South Africa has been hit by an outbreak of attacks on migrants from other African countries as the nation prepared to host a meeting of political and business leaders from across the continent.
A spate of violence that broke out in suburbs south of Johannesburg’s city centre on Sunday and spread to the central business district on Monday saw the destruction of more than 50 shops and business premises mainly owned by Africans from countries in the rest of the continent such as Nigeria and Somalia. Cars and properties were torched and widespread looting took place.
The attacks come ahead of the beginning of the African edition of the World Economic Forum in Cape Town on September 4 and before a state visit to South Africa by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, a country whose nationals have been affected, next month.
“The continuing attacks on Nigerian nationals and businesses in South Africa are unacceptable,” the government of Nigeria said on Twitter. “Enough is enough. Nigeria will take definitive measures to ensure safety and protection of her citizens.”
The violence echoes sporadic outbreaks of attacks mainly targeting migrants from other African countries in some of South Africa’s poorest areas. In 2008 about 60 people were killed and over 50 000 forced from their homes and in 2015 seven people died in violence. Migrants are seen as competition for scarce jobs and government services.
Other Nigerian politicians, including former presidential election candidate Oby Ezekwesili called for stronger intervention by the government. The government has summoned South Africa’s ambassador, the Punch newspaper reported.
Dear President @MBuhari and @NigeriaGov , it is time to take decisive actions to protect our Citizens in South Africa. The maiming and killings have gone on for too long without effective response. The bilateral relations with South Africa is troubled. It is time to be CANDID.
— Oby Ezekwesili (@obyezeks) September 2, 2019
Zambia warned its truck drivers, many of whom drive goods south to the South African port of Durban, to stay out of the country. Newsday, a Zimbabwean newspaper, reported that trucks were queuing on the Zimbabwean side of the border with South Africa at Beitbridge, with drivers reluctant to cross. Newspapers also reported that truck drivers were waiting for calm in eSwatini and Botswana.
“It is barbaric to attack people simply because they are foreigners, it is not acceptable,” Chanda Kasolo, permanent secretary in Zambia’s information ministry, said on national television. “Our leaders are doing everything possible to communicate with the South African government to ask them to take better control of things.”
South African politicians condemned the violence, in which one person was shot dead, according to eNCA, a local television station. At least 110 people were arrested.
Looting spread to Alexandra, an impoverished area in northern Johannesburg, overnight and there was unrest in Marabastad in Pretoria, 702 Talk Radio reported.
There was a police presence in central Johannesburg on Tuesday with some shops and schools closed. Major companies including Anglo American, Absa and AngloGold Ashanti either closed their offices in the city centre or reduced staffing.
Still, politicians from the ruling African National Congress have in the past made anti-immigrant comments and Johannesburg’s mayor, Herman Mashaba, has attracted criticism from human rights groups for his frequent attacks on undocumented migrants. Mashaba is a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance.
While ANC politicians including Ace Malagasy, the secretary-general of the ANC, and David Makhura, an ANC politician and premier of Gauteng province, in which Johannesburg and Pretoria lie, have said there is no justification for the violence South African president Cyril Ramaphosa is yet to make a public statement.
“There is an utter absence of leadership in this country,” said Claude Baissac, the head of Eunomix Business & Economics “Lawlessness, lack of hope, lack of opportunity. It’s a country that’s slowly, slowly but continuously slipping into state failure.”
© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.