- A group under the banner of #PutSouthAfricansFirst marched to the Nigerian Embassy in Pretoria on Thursday.
- The group of about 50 people demanded that human trafficking and the drug trade stop in SA, which they pinned solely on Nigerian nationals.
- The Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa Kabiru Bala met the protesters and heard them out, but said that he refused to accept that all Nigerians in South Africa are criminals.
The Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa Kabiru Bala stood his ground on Wednesday refusing to accept that all his compatriots living in the country were criminals, after a small group marched to the embassy in Pretoria accusing Nigerian nationals of being solely responsible for human trafficking and the drug trade in South Africa.
A group of no more than 50 people, under the banner of #PutSouthAfricansFirst, marched to the Nigerian Embassy on Wednesday.
The small group – made up of different civil society organisations, as they called themselves – marched from Church Square in the centre of the Pretoria to the CBD, singing struggle songs as they made their way to the embassy.
Once at the embassy, the different groups took turns in addressing Bala on a long list of grievances, that included human trafficking and the drug trade in the country.
The groups pinned these crimes on Nigerian nationals living in South Africa.
Action for Change founder Nandisa Gcshwari said they were marching in protest against human trafficking and child abduction and that, while the perception was that they were being xenophobic, the march was merely about protecting women and children.
“We are taking a stand to say enough is enough. Our government must take a stand [and] they must stop being biased,” Gcshwari said.
When asked why Nigerian nationals were being solely targeted in the protest, Gcshwari claimed that there was enough “evidence” and that Nigerians were “known” for trafficking and abduction.
President of the Khoisan Revolutionary Party Stanley Peterson said some South African women were being used as sex workers.
“You must send out a message to Nigerians to stop what they are doing,” Peterson said.
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Peterson added that asylum seekers and refugees from Nigeria were welcome in the country, but that nationals who entered the country illegally needed to be deported.
This did not sit well with some of the group, who said all Nigerians should return to their country of birth. Mario Khumalo, who marched with Agents of Change, addressed the ambassador and accused Nigerians of not being well mannered, and disrespecting South African sovereignty. He said Nigerians were “running amok” in South Africa.
“We are here to give a clear message. We will not allow people to take advantage of us. This is a clear message to you and your people. It must stop,” Khumalo said.
Many Nigerians doing good in South Africa
Bala responded by telling the protesters that they appeared to only target Nigerians and that it saddened him that his country was being singled out. He said the protesters had a right to voice their issues, but that he had a right to disagree.
“We don’t accept the profiling of Nigerians in this country,” Bala said.
He added that he would never accept that all Nigerians in South Africa were criminals. He said there were many Nigerians doing good for the country and that those accused of being criminals should be dealt with through the legal system.
“I accept that there are Nigerians doing bad things, but you cannot tell me that they all criminals,” Bala said.Bala was interrupted several times while addressing the group.
He pushed on and said Nigeria would never accept any Nigerian who committed crime and reiterated that those who were accused of doing crime should be taken to court and put on trial. One member of the group said that, if Bala did not listen to their grievances, he would deal with Nigerian nationals in a different way.
The same man had also told reporters that he would support violence against foreign nationals, as “it’s the only language they understand.”
Facts vs perception
Senior researcher for the International Crime in Africa Programme at the Institute for Security Studies Martin Ewi said the decision to solely blame Nigerians for human trafficking and the drug trade in South Africa was not supported by the facts.
Ewi said the organised crime landscape was dominated by both foreigners and South Africans. He added that Nigerians being removed from South Africa was not a solution.
“If you take away Nigerians, will you solve the problem of drugs and human trafficking? The answer is no,” Ewi said. “Drugs and human trafficking were a problem before Nigerians started coming to South Africa.
“The data shows a market which is very crowded by many nationalities, so you can’t point fingers at one group and thinking you will solve the problem.”