Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, has criticised his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor’s comments that many Nigerians in South Africa indulge in criminal acts.
“It is precisely this kind of outrageous stigmatisation of a people from senior government officials that fuel xenophobia and embolden criminals,” Onyeama tweeted on Friday.
Pandor had in an interview with South African television station eNCA on Thursday said many Nigerians resident in South Africa are “drug dealers”, adding that several others are also involved in “human trafficking and many other abuse of our practices.”
The House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, has also rejected the claims, stating that South Africa is trying to “change the true narrative” of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa as a conflict between “gangs fighting for turf.”
“Unless it is the position of the South African government that all Nigerians living in South Africa are gangsters and criminals, we demand that they reject these claims without equivocation,” Gbajabiamila said in a press conference on Friday.
Many Nigerians work in South Africa, but they are sometimes stereotyped as criminals in the country with some of the highest rates of domestic violence and five times the average global femicide rate.
Pandor’s remark came during the worsening diplomatic relations between the two African countries. Nigerians in South Africa have suffered xenophobic attacks in recent months. But Nigeria said it is not looking to cut ties with South Africa.
However, the bigger anti-foreigner violence broke out on Monday and over 10 persons have been killed and 400 arrests made. Police in the country have yet to pinpoint what triggered the violence.
Pandor had earlier described the anti-migrants violence sentiments as Afrophobia – fear or dislike of Africans, but the South Africa’s Police Minister, Bheki Cele, said that attacks are acts of “criminality” and not xenophobic.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa shared a different sentiment. He acknowledged that there are anti-foreigner sentiments in the country.
Attacks on foreign-owned shops have become regular occurrences that many have attributed to frustration with the country’s high unemployment rate, which sits at about 28 percent.
Nigerians launched what appeared to be reprisals against South African affiliated businesses in several cities across the country. Police said dozens were arrested for looting and some were arraigned on Thursday.
The Nigerian government has repeatedly condemned the reprisals, which it insisted could only hurt Nigerians working in the affected firms.
The Nigerian foreign ministry said Air Peace, a commercial airline, has offered to send an aircraft to evacuate nationals who are willing to return, “free of charge”.