Monday, April 20, 2015

On the Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa...

News media is rife with reports of Nigerians and other African immigrants killed in xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The recent outbreak of violence follows comments by Zulu King Zwelithini that foreigners should leave because they are taking jobs from citizens. Other citizens have expanded this by stating immigrants are undermining locally owned businesses. The pictures and videos are horrifying, showing disgruntled citizens driven by an entitlement mentality.

NANS has threatened reprisal attacks and some have called for boycotts of South African owned businesses. Neither course of action is advisable. In this context, boycotts will not achieve anything we cannot more quickly achieve via diplomacy.  They also have the unintended consequence of harming our economy, as these companies employ thousands of Nigerians and pay millions in taxes. Secondly, harming innocent South Africans living in Nigeria is unjust, signals we are no better than those whose actions we condemn, and may lead to an escalation in the violence.

The Nigerian High Commission will begin evacuating Nigerians interested in returning to Nigeria from today. This is a good start, as we must ensure their safety above all. We must do more for them, however. We must communicate clearly to the South African government that we will no longer treat attacks on our citizens and business interests lightly, and we must pressure them into arranging commensurate compensation for businesses destroyed during these attacks.

The South African government must arrest as many perpetrators of this violence as possible and publicly try them. Citizens found guilty of murder and looting among other offences should face the wrath of the law – to discourage future offenders. The South African government must invest in education and training, and implement enabling economic policies to reduce unemployment (24% across all South Africans) and drive inclusion. It is indicative of the poor quality of local labor and businesses if employers and customers, most of whom are South African themselves, prefer immigrant labor and services.

The South African government must also lead efforts to change the public perception of African immigrants in South Africa. They must communicate to citizens how immigrants are creating more jobs and opportunities by increasing the size of the market. [Official data puts the percentage of immigrants living in South Africa at 4%, while it is as high as 10% by other estimates]. In many ways, these immigrants they now seek to destroy are keeping unemployment from rising even higher!

My thoughts and prayers are with immigrants affected by this violence and their families.

1. Go here to read a blog by a Nigerian living in South Africa about the attacks and her opinion on the root causes.
2. Go here to read some perspective from Quartz on the economic charts underlying the attacks in South Africa.

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