Although most business analysts — including the Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf — dismissed concerns over reprisal, they said South Africa has firm grip on major sectors of the Nigerian economy and could lose badly unless it does more to stop the recurring attacks.
Most of the attacks in South Africa occur in areas occupied by black Africans. “Cape Town is governed by the opposition party and they are mainly whites and coloured. The problems are always within the areas dominated by blacks,” says Cape Town-based medical doctor, Mr. JohnMartins Chinedu Mbamalu.
During his last visit to Nigeria, President Jacob Zuma said there were 120 big South African companies in Nigeria, sparking off debate on obvious trade imbalance and lopsided economic ties between both countries.
While South African companies in Nigeria are believed to be experiencing growth and patronage, Nigerian companies in South Africa complain of socio-economic asphyxiation. Business leader and president of the more than one million Nigerian residents was quoted as saying that South Africans have in place “some laws to ensure that foreign businesses do not thrive in their country.”
South Africa’s leading companies in Nigeria include MTN, Power Giant, Eskom Nigeria, South African Airways, South African Breweries (SAB miller), Stanbic Merchant Bank of Nigeria, Multichoice and Umgeni Water.
Others include Refresh products, PEP Retail Stores, Shoprite, LTA Construction, Protea Hotels, Critical Rescue International, South African-Nigeria Communications, Global Outdoor Semces, Oracle and Airtime. Experts say entry and growth of Africa’s interests and businesses in the current democratic dispensation have been ‘phenomenal,” moving from just four, in 1999, to 120 in 2016.
“Reprisal attack is a possibility but I’m hoping it does not happen”, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, told The Guardian. “ The South African government can do much better,” she said, stressing that a mayor in Pretoria made inciting statements that fuelled attacks on Nigerians and other Africans, especially Zimbabweans. “No responsible government will encourage reprisal because that will mean bringing yourself lower than them,” she cautioned.
Dabiri-Erewa said: “The Nigeria Mission in South Africa has met with the South African Police authorities and they have assured us they will (henceforth) provide protection for Nigerians.” Erewa-Dabiri, who on Monday urged the African Union (AU) to prevail on South African authorities to halt the attacks, however, noted that self-help or reciprocity could worsen the issue.
In a statement in Abuja Dabiri-Erewa had described the attacks as “unnecessary setback.”
Dabiri-Erewa said the AU was being called to intervene because information had it that there would be fresh xenophobic attacks against foreigners today and tomorrow.
In a telephone interview with The Guardian yesterday, Erewa-Dabiri said the latest attack was done by “just a small part of” South Africa’s population . Some time ago, we used the principle of reciprocity; when they (South Africa) turned back an Arik aircraft, we turned theirs back. But this is the time for the AU to intervene.”
Yusuf who runs the Lagos chamber of commerce dismissed the possibility of reprisal attacks on South African businesses in Nigeria, noting that, unlike small businesses predominantly owned by Nigerians in South Africa, most of the South African ventures are large enterprises.
“There may be a couple of protests but Nigerians are not violent and would not toe the line of South Africans. Moreover, Nigerians benefit largely from South African businesses in the country through employment, as many of the businesses have over 90 per cent of Nigerians as their employees. So there may not be the need for such an action.
“Nigerians have a lot to lose if such reprisal actions occur. However, I do not see that happening. Nigerians are not crude”, he added.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government while strongly condemning the incident “urged the South African government to take the strongest measures to protect the lives and property of foreigners living in South Africa and also to quickly bring to justice the perpetrators of these heinous crimes”.
The government in a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs observed that incidents of xenophobic attacks have continued unabated in South Africa since 2015, and that Nigerians are among the groups that have been mainly targeted for attack and looting of their property.
The Ministry, however, urged Nigerians in South Africa to remain calm and law-abiding, adding that high-level communications aimed at permanently resolving the crisis have commenced. It nonetheless advised Nigerians in South Africa to be vigilant.
In the same vein, the Senate has called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to immediately review Nigeria’s foreign policy following the attacks.
Besides, the government of South Africa has condemned the xenophobic violence describing it as not only despicable but demeaning of the African people.