The recent surge of deadly xenophobic attacks in South Africa is triggering concern in several African countries. The deaths have sparked reprisal attacks and calls for an end to the operation of South African businesses in Nigeria. But tens of thousands of Nigerian jobs could be at stake.
Days after reprisal attacks on South African-owned businesses in the Nigerian capital, it’s not business as usual for Moses Iyuagba.
His corner shop business near Abuja has been spared. But, Iyuagba says he is still worried after angry protesters raided the offices of South African communications giant MTN and its affiliate, Shoprite, halting operations.
“It’s like four days now I’ve not been to the office. Presently as I’m speaking with you people, my stock is going down,” Iyuagba said.
This is not the first time xenophobic attacks on Nigerian nationals in South Africa have triggered reprisals.
Similar incidents happened after attacks in South Africa killed 62 people in 2008 and seven more in 2015.
Hundreds of protesters took to this street after recent attacks killed at least five people last week. One of them, Ali Yusuf, accuses the South African government of not addressing the issue.
“Why can’t South Africans leave Nigerians in their country to go about their businesses? Yusuf asked. We have made Nigeria comfortable for them; we’re not disturbing them, we’re not burning down their houses or businesses.”
South Africa is a major destination for economic migrants across Africa, including Nigerians.
But foreign workers often face anti-immigrant violence for competing against locals for jobs, usually in low-skilled sectors.
South Africa’s high commissioner, Bobby Moroe, was summoned by authorities here. He has condemned the attacks.
“Over the past 25 years or so we’ve been through a number of challenges but what has always come to our rescue [is] the strong bond of friendship and kinship between South Africa and Nigeria. So our government condemns by all means violence against any individual,” Moroe said.
A bonfire is set outside Shoprite during a protest in Abuja, Nigeria, Sept. 4, 2019. South African-owned businesses operating in Nigeria are being targeted in retaliation for xenophobic attacks carried out against Africans working in South Africa.
South Africa’s huge investments provide employment and livelihoods for several thousand Nigerians.
Nigeria’s foreign affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, says the government is consulting with its South African counterparts to address the issue.
“We feel, the Nigerian government that very definitive measures have to be taken to stop once and for all these acts of aggression, criminality against Nigerians in South Africa,” Onyeama said.
Many Nigerians, however, continue to demand an end to South African operations in the country.
For now, major South African businesses in Nigeria are shut down indefinitely while people like Iyuagba, whose jobs depend on them, wait for a return to business as usual.