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Attacks on Nigerians in South Africa

The wave of xenophobic attacks by South Africans on fellow Africans in 2008 and 2015 appear to be a snake only scorched and not killed as Nigeria drew the attention of the South African authorities to the killing of a Nigerian in Johannesburg the other day.

The Federal Government has, indeed, asked the South African government to investigate and punish those involved in the killing and end such vices as extra-judicial killings, immigrants profiling and xenophobic attacks.

This came after a Nigerian, Tochukwu Nnadi, was extra-judicially killed by South African police officers for allegedly dealing in hard drugs.

It is a paradox that these attacks occur in a country which sets so much store of inclusivity, where the citizens champion such ideas as “rainbow nation” or “the world in one country” and have a long history of disgusting discrimination which Nigeria helped in no small measure to end.

These killings and attacks have been most noticeable in the mining and manufacturing sectors of South Africa’s industrial heartland of Johannesburg, which, ironically, were built on migrant labour. More worrisome is the fact that much of South Africans’ anti-foreigner sentiment is aimed at black Africans. The last decade has witnessed attacks on Somali street traders in Cape Town. There have been people thrown off trains outside Johannesburg and immigrants rounded up on the streets (including South Africans deemed “too dark”), held in cramped, inhumane detention centres and put on overnight trains out of the country.

Poverty and desperation, of course, are only a part of the cause of this gory xenophobic tale in South Africa.

Extensive research by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) has shown that South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, are among the most xenophobic countries in the world and that South Africans hold by far the harshest anti-immigrant sentiments. Furthermore, these anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments cut across all major socio-economic and demographic categories: young and old, black and white, educated or not. They “display an extraordinary consistency in their antagonism towards foreigners, particularly those from other countries in Africa and especially those deemed to be “illegal immigrants’.” Even refugees are viewed negatively.

Most South Africans are too sheltered in their own world, do not even have passports and rarely travel into the rest of the continent. Those who do, mostly whites, go to Europe (which they culturally identify with), Australia and North America. The education system, even after apartheid, has not done much to improve this state of affairs. Former President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki’s African Renaissance programme, indeed, failed largely because it did not connect well with the country’s Black majority.

Having not interacted with other nationals South Africans’ misinformation and sentiments against foreigners must have come from the public utterances of their political leaders as well as public officials (police, municipal officials) and more importantly from media images, as surveys have shown. In a research study by SAMP, it was found that South African media coverage of foreigners in a wide range of sources (from television news documentaries, broadsheets to tabloids) are overwhelmingly negative, relying on stereotypes about foreigners as “criminals,” “illegals” and “job stealers.” Evidence for such stereotypes was never substantiated. While some of the coverage got better over time, stereotypes persist.

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