The recent trending hashtag on Twitter by South Africans asking Nigerians to leave their country was triggered by the effect of COVID-19 lockdown in which many people lost their jobs, a Nigerian living in South Africa told SaharaReporters.
Last week a protest was held outside the Nigerian High Commission in the capital, Pretoria, under the hashtag #PutSouthAfricansFirst.
Some South Africans pushed for reforms as they complained about the crime rate in their communities, alleging Nigerians play a major role in numbers surging, Africafeeds.com reports
Some South Africans claimed African immigrants in the country had taken their jobs and are driving crime rate high.
“We just discovered that during the COVID-19 lockdown, a lot of people lost business opportunities, and foreigners tend to move on,” said South Africa-based Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist, Austin Okeke.
“They are resilient with businesses, and South Africans have lost a lot of jobs. A lot of business opportunities are not there, so they now want to shut out foreigners from those opportunities so that they will be the ones engaging in those businesses. The businesses fall under the informal sector.”
Okeke, who affirmed that Nigerians are safe as they go about their daily business, however, pointed out that the situation could cause another xenophobic attack, if not addressed.
He told SaharaReporters that this had always been the cause of previous xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa.
“Nigerians are safe. They go to work. They go to their businesses. We have Nigerian professionals here; lecturers, lawyers, medical doctors. This is how attacks will start. Something will trigger it, something in this nature will trigger the xenophobic attack, and the next thing you see is that they are looting shops,” said Okeke.
While he assured that the current situation was under control as a result of the exemplary efforts of the South African government and the Nigerian professionals, he criticised the Nigerian government for not speaking up against the actions of South Africans.
“The number of people that went to protest is just like 50. And the South African government is treating it as a negligible set of people that came to embarrass the government. It hasn’t had any effect after the protest march to the Nigerian High Commission. The government is not just folding its arms; the government has given a lot of security warnings.
“They have cautioned some people. Even Julius Malema, one of the opposition leaders, tweeted that those people should go and look for work to do instead of chasing fellow Africans. All these things we see often. We pray it does not spill over and becomes another casualty.
“As I am speaking to you, I’ve not seen any countermeasure from the Nigerian government. They are not doing anything except the response that the ambassador gave. A serious country will go offensive, like giving a counter media offensive to change the narrative. It is only we the private people doing our best to change the narrative with Twitter, and other social media posts.”
Okeke said that the positive impact of Nigerian professionals could not be underrated in the South African economy.
“If you withdraw Nigerian doctors from their hospitals, the health system will collapse. We have lecturers at the universities, professors, engineers, students, so activities are going on. Nobody has been so far harassed. I cannot rule out maybe victims of criminality. The everyday criminality is possible but nothing serious," he said.