Nigerian House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has rejected the claims by South African Foreign Affairs minister Naledi Pandor that many Nigerians in South Africa indulge in criminal acts.
Many Nigerians work in South Africa, but they are sometimes stereotyped as criminals. Pandor also reiterated that belief in an interview with eNCA on Thursday.
“The belief that our people have in reality that there are many persons from Nigeria who are dealing drugs in our country, who are harming our young people,” Pandor said adding that “I believe that Nigeria nationals are involved in human trafficking and other abuse of our practices.”
In a reaction to these claims, the Speaker said South Africa was trying to “change the true narrative” of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa as a conflict between “gangs fighting for turf.”
“Unless it is the position of the South African Government that all Nigerians living in South Africa are gangsters and criminals, we demand that they reject these claims without equivocation,” Gbajabiamila said.
Pandor had earlier described the anti-migrants sentiments as Afrophobia – fear or dislike of Africans, but the South Africa’s police minister Bheki Cele said that attacks were acts of “criminality” and not xenophobic.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa shared another sentiment. He acknowledged that there were anti-foreigner sentiments in the country.
There are fewer than four million migrants in South Africa, a nation of more than 50 million. South Africa’s statistics office put the figure of Nigerians living in the country at 30, 314, representing 2.1% of the total figure of migrants in the country as at 2016. That figure increased from 26, 341 in 2011.
But attacks on foreign-owned shops have become regular occurrences that many have attributed to frustration with the country’s high unemployment rate, which sits at about 28 percent.
The recent violence broke on Monday night with foreign-owned businesses and shops being the target. The violence has killed at least 10 people in Johannesburg and Pretoria in recent days.
Police in the country have yet to pinpoint what triggered the violence, but it said it has made about 400 arrests.
Analysts have noted contributing factors to the latest violence include high unemployment and frustration with limited economic opportunities.
Nigerians launched what appeared to be reprisals against South African affiliated businesses in several cities across the country. Police said dozens were arrested for looting and some were arraigned on Thursday.
The Nigerian government has repeatedly condemned the reprisals, which it insisted could only hurt Nigerians working in the affected firms.
The Nigerian foreign ministry said Air Peace, a commercial airline, had offered to send an aircraft on Friday to evacuate nationals who were willing to return, “free of charge”.
“The general public is hereby advised to inform their relatives in South Africa to take advantage of this laudable gesture,” Nigerian foreign ministry spokesman Ferdinand Nwonye said on Wednesday.
“Interested Nigerians are therefore advised to liaise with the High Commission of Nigeria in Pretoria and the Consulate General of Nigeria in Johannesburg for further necessary arrangement.”
Nigeria also recalled its High Commissioner to South Africa, Ambassador Kabiru Bala and also pulled out of an African economic summit in South Africa.
The Nigerian division of South African telecom operator MTN said on Wednesday it would shut all stores and service centres in the country until further notice after its facilities in three cities were attacked.