Nigerians speak on xenophobic attacks

Ebiere Grace Joseph-Akwunwa from the Nigerian Community Western Cape speaks during the event.

Nigerians in the Western Cape say xenophobic attacks need a fuller response from government departments.

The Nigerian Community Western Cape (NCWC) discussed the attacks, during a conference at Community House in Salt River ahead of the South Africa/Nigeria Bi-National Commission (BNC) conference which took place on Thursday October 3 in Pretoria.

Established in 2017, the NCWC is a non-profit organisation representing the interests of a cross-section of the Nigerian community in the Western Cape.

NCWC acting president, Cosmos Echie, said the two nations, which together contribute a significant portion of Africa’s GDP, were too important to the continent, to ignore the impact the violence had on bilateral relations.

“Nigeria and South Africa have a strong economic and political relationship, but for some reason this does not reflect in the lives and activities of the wider community of Nigerian professionals and entrepreneurs living here,” he said.

The notion that all Nigerians were criminals and claims that black foreigners were taking South Africans’ jobs should be addressed urgently, Mr Echie said.

Most Nigerians in South Africa were legitimate business owners who created jobs for South Africans, he said.

“While we acknowledge that there are some Nigerians who may be involved in illegal activity, many more of us are not. We need South Africans to recognise what we are putting into this country, which we also call home.

“If we do not address the underlying reasons the relationship between our two countries will always be at risk. We need to change the narrative, because the stereotyping of all Nigerian people as bad people, drug dealers and criminals is having far-reaching impacts.”

Ebiere Grace Joseph-Akwunwa, from NCWC, echoed Mr Echie’s sentiments, saying every immigrant community in South Africa had their “good, bad and ugly.”

“Most of the negative news about Nigerians in South Africa could be attributed to an exaggeration of the obvious negative activities by a few.

“Also looking at the larger population of Nigerians in South Africa, it would be unfair to represent the entire Nigerian community with the few Nigerians that engage in illicit activities,” she said.

“We also have cases where other nationals go about with fake Nigerian passports and driver’s licenses, and when they commit crimes and produce those items as identity to the police, that contributes to the negative stereotype around the name Nigerian.”

Mr Echie said xenophobic violence in August, was largely the result of a rumour – later confirmed to be false – that a Nigerian drug dealer had killed a South African taxi driver.

“In the heat of the crises, we also found that some very respectable statesmen and women, made statements that supported the dominant narrative which demonises all Nigerians.

“This was irresponsible and must be avoided in future. We need the country’s leaders, at all levels of government, to consider the negative impact their inflammatory public statements has on the overall morale of the country,” he said.

The NCWC acknowledged that South Africa had its own challenges and its primary responsibility should be to its millions of citizens, especially those who were still struggling with poverty, a lack of access to jobs and basic services.

It urged the government to consider the contributions of African-migrant-run businesses.