Foreign nationals fleeing last week’s xenophobic attacks started leaving the country yesterday, saying they feared for their lives.
A wave of violent attacks, mostly directed at foreign nationals, gripped parts of Gauteng last week and resulted in the looting of businesses and the destruction of property.
Yesterday, 84 Nigerians offered transport to leave the country took up the offer and caught the first flight back home.
They boarded the Air Peace aircraft yesterday morning, but more than 200 were disappointed to be sent back because they did not have valid documents.
Nigeria offered its South African-based nationals the opportunity to return home after days of xenophobic looting and violence.
The violent attacks began in Tshwane after a taxi driver, Jabu Baloyi, was allegedly shot and killed by a Nigerian national.
At the peak of the unrest in mainly the CBDs of Joburg and Tshwane, Nigerian businessman Allen Onyema availed his Air Peace Airline Service to transport his countrymen back home for free.
In a statement, the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised those who had relatives in South Africa to take advantage of the gesture and return home free of charge.
“Interested Nigerians are therefore advised to liaise with the High Commission of Nigeria in Pretoria and the Consulate General in Johannesburg,” it read.
Frustrated after returning from the airport, Nigerians flocked the gates of their consulate in Johannesburg yesterday, demanding that they be allowed to return home.
With their luggage packed and wrapped with airport suitcase plastic still visible, most of the returnees had children.
One frustrated national seeking to return home, Kihinde Mustapha, said the children were the main reason most of them were turned back.
“The emergency travel certificate (ETC/TC) which most children didn’t have, was the reason why you see us back,” he said.
Mustapha said that his biggest disappointment was that South Africans did not want to unite with the rest of the continent.
“No country can grow without foreigners. Foreigners bring investment in the country, there is a Nigerian in Malvern who owns a car dealership and he employs locals,” he said.
According to the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 640 Nigerian nationals were registered to return home with the first 313 scheduled to be flown home yesterday.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday called for the immediate voluntary evacuation of all Nigerians wanting to return home, and Air Peace offered free flights last week.
The rest are expected to touch down in Abuja today and Friday.
Another fleeing Nigerian national, Richard Eze, placed the blame squarely on the Nigerian government and believes that they should have done more for them.
“A country asks you to leave. A single individual from Nigeria says he will provide an aircraft to come and evacuate the people here. I expect the Nigerian government to put all protocols in place,” he said.
Eze said some people have been at the consulate for almost three days.
“Now people are here they can't even travel freely back to their own country. In a case like this, what is required is that you are Nigerian whether your documents are in place or not, just go,” he said.
He believes that the Nigerian government should have sorted out the repatriation logistics to avoid the chaos of some people being denied access to the flights.
“I expect the Nigerian consulate and their people to pick up the forms as you are filling them in so that they are arranging the TC.
"Then you pick up your TC and the bus takes you to the airport and you go,” he said.
Businessman Cosmos Jerry, who was at the Consulate to try and seek relief after seven of his cars were torched at his Johannesburg-based little dealership during the looting, was frustrated after he could not be helped.
“I came here for something else but the place is packed and the matter cannot be checked.
"They told me they are still trying to resolve the documentation of those wanting to leave,” he said.
He said the people he has had conversations with at the Consulate are desperate to leave South Africa.
“What they need is that the ambassador should have prepared the documents for them. I think they did not make proper arrangements with South African emigration officials, if they did there wouldn't be such a problem,” he said.
In the latest on the periodic xenophobic violence in South Africa, at least 10 South Africans have died and a further two foreigners.