…as foreigners confront anti-immigrant protesters in Pretoria
Gbenro Adeoye, Jesusegun Alagbe and Eric Dumo with agency report
Despite repeated xenophobic attacks, some Nigerians in South Africa have said they would not return home.
Citing unemployment, insecurity, kidnappings, poor infrastructure and epileptic power supply, the Nigerians described returning to the country as returning to a “hardship zone.”
Some others said it would be difficult to leave South Africa as they had nothing to fall back on in Nigeria.
There are over 800,000 Nigerians living in South Africa, according to the Nigerian Union South Africa, with many of them based in Johannesburg.
However, those living in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, have in recent days witnessed violence reminiscent of the last major wave of xenophobic attacks that hit Johannesburg and Durban in 2015, in which about seven Nigerians died.
In the recent attacks which started early February 2017, at least 20 shops and homes — belonging to foreigners, mostly Nigerians — were looted and burned, as stated by the South African police.
In spite of the attacks, a Nigerian living in Pretoria, Muyiwa Adebola, said he would not return home.
Having worked as an auto-mechanic in the South African city for about five years, he said it would be “unwise” to leave now.
“This is where I have my source of livelihood. This is where I have been working for the past five years to take care of my family in Nigeria. I cannot leave now because of the attacks,” the 38-year-old said.
Making reference to unemployment, poor infrastructure, among others, Adebola said the only reason he would return to Nigeria is if things were working properly.
He said, “They have good roads here, potable water, constant power supply and you don’t often hear of kidnapping. As an auto mechanic, I’m also better paid here than when I was in Nigeria.
“Personally, I’m not deterred by the attacks, even though it’s worrying. I know things would calm down again and we could carry on with our normal businesses.”
Seun Komolafe, who has lived in the former apartheid colony for about nine years, said the reason for the attacks is that “South Africans see Nigerians as a threat to their survival because of our hardworking nature.”
He said, “The reason why many of us have decided to remain in South Africa is because things have yet to work properly in Nigeria. Getting a job with your academic qualification is easier here than in Nigeria.
“Over the last few days, I have spoken to many of our people here who would have loved to come back to Nigeria, but can’t do so yet because they don’t know what to survive on if they return.
“The people here are very hostile to Nigerians. They see us as a threat in every way because we are hardworking and considerate to the feelings of others, while many of them are lazy and selfish.”
Meanwhile, Komolafe said he would love to return to Nigeria only if there were job opportunities.
Mr. Gabriel Eze, a resident of Johannesburg for 10 years, is a luxury store owner in the city. Eze said since he had invested all his life in the business, it would be foolish to leave now.
He said, “My family is here, so there’s nothing to come and do at home. Where you succeed is where you call home. I was struggling in Nigeria before I came here in 2007.
“If you think of the attacks, you would do nothing. I have insured my business. So if anything happens, I’ll not be too sad. I may only think of returning to Nigeria if there is no kidnapping, epileptic power supply and poor infrastructure. To be sincere, these are the things that drove us out of Nigeria.”
Eze added that his interactions with fellow Nigerians in South Africa showed that many of them were not willing to come back to the country.
“Some of them have become established or they are about to, so it’s not easy to leave like that. I know of friends who have relocated from Pretoria to another county after the attacks. The hustle continues. To come home is like returning to a ‘hardship zone,’” he said.
Abdulraman Abubakar, who has lived in Pretoria for 12 years, also cited poor infrastructure as reason for not willing to return to Nigeria.
He said, “Some of us here were discussing in respect of the recent attacks. If there were infrastructural facilities in Nigeria, we would all come home. In fact, if it is only electricity that the government can fix, we will come. That’s why some of us came to South Africa.”
A Nigerian living in Johannesburg Central, Mr. Ade Adesina, also said he was not planning on returning to Nigeria despite the xenophobic attacks.
He said, “The South African government has not asked us to leave, so I will remain in the country.
“The things we take for granted here (in South Africa) are not in Nigeria. In Nigeria, such things as power supply, good infrastructure and so on are considered as luxury, so what is there to return to?”
Also, in a conversation Saturday PUNCH had with the Public Relations Officer of NUSA, Mr. Emeka Collins, he said that despite the attacks, most Nigerians were not willing to return to the country.
“My observation is that many Nigerians still want to remain in South Africa. Some of them are contented living here due to the hardship at home,” he said.
Collins said the Nigerian Consul General in South Africa, Ambassador (Mrs.) Uche Ajulu-Okeke, visited the victims of the latest attacks on Wednesday.
The Secretary General of NUSA, Mr. Adetola Olubajo, also confirmed that “most” Nigerians he spoke with were not planning to return to Nigeria despite the attacks.
“The Consul General visited the police to report the attacks and I believe everything is normal now,” he said.
For Nigerians considering to return home but have no means of doing so, the Federal Government has asked them to contact the Nigerian High Commission in Johannesburg.
When asked whether the government would consider providing free flight for them, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said, “There is a procedure for that. Those willing to return home would have to go to the commission in Johannesburg to liaise with it first.”
Nigerians and other foreigners clashed with anti-immigrant protesters on Friday in Pretoria, South Africa.
A South African group called Mamelodi Concerned Residents, which led the anti-immigrant march, blamed foreign nationals, including Nigerians, for taking South African jobs and accused them of running prostitution rings and drugs.
The group had in recent weeks launched a series of attacks on migrants, particularly Nigerians, living in Pretoria.
However, Friday’s ‘xenophobic’ attacks were resisted by Nigerians and other foreigners, resulting into clashes between South Africans and foreigners, British Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Eyewitnesses reported that Nigerians were seen confronting their attackers with knives, sticks and guns.
During the anti-immigrant protest, there were reports of looting, violence and destruction of property belonging to foreigners.
A resident of Johannesburg, South Africa, via his twitter handle, @IdahPeterside, said, “It’s a stand-off in Pretoria. Nigerians have refused to hide. The South Africans are being confronted by Nigerians carrying guns.”
A Nigerian living in Pretoria, Mr. Abdulraman Abubakar, confirmed the clashes to Saturday PUNCH.
He said, “There were clashes between South Africans and foreigners this morning in different parts of Pretoria. The police are firing rubber bullets as we speak.”
Meanwhile, the South African Police Force said on Friday that it had arrested over 136 people in Pretoria following an anti-immigrant protest which held in the city.
The South African National Police Chief, Khomotso Phahlane, said the protesters were arrested during operations that lasted for about 24 hours.
However, it was uncertain how many of those in custody were South Africans and how many were foreigners.
Be that as it may, Phahlane said anyone found to have been inciting violence would be prosecuted.
President Jacob Zuma had also condemned the acts of violence and intimidation directed at African immigrants living in the country.
“It is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers. Let us isolate those who commit such crimes and work with government to have them arrested, without stereotyping and causing harm to innocent people,” Zuma said in a statement.
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