week in an address he made to the nation.
Ramaphosa said in his speech that there is no place for hate in South Africa, and reminded citizens about Africa’s role in helping South Africa end the racist and violent aparthied regime.
“We value our relations with other African countries and need to work to strengthen political, social, and trade ties if we are to develop our economy and those of our neighbours,” Ramaphosa said.
He added that 423 people had been arrested for violence-related offences in Gauteng, and 21 suspects have been arrested in relation to truck violence in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
The truck violence Ramaphosa referred to started at the end of August when a strike by South African truck drivers became violent.
It’s reported that the truck drivers were protesting against what they believe to be the trucking industry’s exclusion of South Africans by preferring drivers from other parts of the continent. Several trucks were burned.
Just three days after Ramaphosa’s address, however, two people were killed in Johannesburg in another violent outbreak — a reaction to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s speech calling for peace and an end to violence targeting African immigrants.
Buildings and cars were burned in the ensuing mayhem. Meanwhile, earlier on Sunday, a group of men carrying clubs and sticks marched around the city — chanting “foreigners must go back to where they came from”.
Siphiwe Mhlongo, chairman of hostel headmen (leaders from various hostels) in Gauteng, told the Sowetan newspaper that they were unhappy with immigrants who are in the country illegally.
He said: "We are not happy with how [the] government has tried to resolve the problems that the country is facing. The government must come speak to the people and explain what it is going to do with the foreign nationals who are here illegally.”
He added: “Everyone who is in South Africa has that feeling that foreign nationals must go back home. But we don't say foreign nationals must be beaten up; we are leaders.”
Despite the anti-immigrant chants and the looting of businesses owned by African immigrants, the minister of police Bheki Cele last week told the media that these are cases of criminal behaviour rather than xenophobia.
Cele’s assertion was also made by the chief of Johannesburg metro police, David Tembe, who blamed the violence on “pure criminality” — because some of the shops that were looted are owned by South Africans.