Johannesburg - Africans across the continent have reacted with a vengeance to xenophobic attacks in South Africa, threatening to retaliate economically and politically if the violence against their nationals is not stopped.
Members of Parliament in Nigeria’s lower house have gone so far as to put forward a motion to sever diplomatic ties with South Africa, which was defeated.
But a motion to recall Nigeria’s high commissioner to South Africa for consultations was passed.
Mass protests against South African xenophobia have taken place in several Nigerian cities in recent days. In the past week, the South African High Commissioner in Abuja Lulu Mguni was summoned by the Nigerian government, which sought to express its displeasure.
Mguni said: “While the Nigerian government is pleased by South Africa’s recent interventions to prevent further violence, people on the ground want to know when their nationals will be compensated.”
It is estimated that Nigerians in South Africa have lost an estimated R21 million in the recent spate of attacks.
Nigerians under the One Africa Initiative have threatened to unleash their anger on South African investments, and have led protests to the offices of MTN, Shoprite, and Pick n Pay.
Youths under the aegis of “The Flagship” have also threatened to shut down South African firms.
This is of particular concern to companies like MTN which has twice as many subscribers in Nigeria than in South Africa. It also comes at a time when MTN Nigeria is growing while its South African business is stagnating.
The government of Malawi has been most vocal in its condemnation of the xenophobic attacks, with its information minister calling on SADC and the AU to intervene.
Malawian President Peter Mutharika has urged Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe - as the chairman of the SADC - to ensure the xenophobic attacks in South Africa are addressed. This is embarrassing at a time when South Africa has been working on regional integration strategies.
At least 2 000 Malawians protested outside the South African high commission in Lilongwe this week, giving an ultimatum to the South African government to respond to their petition and get Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini to apologise for his remarks, or face a boycott of South African goods.
But the executive director of the Consumers Association of Malawi, John Kapito, has called for a boycott of all South African goods and services, giving South African businesses one week to close their shops.
To date no Zambian national has been a victim of xenophobic attacks, but Zambia’s biggest private radio station stated: “We have indefinitely blocked the playing of South African music in protest against the xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals.”
The radio station is supporting calls by Zambian civil society to name tomorrow “black Friday” in solidarity with foreign nationals in South Africa.
Mozambique is still reeling from the stabbing death of its national Emmanuel Sithole on Saturday in Alexandra. According to local news reports, retaliation included a roadblock being set up near the Ressano Garcia border post with South Africa by a group of people stopping vehicles with South African licence plates from entering Mozambique, and stoning them. Mozambican workers at various mining and gas companies have also protested against the xenophobic violence by downing tools and demanding South African employees leave.
Tensions have flared in Zimbabwe, with Zimbabwe’s largest student representative body Zinasu calling for reprisal attacks on South African businesses. Concerts by South African artists have been cancelled in Harare and London. The tours of BigNuz, Kelly Khumalo, and Cassper Nyovest were recently cancelled. There have also been calls to boycott South African acts at the Harare International Festival of arts which will run from Tuesday to May 2.
Protesters outside the South African High Commission in Harare tried to force open the gates, while Zimbabwean MPs delivered an anti-xenophobia petition.
Roshin Dadoo, of the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, has spoken out about the devastating response of those on the continent to developments on the ground in South Africa. “South Africa needs to heed its international obligations on human rights much more seriously,” she said.
The groundswell of anger being directed at both South Africans and the government is problematic given the emphasis in the country’s foreign policy on economic diplomacy on the continent.
South Africa cannot thrive economically without the economic support and goodwill of its African neighbours, just as the region needs South Africa’s economic footprint bringing with it jobs and investment.
As the Africa Business Centre at Ernst and Young has stressed, South Africa looks to the continent as it presents high growth and enormous opportunities for South African businesses. “It is in our national interest to turn around the narrative about foreign nationals in our country… as fast as possible.”
Independent Foreign Service