South Africa temporarily closed its diplomatic missions in Nigeria following retaliatory attacks triggered by xenophobic violence in South Africa.
Between Sunday and Wednesday, crowds looted and destroyed shops – mostly foreign-owned – in Johannesburg’s South African shopping center. The Nigerian government has spoken openly about the situation, condemning the violence.
The South African Minister of Foreign Affairs has described this as embarrassing for her country. “Our government regrets any violence against foreign-owned shops or Africans from other countries that reside in South Africa,” said the national broadcaster SABC quoting Minister Naledi Pandor.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, South African companies were targeted by protesters in several Nigerian cities. The South African telecommunications giant MTN closed its stores as a precaution.
Seven people were killed in the unrest in South Africa, but none of the casualties were identified as Nigerian. Nevertheless, the videos and images shared on social media that claim to show Nigerians attacked and killed fueled tensions.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari sent an envoy to South Africa to “express Nigeria’s dissatisfaction with the treatment of its citizens”.
But on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said that although the government believes that Nigerian companies in South Africa have been targeted, it had no information that one of its citizens was dead. “There are a lot of stories going on about Nigerians being killed, jumping out of a building and being burned, which is not the case,” he told reporters.
He also urged people to stop attacking South African businesses in Nigeria, saying the president “is particularly appalled by vandalism.” To help Nigerians who want to leave South Africa, the Foreign Ministry said they offered a free flight back home.
“Wake up South Africa!”
In response to violence in Johannesburg, two of Nigeria’s top musicians, Burna Boy, and Tiwa Savage, announced that they were boycotting South Africa. Burna Boy vowed never to return to South Africa until the government “wakes up”.
Tiwa Savage withdrew from a concert she planned to perform in South Africa in September, condemning “the barbaric massacre of (her) people”. The singer then clarified that “(her) people” could be any African.
On Tuesday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the wave of looting and violence. “Nothing can justify a South African attacking people from other countries,” he said. South African police said the force has decreased and nearly 300 people arrested as a result of the disturbances.