South African (SA) Acting High Commissioner to Nigeria, Bobby Moroe, has said the government of South Africa has not released any official statement on the issue of compensation of victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Moroe stated that it was “premature to make an assumption that South Africa is evading the matter.”
Amongst other issues, the South African envoy opened up on the recent xenophobic attacks and the way forward for both countries.
How has your stay in Nigeria been so far? When exactly did you arrive Nigeria and what is your impression about Nigerians?
I have been in Nigeria for almost two years now – in December. Since my arrival, I have met some wonderful friends in and outside the realm of my diplomatic work. Due to the nature and schedule of my work, I do not really have much time to socialize, except for attending diplomatic functions and occasional get-together with colleagues. That is one part that I miss dearly. I have now settled and got accustomed to the culture and way of life. I have enjoyed my stay so far and continue to appreciate the diverse cultures and hospitality of the people of Nigeria. I am often fascinated by the frequent use of “well done Sah” or “you are welcome.” This for me, is the apex of Nigerian hospitality, characterized by warmth and cordiality.
How was your experience tackling the recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa?
In all my interface with the media, I have always contextualised my reports about the recent events that took place in South Africa where shops were looted and vandalized, amongst others. I moved from the premise that the pattern of attacks and people affected does not suggest that only foreign nationals were affected. I have been on record in saying that during this period, there are a number of South African businesses that were also attacked. So, not only were foreign nationals affected, but South Africans too. You will be interested to know that as it stands, 10 people lost their lives and of the 10, 2 are foreign nationals and the rest of the 8 are South African nationals. No Nigerian national lost his life. It cannot be easy for anyone to handle differences between a people who are enjoined together by the shared common history of friendship and cordiality. But every relationship has a phase in its lifespan. Some of the phases seek to test the agility of relations. But ours with Nigeria will continue to stay the test of time. We will continue to work together to find solutions to our differences.
Did you expect the backlash South Africa received from Nigerians?
What we have been through in the past few weeks is unfortunate and very unpredictable. Members of various communities apply different methods in voicing out their concerns and resolving conflict. It is very difficult to keep taps of people’s movements and watch every little step they take in the process of resolving their differences or venting out their anger. It is not in our best interest to resolve conflict through violence. Even at home in SA, our President has cautioned against this tendency of resorting to violence whenever there are concerns. Even if you may have a strong case, resorting to violence makes it weak. We wish for peace and calm between our people.
How far can the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to South Africa go in resolving the crisis?
Our relations with Nigeria are strong due to the shared common history. We will leverage on this history to put innovative measures into place in order to resolve existing bottlenecks.
But why are your people angry with Nigerians?
Without suggesting that your question is presumptuous and casts aspersions on all South African nationals, you will recall that the South African government took a deliberate decision not to have refugee camps, but rather to integrate refugees in our communities. We did this out of desire to construct social cohesion and to live side by side as brothers and sisters rather than to isolate foreign nationals. This is a noble and humane approach that must be respected and promoted by all in our countries.
Why is it difficult to prosecute criminal elements among immigrants which could have saved innocent Nigerians from attacks?
When acts of criminality ensue and the law enforcement agencies are called upon to restore peace and stability, they ask no questions about your nationality. This is one strength about our legal system. All perpetrators of violence, regardless of race, nationality, gender etc, are treated equally. The SA legal system does not discriminate against anyone because they are foreigners, or female, or whatever the case may be. It is only after arrest that nationalities will be known to the law enforcement agencies. In the case of recent attacks, both South African nationals and foreign nationals were arrested. These arrests are not only effected to protect Nigerian nationals only, but the greater population, regardless of nationality. The constitution protects the human rights and dignity of everyone who lives in the country. To this day, our constitution has not changed. But of course, if you are a foreigner and happen to find yourself on the wrong side of the law and you are arrested, this is not so because you are a foreign national. We have many Nigerian nationals who live peacefully side by side with SA nationals and other foreign nationals. In fact, some of our colleagues who were posted to Nigeria before are married to Nigerian nationals and live in SA with their families. We do not condone any discrimination on grounds that one is a foreigner. The constitution prohibits that.
But is this the way to repay Nigeria’s support to the fight against apartheid regime in South Africa?
Nigeria’s support for South Africa is well documented by Nigerian and South African authors alike. Also from our elder statesmen, we got to know the selfless role played by Nigeria in support of the anti-apartheid movements. On South Africa’s part, we remain eternally grateful for all the sacrifices made by the government and people of Nigeria during the darkest days of apartheid. After 1994, South Africa opened its borders to our brothers and sisters from the continent. This was a time for all the people of the continent to celebrate our victory for which they have sacrificed. By opening these borders, we signalled our desire to play host to hundreds and thousands of nationalities. To this day, South Africa remains home to a multiplicity of people from different countries, including outside of the continent. Our country has attracted many people across the spectrum because we have an attractive economy, and a viable environment for investment, tourism, health and many other facilities. These we continue to share with all those who chose South Africa as their home away from home. But the reality is that, just like many other countries, South Africa faces a number of socio-economic challenges. These challenges impact upon the ordinary men and women who strive each day to make ends meet. While many have formal employment, some are involved in the informal economy, and the rest struggle to survive, owing to the scourge of unemployment, inequality and poverty. It is our desire to work with our partners in the continent to tackle the socio-economic issues we face in order to secure a better life for all.
Why has your government not reined in your people against attacking Nigerians? Going forward, what is South Africa going to do?
On the occasion of the visit to Nigeria by the Special Envoy of President Ramaphosa, Mr Jeff Radebe, a report was presented to President Buhari, as well as brief overview to the media about what our government has done following the recent acts of violence in South Africa. The special envoy was on record in stating that more than 50 people have been arrested for inciting violence, damaging property and other acts of criminality. He further indicated that the law enforcement agencies were hard at work, trying to obtain leads to further arrests of perpetrators. Numerous meetings have been held with the diplomatic community in South Africa in order to find means of working together to resolve the issues that concern all of us. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Naledi Pandor, also had an opportunity to address the diplomatic corps, assuring them that government will not stand idle in the midst of acts of criminality. I also think it will be useful for everyone to refrain from being quick to label every act of indiscretion or transgression “Xenophobia.” The careless use of this word has generated a lot of interest and slowly continues to erode the affinity South Africa shared with countries of the continent. The misleading and divisive information circulating on social media have also not been useful in creating the much desired cohesion and tolerance amongst our people. We believe in peace. We believe in dialogue. What we wish for ourselves as a country is what we wish for the entire humanity.
Don’t South African nationals know that what they are doing can hurt your prosperous companies in Nigeria such as Multichoice, MTN, PEP, Shoprite etc?
During our media interviews, we have always emphasized that attacks were carried out by opportunistic elements within society. These acts do not represent the views or posture of the majority of South Africans towards foreign nationals. Our government does not tolerate violence and continue to act accordingly against anyone who does not respect the rights of others.
Why is South Africa evading the issue of compensation to those whose businesses were attacked?
No official statement has ever been given by the South African government suggesting that we are evading the proposal by the Nigerian government on this matter. In his response during the media briefing at the State House, the Special Envoy indicated that this matter shall be discussed by the two leaders during the State Visit. During our media briefing with Minister Onyeama, I also said the same. Both our responses were consistent. It is therefore premature to make an assumption that South Africa is evading the matter in view of how we have responded during interviews.
Is it true you almost ran out of Nigeria when the atmosphere was tense?
Neither myself nor my colleagues left Nigeria during the period of reprisals. We all remained in Nigeria to do our work under the protection of the Nigerian government through the police force. So, it is not true that I almost “ran” out of Nigeria.