South African police said on Friday that they were on high alert monitoring the violence that erupted earlier in the week in some parts of the country leading to the death of foreigners and destruction of their property.
The Force also said that some persons who had been looting shops since Sunday had continued till date.
It added that it had arrested more suspects who had been looting shops in the Gauteng Province.
Police spokesperson, Brigadier Mathapelo Peters, said 74 persons were arrested in Katlehong on Thursday, bringing the total number of arrests since the violence erupted in Johannesburg to 497.
She said the situation in Katlehong and other areas in the province remained calm as the number of incidents continued to decline.
Peters said 11 people were killed during this period but that only seven had been directly linked to the incidents of violence.
She noted that the police would continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding each death.
Gauteng Provincial Commissioner, Lt.-Gen. Elias Mawela, therefore, called on the people to respect the law, while warning them to stop spreading fake news in the social media.
Mawela added, “We must work together to make sure that no one gets to undermine the authority of the State and together condemn the violence and criminality, towards ensuring the safety of everyone in the province.”
Meanwhile, more than 300 Nigerians have registered for evacuation from South Africa following the approval given by the Federal Government that those interested in leaving the former apartheid country should indicate interest and be airlifted home free.
The offer followed the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians living in the country.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ferdinand Nwonye, told one of our correspondents on Friday that over 300 Nigerians had registered for the exercise, adding that the time and date of departure would be disclosed later.
The Chairman of Air Peace, Chief Allen Onyema, on Wednesday provided aircraft to evacuate Nigerians wishing to return home on account of the xenophobic attacks.
Nwonye had said in a statement, “The ministry wishes to inform the general public that following the recent unfortunate xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, including Nigerians in South Africa, the proprietor of Air Peace Airlines, Chief Allen Onyema, has volunteered to send a plane from September 6 to evacuate Nigerians who wish to return to Nigeria free of charge.
“The general public is hereby advised to inform their relatives in South Africa to take advantage of this laudable gesture.”
Our police did nothing to stop xenophobic attacks – Coordinator, South African women married to Nigeria
Over the years, Nigerians had come under a series of attacks by South Africans with many killed. In the latest incident, which started on Sunday morning, no fewer than three persons had died and over 50 shops and businesses belonging to Nigerians and other nationals destroyed by South Africans.
The latest incident, coupled with the several others in the past, did not only lead to reprisals on South African businesses in Nigeria between Tuesday and Thursday, it had also triggered a major diplomatic row between Nigeria and South Africa.
This led to Nigeria pulling out of the World Economic Summit holding in Cape Town and plans to recall the High Commissioner, Kabiru Bala, while President Muhammadu Buhari had sent a special envoy to South Africa.
The special envoy, Ahmed Abubakar, who is the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, was said to have arrived in the OR Tambo Airport on Thursday evening and was scheduled to meet with President Cyril Ramophosa in Pretoria on Friday to express Nigeria’s displeasure at the treatment meted out to Nigerians to the host President during the meeting.
Meanwhile, in its bid to ensure the safety of Nigerians, the Foreign Affairs Ministry advised interested Nigerians to liaise with the High Commission of Nigeria in Pretoria and the Consulate-General of Nigeria in Johannesburg for further arrangements.
Nwonye stated, “They are collating the names and as at the last one hour (3.50pm), they have registered like 300 persons and the meeting of the special envoy is ongoing, the high commissioner is there with him.”
Evacuation’s plan faces major setback
Meanwhile, the planned evacuation faced a setback on Friday as the majority of Nigerians interested in coming back home were said to have expired passports.
The Chairman of Air Peace, Onyema, said in a statement in Lagos that the airline had already placed its Boeing 777 aircraft on standby and was only awaiting the go-ahead from the government but that most of the potential returnees had yet to renew their documents.
He said, “The Air Peace flight to South Africa will take off from the Lagos Airport and also return to Lagos. As earlier stated, the take-off could be September 9 or 10.
“This is because the Nigerians in South Africa have to obtain travel certificates because many of them do not have travel documents and their passports have expired.”
But speaking on the provision of travel documents for those who did not have, Nwonye explained that the Nigerian High Commission would see to it.
Earlier, a member of the flight coordinating committee, comprising Nigerians living in South Africa, Mrs Ify Ezeano, told Saturday PUNCH that many of the intending returnees were on their way to the Johannesburg from different parts of the country for the evacuation.
Ezeano said Nigerians wishing to return to Nigeria lamented that they felt unsafe and would rather leave the country, coupled with their accommodation challenges.
She said, “Some of them are already on their way to Johannesburg. People are disturbed and distressed. We have over 300 on the list but many others are still registering at the consulate.”
Ezeano said a lot of Nigerians living in Western Cape, East London, Kwazulu natal and Cape Town had been calling to register, noting that some planned to come to the consulate in Jo’burg on Monday.
‘We’re not sure one flight would be enough’
She stated, “A lot of people are showing interest and I’m not sure one flight would be able to convey all the people. Right now, I am at the consulate and we are trying to collate the list. People really want to leave to secure their lives.
Also, Igwe Obinna Nwanaji of Mpumalanga Province informed one of our correspondents on the telephone that a single flight might not be adequate to evacuate those willing to return, adding that about 30 persons registered with him for the free flight.
He stated, “Some people are actually saying they won’t leave until the government gives them something, but a lot of people are willing to come back, it’s just that some of them said they were coming from far locations and driving to Johannesburg may take like seven to eight hours.”
Why we won’t leave – others
Meanwhile, some Nigerians in South Africa have said they won’t take Federal Government’s offer to return home despite the threat to their lives and attacks on their businesses.
The Nigerians, mostly traders, club owners and entrepreneurs, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH on the telephone from Johannesburg on Friday, said although they had suffered huge material losses due to the attacks, they would prefer to stay back in the country to rebuild their ruined businesses.
Some also said they might relocate their wives and children to Nigeria while they stay back to work in their host country.
A trader, Lucky Ogbonna, who said he had three outlets in Johannesburg, told one of our correspondents that he lost over N100m worth of goods to the attack while accusing South African police of doing nothing to stop the attacks.
Ogbonna said, “I suffered a huge loss. We suffered the biggest loss during this last incident. I’m a trader and my three outlets were completely looted and vandalised. It is a great loss, my brother.
“I have gone to the police to make a report and they have compiled the complaints but that is the only thing they know how to do – to compile losses. What they do with their compilation is what I don’t know.
Asked if he would take Federal Government’s offer to go back to Nigeria, he said, “Relocation is not on my mind now but I can send my wife and kids back to Nigeria. I will prefer to stay and see how I can start all over again.
“I have thought about moving out of this country (South Africa) before now but now I will send my family to Nigeria and see what I can do after that. I may sell the business to those who will be ready to rebuild it. Another option is that I can rebuild the business and sell it after that. My immediate plan is to relocate my family.”
Ogbonna said he escaped being killed by letting go of what he laboured so hard to build.
He added, “I called the police but none of them answered, others also called them but no response. I believe it is a criminal conspiracy. The police did not want to stop the attackers. I know that South African police could stop them if they wanted to but they did nothing.
“After all, we saw what the police did in Nigeria to those who wanted to attack Shoprite and MTN outlets.’’
He, therefore, appealed to the Nigerian government to force the South African government to pay compensation to all of them who suffered losses, saying he might seek legal advice on the issue.
“I will mobilise other victims and if possible we can institute a joint suit or do it severally but their government must be forced to pay compensation,” he added.
Another victim, Alfred Okechukwu, who owns a business outfit in South Africa, said his loss would be around N9m.
Narrating his ordeal on the telephone, Okechukwu said he had just stocked his clubhouse with a variety of drinks but regretted that everything was burnt down by South African youths. He also said that he escaped the attack by a whisker.
He added, “I escaped being attacked because I got information that they were coming to attack us and so I ran to the club to shut it but before I got there they had set it ablaze so I ran back. I don’t sell drugs. I even employed South Africans who work in my club.
“I can relocate to Nigeria but I just came back to South Africa from Nigeria about two months ago. I went to bury my dad. I just stocked the club with everything I had because this is summer and sales are expected to pick, but they came and burnt down everything.
“I have lost everything that I worked for here. If I come back to Nigeria what will I be doing? Will I become a bus conductor or which work will I come back to do without money?”
He, however, said if the Federal Government would help the returnees to settle down, he would consider relocating to Nigeria.
“But if I leave here for Lagos, I don’t even have transport fare from the airport to Benin where my family members are,” he added. “If our government can insist that South Africa should pay us compensation, I will be happy.
“I left Nigeria about eight years ago and if I return empty-handed won’t the shame kill me? I will be part of any lawsuit or anything that can make these people pay us back. I need money to start my life afresh.”
Also, a motor spare parts dealer, Samson Onyema, said he was not ready to abandon his trade in South Africa to return home despite the attack.
Onyema said, “My business was burnt down completely, but I will not want to return to Nigeria because of this attack. I sell motor spare parts and I don’t want to stop my business here.”
Another Nigerian, who runs a salon in South Africa, Mr Elisha Mbah, said he might not consider coming back home given the situation of things in Nigeria.
He said even though he had lost his goods, he would still prefer to stay in South Africa to try again.
When asked if he would return, he said, “Not really and not now. The state of things in Nigeria will not encourage that. In everything that has happened, you can still map out some other ways to be able to survive here than for me to go back to Nigeria where I would have to start afresh.”
He, however, said he could only consider coming back to Nigeria if there was an assurance of job and assistance in settling down.
He added, “I have children here. Where do I start from? If I must go back home, they would give me a job and help me to resettle. I mean there must be something they would do for me to start life with.”
Asked if he lost anything to the attack, he said, “We lost everything. They set the shop ablaze and everything went up in flames. The value of what I lost would be between R200,000 (about N4.9m) and R250,000 (about N6.1m).
Another Nigerian in South Africa, Mr Emma Adeani, who sounded too distressed to talk, told one of our correspondents that he wasn’t considering returning home at the moment because he had things doing in his host country.
He said, “I have things I’m doing here, just that they vandalised my things. I’m not against going back, but there is something I’m doing here and that was why I came here in the first place. As I’m talking to you, I’m still busy compiling the cost of my loss.”
Another Nigerian victim of the attacks who is confined to a wheelchair, Mojeed Kuku, said he and his family would have South Africa but for the situation back home.
“We would have returned to Nigeria but for our country that is not okay; we lack a lot of facilities. I cannot return now; we cannot go empty-handed. All my sons are schooling here. Maybe when they finish schooling, I can return home. Where am I going to start from if I return to Nigeria?” he asked.
‘Police protect S’Africans during xenophobic attacks’
Meanwhile, a Nigerian resident in Johannesburg, Frank Igiake, claimed their attackers were usually protected by the police.
Igiake, an auto mechanic, who resides in Johannesburg, said he would relocate to Nigeria after selling off his property.
He said, “This xenophobic attack is telling on us and we do not know what step they would take next. I’m ready to return but I must first sell my house. I have a house in Johannesburg and a business, so, it will not be an immediate return.
“During the recent attack, in my workshop, the attackers burnt two vehicles and we had to run to save our lives. We went somewhere and watched them destroying our property.
“The police were there but they did not stop them. The police would even prevent us from stopping them. If you attempt to fight them you might lose your life in the process.
“If you kill any of them the police will arrest you that you have killed a citizen.’’
We’ll fund xenophobic victims’ suit against S’Africa –Reps
In response to the losses incurred by Nigerians, the House of Representatives has said it will approve funds for victims of the attacks who wish to take legal action against the country.
It also said it was considering compensation for those affected by the attacks.
The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, said these while addressing journalists at a ‘world press conference’ held in Abuja on Friday.
He was accompanied by some principal officers of the Lower chamber, including the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase; Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; Deputy Leader, Peter Akpatason; Deputy Chief Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha; and Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Buba Yakub.
The Speaker warned South Africa against labelling Nigerians in their country as criminals, asking it not to add insult to Nigeria’s grief.
He also noted that for South Africa not to be seen as encouraging and justifying the xenophobic attacks by its citizens, the government should openly dismiss the narrative that the attacks were provoked by the alleged criminal activities of Nigerians in the country.
While commending the actions so far taken by the Federal Government, he said the President should direct the Ministry of Health to assist the bereaved families in expediting the return of their loved ones who had lost their lives in the unfortunate events.
He said, “The time for speaking has long passed and the time for action has come to us with a fierce urgency demanding nothing less than our total commitment to revoking the old arrangements that have made such abominations against our people possible.”
“Too many a time, we are called to stand as pallbearers, bringing home to bury the bodies of our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, our children, savaged and decimated. What is their offence? That they dared to dream of glory and profit beyond our borders; and having dreamt, they endeavoured to make real the visions of their heart.
“We reject entirely the obvious attempt to change the true narrative of events by casting the recently organised acts of violence as a merely internecine conflict between gangs fighting for turf.”
Gbajabiamila stressed that the House was ready to authorise funding “for those citizens who wish to take legal action against identified perpetrators of the violence as well as those who sponsored them or permitted their actions to occur and to continue.”
He pointed out that the House would work with all the stakeholders within and outside government to evolve and implement a plan to evacuate Nigerians from where internal crises and conflicts have made the terrain unsafe for them.
He added, “We expect that the Government of South Africa will conduct a thorough investigation into these allegations and make public their findings, whatever they may be. Where any of these claims are determined to be true, we expect also that the individuals responsible will be held accountable to the highest degree allowed by law.”
Gbajabiamila announced the plan of the House to suspend its two-month annual recess to discuss the crisis, adding that the lower chamber would invite the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Geoffrey Onyeama); the Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa (Kabiru Bala); the Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (Abike Dabiri-Erewa) and other stakeholders to review the issue.
A member of the House, Mr Kingsley Chinda, had in a message to our correspondent on Tuesday called on the National Assembly to reconvene for two days and condemn the alleged refusal by the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa to protect citizens running to it for safety.
Buhari meets Gbajabiamila over xenophobia, $9.6bn judgment debt
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday met behind closed doors with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Speaking to State House correspondents at the end of the meeting, Gbajabiamila said the National Assembly was on the same page with the President and the government regarding the xenophobic attacks on Nigerian citizens in South Africa.
Gbajabiamila also revealed that they deliberated on the issue of the budget circle as well as the $9.6bn London judgment against Nigeria.
He expressed the hope that the executive arm would submit the 2020 appropriation bill to the National Assembly before the end of September to achieve the January to December budget cycle.
”Clearly we are in opposition to the $9.6bn judgement and steps will be taken,’’ he added.
Over 200 Nigerians killed in S’Africa in five years — NUSA
The Nigerian Union South Africa on Friday disclosed that no fewer than 200 Nigerians had been killed in South Africa in the past five years.
The President, NUSA, Adetola Olubajo, said although there was no official figure of Nigerians living in South Africa, the number would not be less than 800,000.
He said, “We have a rough figure of the last three to five years. I think there have been over 200 Nigerians that have been killed at the last count, either through extrajudicial killings; that is, through excessive use of force by the police; killing by unknown assailants because there were a lot of Nigerians that were shot dead. So, those are the two major ways in which Nigerians are losing their lives violently.”
He also said only a very small number of Nigerians had shown interest in returning home and that they had been directed to the Nigerian Consulate in South Africa.
Olubajo added, “There are lots of places in South Africa where Nigerians are engaging in lucrative (legitimate) professions, but most times, it’s those few bad eggs that are seen on the streets.
“Any reasonable person that wants to say the truth will tell you that Nigerians are doing well and making us proud. It is those few bad eggs that are being projected in the news.”
Why Nigeria won’t sever diplomatic ties with S’Africa – Onyeama
Meanwhile, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, has said that Nigeria will not sever diplomatic ties with South Africa following the current xenophobic attacks on Nigerians.
Onyeama, who stated this on Friday when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Diaspora, said taking such an action would not be in the interest of Nigerians and their investments in South Africa.
He said available statistics from the Nigeria High Commission in Pretoria indicated that over 800,000 Nigerians are legally living in the South African country.
Onyeama, who briefed journalists after a meeting with the Senate panel, led by Senator Bashir Ajibola, said, “We are not thinking of calling off diplomatic ties. There are various options, but we are not by any means at a stage where we are breaking diplomatic relations with South Africa.”
He said the leader of the President’s special envoy to South Africa should be back on Saturday (today), noting that the feedback would give the government the basis for further action.
He added, “We know for a fact that no Nigerian life has been lost, so we are extremely concerned with how to ensure that there will be adequate compensation for properties that have been damaged.
“The Nigerian Government will be demanding that the victims be compensated and this is a very important issue because the South African Government has been reported to say that nothing provides for them to legally provide compensation for these people.”
On his part, Ajibola said there was damage to property and there were ongoing efforts to assess the extent of damage with a view to making a clear demand to the South African Government to compensate those whose properties had been damaged.
Your comment fuelling xenophobia, Onyeama tells S’African counterpart
Also on Friday, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Onyeama, said the like of comments made by his counterpart in South Africa, Naledi Pandor, had the tendency of fuelling the xenophobic attacks.
The South African minister had said in an interview with South African TV station, eNCA, that many Nigerians living in South Africa were involved in drug trafficking.
She said, “I would appreciate them (Nigeria) in helping us as well to address the belief our people have and the reality that there are many persons from Nigeria dealing in drugs in our country; a belief that Nigerian nationals are involved in human trafficking and other abusive practices.”
But, reacting via his Twitter handle, Onyeama, who tagged the video, wrote, “It is precisely this kind of outrageous stigmatisation of a people from senior government officials that fuels xenophobia and emboldens criminals.”