By Jeff Kapembwa in Lusaka
and Colleta Dewa in Johannesburg
SADC and the Africa Union should intervene over the worsening situation in South Africa where xenophobic attacks on foreigners have heightened, claiming several lives and threatening to destabilise the region and the continent, Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu, said this week.
President Lungu, the immediate past chairperson of the SADC Organ on Defence and Security Co-operation, called for urgent intervention not only to stop the violence, but also to bring culprits to book before the xenophobia degenerates into full-scale genocide.
President Lungu urged Africans, Zambians included, to exercise restraint and not to indulge in any acts of retaliation in the wake of the sad episode in South Africa.
His call came as South African multinational corporations in Nigeria were caught up in retaliatory attacks following the xenophobic violence. Retail group Shoprite, mobile network firm MTN, and entertainment group, Multichoice, were targeted on Wednesday.
Shoprite disclosed several stores in South Africa, Nigeria and Zambia
were unable to open due to protest action and extensive damage had been
done to several supermarkets since Tuesday.
The retailer said it was highly concerned about the acts of xenophobic
violence against foreign nationals that sporadically flared up and the
resultant rhetoric of intolerance that is leveled against foreigners in South Africa.
It noted this was creating a platform for criminals to exploit.
Shoprite stated that it was a company with deep African roots, employing
thousands of African nationals in 15 countries on the continent, and
appealed for an end to xenophobia across the continent.
“We remain committed to engage with government (both Nigeria and South
Africa), industry and consumer groups so that decisive action is taken
against those involved in violent crimes and intimidation against
foreign nationals as well as to convey our strong position against
xenophobia,” Shoprite stated.
Nigerians ran amok in the commercial city of Lagos on Tuesday. Property in the city was destroyed and a Shoprite outlet in the Lekki zone looted.
MTN Nigeria, which is the South African company’s biggest entity,
decried the violence and retaliation.
Three outlets were closed because of tensions.
“MTN Nigeria strongly condemns hate, prejudice and xenophobia and
reiterate our unequivocal condemnation of all violence. We are against
all forms of bigotry and discrimination. They should have no place in
Multichoice was also affected.
It suffered a further setback when prominent Nigeria artist, Tiwa
Savage, pulled out of a music festival the entertainment company is
organising for September 21 in Johannesburg.
John Ugbe, Multichoice Nigeria chief executive, appealed for dialogue,
peace and unity.
“This is a sombre period for every African and beyond, and we urge all
our customers, followers and stakeholders to shun violence,” Ugbe said
On Tuesday, Nigeria voiced its concern over the attacks of its nationals
in South Africa.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, summoned the South
African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Bobby Moroe, to express the
Zambia withdrew their senior national soccer team scheduled to play Bafana Bafana in protest for xenophobic violence.
Meanwhile, South Africa this week hosted the 2019 World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF) amid tension with fellow African states which were sparked by the attacks of foreign nationals and their businesses in South Africa this week.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation confirmed to the media that they received official communication from the government of Rwanda that the country had withdrawn its participation due to the attacks.
Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia were also reported to have withdrawn their participation but by the time of going to print, the countries had not formally confirmed their withdrawals.
Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned in the strongest terms, the incidents of violence against nationals of fellow African countries in South Africa, including the looting and destruction of their property.
"The AU calls for immediate steps to be taken to protect the lives of people and their property, ensure that all perpetrators are brought to account for their acts, and that justice be done to those who suffered economic and other losses.
“The Chairperson reiterates the AU Commission's continued commitment to support the South African government in addressing the root causes that led to these despicable acts, in order to promote peace and security, within the framework of the AU's longstanding principles of continental solidarity," said Mahamat.
Although the South African government did not address the attacks as xenophobic, choosing to refer to them as criminality, most African countries view them as xenophobia.
The attacks broke out following a planned strike by truck drivers in the country who were protesting the presence of foreign nationals in the trucking business. The killing of a South African tax driver by a Nigerian drug dealer also raised tempers in Pretoria resulting in attacks on foreign nationals by locals.
In reaction to the incidents of violence against foreigners, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari despatched a special envoy to South Africa to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa and to convey his deep concerns about attacks on Nigerian citizens and property in South Africa.
Buhari’s office said the president had also instructed his Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama to summon the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria “to get a brief on the situation and express Nigeria’s displeasure over the treatment of her citizens and assurance of the safety of their lives and property”.
Onyeama threatened to take “definitive measures,” against what he called “sickening and depressing news of continued burning and looting of Nigerian shops and premises in South Africa by mindless criminals with ineffective police protection”.
“Enough is enough. We will take definitive measures,” said Onyeama.
Diplomatic relations between South Africa and Nigeria were again spoilt in 2015 when Nigeria recalled its High Commissioner to South Africa following attacks against fellow Africans, including Nigerians.
Analysts who spoke to The Southern Times also highlighted that this latest round of attacks has once again cast South Africa in a very dismal light on the continent.
Following reports that some African leaders were boycotting the World Economic Forum in protest against the attacks, Archiford Mpala, a political analyst, said the situation could have worse consequences than what Pretoria would have anticipated.
"If we are not careful as a country, South Africa might find itself in isolation. We are not an island and we need our fellow brothers and sisters for our economy to be stable. Imagine what will happen if these countries choose to boycott even our products that we export to them? We don't need a trans-border row with Africa or with anyone," he said.
The dean of the diplomatic corps in South Africa, DRC ambassador Bene M’poko, also called on Pretoria to take a proactive stance and make a statement at ministerial level or higher to reassure the world that it has the attacks against foreigners under control.
He added that he had called a meeting on Friday of the committee of African ambassadors and South African ministers which was set up in May after the last spate of xenophobic violence, to discuss the latest spate. But the meeting had had to be cancelled as most ministers would be attending the WEF Africa.
M’poko said South Africans and Nigerians had not had an honest conversation about the xenophobia problem.
He also felt that South Africans needed to examine the way they dealt with foreigners.
“Just because a foreigner opens a shop doesn’t mean he is a criminal. I can’t protect my citizens if they come here to sell drugs. But what is wrong is when local citizens take the law into their own hands,” he added.
There were also reports that a group of concerned citizens in Zambia notified police of a peaceful march and gathering at the premises of the South African Embassy in Lusaka.
The group said the march was “to show displeasure to the South African government for the horrific conduct exhibited by their citizens and complacent approach their government has taken”.
The Ethiopian Embassy in South Africa also advised Ethiopians to distance themselves from any confrontation and conflict until the situation stabilised.