South African President Apologizes to Nigeria After Anti-Immigrant Violence

South Africa delivered an apology to the Nigerian government following a series of deadly xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg and Pretoria. President Cyril Ramaphosa sent an envoy to Nigeria to deliver his nation’s “sincerest apologies about the incident that has recently transpired in South Africa.”

“The incident does not represent what we stand for,” South African envoy Jeff Radebe said in a meeting in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, on September 16. Radebe promised that South African police would “leave no stone unturned, that those involved must be brought to book,” Al Jazeera reported.

The envoy also told Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that the South African government condemned the violence, the BBC reported.

Buhari thanked the South African envoy for “coming to explain to us what happened in South Africa recently, leading to [the] killing and displacement of foreigners.”

“President [Muhammadu] Buhari accepted profuse apologies from the South African president, pledging that relationship between the two countries will be solidified,” the Nigerian government said in a statement after the meeting.

Anti-immigrant violence in South Africa, which began on September 2, targeted foreign-owned businesses across Johannesburg, Pretoria, and the surrounding areas.

The riots targeted over 1,000 foreign-owned businesses and led to the deaths of at least 12 people. Ten of the victims were reportedly South African nationals and two were foreign nationals from Zimbabwe. Although Nigerians were not killed during the upheaval, Nigerian-owned shops and businesses were reportedly targeted by mobs.

The violence in recent weeks prompted reprisal attacks against South African companies in Nigeria. South Africa’s diplomatic missions in Lagos and Abuja were temporarily closed and Nigeria recalled its ambassador to South Africa.

Following the attack, Madagascar and Zambia cancelled a match against the national South African football team Bafana Bafana, CNN reported. The attacks also led to international calls for a boycott of South Africa, the continent’s second-largest economy.

On September 9, Nigeria announced that it would evacuate hundreds of its citizens from South Africa. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairwoman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, told CNN that the first group of 187 repatriated citizens arrived on September 11 and the government plans to assist 640 Nigerians in total who want to return.

The announcement came after a Nigerian real estate firm, Landwey Investment, offered free flights to Nigerians who wanted to return home. At least 10 Nigerians took the firm up on its offer, CEO Olawale Ayilara told CNN.

More than 700 immigrants from other countries, including Malawi and Zimbabwe, sought safety at community centers in South Africa.

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa are not new. In 2008, at least 62 people were killed when poor South Africans rioted against poor foreigners living in their country. The violence erupted once again between March and May 2015, killing seven people and displacing about 5,000 others.

Following the end of apartheid, a small portion of South Africa’s Black population prospered, The New York Times reported in 2008. However, the gap between rich South Africans and poor South Africans continues to widen. High unemployment rates and poor housing opportunities have also contributed to violence.

The increasingly high unemployment rate in South African is another reason for the unrest. According to national data, the unemployment rate among South Africans aged 15 to 24 is 55.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019. The unemployment rate among those aged 25 to 34 is lower at 34.2 percent and the lowest among South Africans aged 35 to 64 at 18 percent.

“That’s fueling the rage at the bottom,” Marius Root, a researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations, told The New York Times in 2008. “There’s a perception that they’re not enjoying the fruits of the liberation.”

This rage appears to be the reason behind the recent unrest. The new round of violence began when truck drivers began striking to protest against competition from foreign drivers.

President Ramaphosa told the BBC that he was ashamed by the xenophobic violence across his country. “We are very concerned and of course as a nation we [are] ashamed because this goes against the ethos of what South Africa stands for,” he said.

The president also said that foreigners also have a right to own and operate businesses in South Africa without the fear of attack. “Government will not allow sporadic lawlessness and violence to disrupt the safety and livelihood of millions of South Africans and the majority of foreign nationals in our country who are law-abiding and have the right to conduct their lives and businesses in peace,” he said.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.