History Project Topics

The Impact of Xenophobic Attacks on Nigeria south Africa Relation

The Impact of Xenophobic Attacks on Nigeria south Africa Relation



Research objectives

  1. Conduct an in-depth literature search on the reasons why xenophobia continues to prevail in South Africa
  2. Provide a theoretical analysis on the experiences of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians living in South Africa
  3. Explore the impact of Xenophobia on South Africa – Nigeria Bilateral Relations

Research design and methodology

Qualitative approach

Due to the nature of the study, an explorative research method is used in this study, to discuss squarely the impact of Xenophobic attacks on Nigerians on Nigeria -South Africa Bilateral relationship.

Secondary sources 

Secondary data sources for this research were published books, journal articles, magazines, newspapers, government legislations, reports, and company reports obtained from the Internet.




2.1 Conceptual understanding of xenophobia

Notwithstanding its extensive usage, xenophobia is an ambiguous and contested term in common, policy and academic debates.  According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (1978: 1275) the word xenophobia is derived from the Greek words ‘xeno’, meaning stranger or foreigner, and ‘phobia’, meaning fear. It means ‘unreasonable fear and dislike of foreigners or strangers’. Some scholars consider it to be intense dislike, hatred or fear of others (Crowther 2006: 185, Hunt 1996, Nyamnjoh, 2006), others only recognize it when it manifests itself as a visible hostility towards strangers or that which is deemed foreign (Stolcke, 1999).  Still others (Azindow 2007:98) describe xenophobia as discrimination towards foreigners or strangers. According to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), xenophobia is defined as “the deep dislike of non-nationals by nationals of a recipient state” (Bekker, and Carlton 2010: 127). This is manifested in individuals who could be, for instance, the same color as the local inhabitants. There are also ongoing debates on whether xenophobia originates at the individual or collective level (Berezin, 2006). While these methods are unified by a generalized recognition that xenophobia is a set of attitudes and/or practices surrounding people’s origins, the precise locus of debate and work is highly contextualized and often generally unsurpassed.

Despite the different explanations of xenophobia, it is understood as a violation of human dignity and human rights in keeping with Article 26 of 1998 of the United Nations (UN), which declares racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia as human rights violations (Bustamante 2002:337). As a societal issue, numerous studies have established that xenophobia is deep-rooted in many sectors of the South African society, including government, media and financial organizations (Dodson & Oelofse 2000). Bond et al. (2010) and Vale (2002) rightly assert that political xenophobic arrogance and attacks against foreigners are based and rooted in the politics that marked the apartheid and post-apartheid leadership and influenced public policy toward African foreigners that filtered in post-apartheid South Africa.

2.1.2 Xenophobia: A global phenomenon

Historically, xenophobia did not start in South Africa; Australia, North America, Europe, United Kingdom, Japan and others have had long histories of xenophobia (Mayfield, 2010). In Rome for example, xenophobic tendencies were manifested towards the Russians and Hungarians who were not citizens but from neighboring countries (Saideman and Ayres, 2008:155-160). Australia though a multicultural society, xenophobia sentiments were manifested towards immigrants. Foreign nationals were seen at all times as criminals or asylum seekers. The situation was worsened by the fact that the government and opposition parties took advantage of these immigrants by indulging in loathing of refugees (Buchanan, 2003:7). France, which was once a white and Catholic country anti-immigrant sentiments were directed or developed following the presence of the Muslims in particular and other races. Xenophobia in France became widespread to the extent that French citizens were blaming the increased unemployment and insecurity on foreign nationals (Roemer et al., 2007:237-247). The end result was the tightening up of security (immigration laws) by the French government as foreign nationals were called criminals. The French and the British for fear of contamination of their culture by foreign nationals coming from other continents such as Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, established a more stringent immigrations laws, which were passed restricting the number of foreign nationals coming those continents (Campbell, 2003:77).

In the United States of America (USA), xenophobic assaults are manifested in the form of anti-Hispanic hate crimes (Stacey et al., 2011:287-294). Research has it that xenophobia in the USA from a historical perspective started as far back in the 19th century. In 1885, it was reported that White Americans rioted against Chinese residents. Again in 1890, another incident of Xenophobic attacks on the Chinese was reported were white farm workers assaulted their Chinese counterpart. The Americans attitude towards Mexicans, Italians, and Asians, shows that they are not welcomed in the USA. Xenophobic assaults against Mexicans became riffed in 1914. During this period in America, only foreign nationals from Germany, England, French speaking Canadians and Jews, were welcomed to the USA (Fetzer, 2000:31 and 33). Mikulich (2009:4) articulates the U.S fear that foreign nationals from Mexico and Latino will overlook ‘white European-power over U.S. identity’. In view of Mikulich (2009:4): U.S.A. xenophobia, based on the assumption that ‘our country’ is defined by, and should maintain, its dominant White European heritage is rooted in the myth of the U.S. as a nation of European immigrants. This situation represses America’s original sin of racism and obscures the fact the country was in part built, advanced and sustained on the backs on African people who were stripped from their cultures of birth and arrived involuntarily via the Atlantic slave trade.

Xenophobic inclination was expressed in India targeting mostly foreign nationals from Bangladesh who were accused by the Indians for the country’s predicament such as increased unemployment, terrorism and environmental degradation. Just as in the case of South Africa, the numbers of Bangladesh foreign nationals in India were most often than not, portrayed as a national threat to the country by government officials. One peculiar thing regarding xenophobia in India was that xenophobic assaults against Bangladeshi vary according to religious backgrounds. Xenophobic violence targeted against foreign nationals in both South Africa and India are similar in the sense that it was founded on ‘politics of exclusion’ and again associated with postindependence and nation-building (Crush and Ramachandran, 2010:214-217, Human Rights Watch, 1998:1820 and 123-125).

Coming to Africa, Nigeria and Ghana have had records of hatred for foreign immigrants, which ended up with xenophobia (Campbell, 2003:74). Xenophobic inclinations in Ghana became riffed in 1969 to the extent that the Ghanaian government had to evict and expelled a total number of 1.5 million foreign nationals particularly Nigerians. Research has it that in 1983, the Nigerian government evicted 1.5 million foreigners from Nigeria who were Ghanaians in particular (Campbell, 2003:74). The xenophobic inclination in both countries was spurred by economic difficulties confronting them. Nationals of both countries (Ghana and Nigeria in 1969 and 1983, respectively) accused each other of their predicaments (Soyombo, 2008:94-95). Globalization can be responsible for xenophobic attitudes because in the face of globalization, different nationals of different countries move from one country to another in search for greener pasture and at the end of the day, are exposed to xenophobic assaults (Harrison, 2005:11-13, Nyamnjoh, 2006:230-236).

In the same light, citizens from Botswana taking prompt xenophobic ideas from South Africa referred to foreign nationals (excluding South Africans) in Botswana as “makwerekwere”. Such derogatory word, which is also used in South Africa, refers to people who speak strange languages coming from economically devastated countries in search of greener pastures. Xenophobic attitudes towards foreign nationals in both countries slightly differ in that in Botswana, the Indians are hated for being perceived as treacherous. The Indians despite their huge economic investments in Botswana, the Indians are still targeted (Campbell, 2003:101).

2.1.3 Scope of xenophobia in South Africa

Xenophobia runs deep in South Africa and goes beyond the fear and dislike of foreigners. Since the 1990s, studies have consistently acknowledged strong negative sentiments and hostility towards foreigners amongst the general public and government bureaucrats (Dodson 2010, Crush 2008, HSRC 2008, Joubert 2008, Nyamnjoh 2006). While there are cases of hospitality, tolerance, and South Africans defending the rights of non-nationals, there is convincing evidence that South Africans are generally uncomfortable with the presence of Black and Asian non-nationals in their country (Misago et al. 2015:18). This is exposed in various statistics, produced at both national and local levels:

  • In a 1998 survey, the South African Migration Project (SAMP) found that 87% of South Africans felt that the country was letting in too many foreigners (Dodson, 2002);
  • Crush, 2000 asserted that 25% of South Africans nationally favor a total ban on immigration and migration, considerably more than in other countries in the region and another 20% feel that everyone from neighboring countries living in South Africa (legally or not) should be sent home;
  • According to Landau et al. (2004), a survey of residents in the inner city Johannesburg in 2004 by the University of the Witwatersrand showed that 64.8% of South Africans thought it would be a positive thing if most of the African refugees and immigrants left the country. By contrast, few see ridding the country of its white population as a priority;
  • In another survey by the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa (IDASA) in 2011, the findings were that negative attitudes towards foreign nationals and particularly migrants from other African countries are still as strong and persistent as they have always been: “South Africans who are opposed to immigrants exhibit various forms of xenophobia citing that immigrants weaken society and threaten the health of the nation” (IDASA 2011:6). As in 2008, around a third of people would be willing to take action against foreign nationals in the country, 32% would be willing to take action to prevent foreign nationals from moving into their neighborhood, 36% from operating a business in their area, 32% from sitting in class with their children and 31% from becoming co-workers (IDASA 2011:6);
  • A 2014 survey by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) revealed “levels of xenophobia and intolerance of foreigners are increasing in Gauteng”, as “thirty-five percent of all respondents said we should send all foreigners home now” (IOL news)

Crush’s finding (2008:1) concludes to say, “South Africans are the least open to outsiders and want the greatest restrictions on immigration.” Amongst South African citizens, he notes that a third would be willing to take action against foreign nationals, typically to protect ‘local’ jobs or fight crime.

2.1.4 Xenophobia in South Africa: extent, nature and reaction

The xenophobic assaults of the past by black South Africans against foreign nationals resident in South Africa has considerably altered the perceptions of South Africa as ‘a paradise’ that has metamorphosed into another pariah African state. The April 2015 sparks of xenophobic attacks generated intense debates and bitterness from other African states and has firmly established the nation’s troubled history as this violent history goes back to more than 350 years when the first white adventurers vanquished the domains that are today the Republic of South Africa. The society was partitioned along the two lines of Black and White and from this minute, the general public was characterized by tensions. These tensions were established in the contested opportunities available to the White and Black while The Whites were the rulers and the Blacks were the ruled, and the Whites were the proprietors of profitable undertakings while the Blacks were the workers.

2.1.5 Manifestations of xenophobia in South Africa

Xenophobia in South Africa has been manifested in different forms, ranging from everyday street-level abuse to discrimination and harassment by authority officials and recurring spells of popular xenophobic violence in varying intensity and scale. There is strong evidence to support the fact that foreigners who make up nonnationals, domestic migrants, and others, living and working in South Africa, face discrimination. This comes at the hands of citizens, government officials, the police, and private organizations contracted to manage and provide services, promote urban development or manage detention and deportation processes (Crush 2008, Landau et al. 2004). Xenophobic violence in particular has become a longstanding feature in post-apartheid South Africa. Since its democratic transition in 1994, thousands of foreign nationals have been harassed, attacked, and killed just because they are foreign. Over the years, this xenophobic violence has increased across townships and informal settlements in South Africa (Landau 2011, Landau and Haithar 2007, Murray 2003, Palmary et al. 2003).

The May 2008 widespread outbreak of xenophobic attacks left 62 people dead, 21 of them South African citizens, over 100 000 displaced, 670 wounded, and 1 300 arrested (Monson & Arian 2011: 26). During that incident, a Mozambican, Ernesto Nhamuave, was set alight in Ramaphosa on the East Rand (Zvomuya 2013). Shops, homes and other businesses of foreigners were destroyed (Landau 2011: 1). The government claimed that this violence was random acts of criminality, but the violence was specifically targeted at people who were believed to be a threat to South Africa (Landau 2011: 1). Following the 2008 xenophobic attacks on African foreigners, numerous social and political debates were raised on South Africa’s tolerance for the presence of fellow Africans originating from the same continent. While migrants from the continent consider South Africa as a location of choice where democracy, socio economic justice and human rights are more respected compared to their country of origin, the 2008 xenophobic attacks provided reasons for victims of attacks to question South Africa’s role as a champion of democracy, human rights and socio-economic justice on the African continent (Rukema and Khan 2013).  Sadly, the violence did not end in 2008 as dozens have been killed since then (Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA 2008: 56). In 2009, the Zimbabwean community was forcefully chased from their informal settlement in a small rural town of De Doorns in the Western Cape. This led to the displacement of 3 000 people Zimbabwean nationals living in the community (Kerr & Durrheim 2013: 583-584). Landau (2011: 22) reported that the hundreds of fans who came in to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup were welcomed with threatening messages on pamphlets to leave the country.




5.1 Conclusion

It is only tenable to say that reforms at home and aspiration to or actual leadership of the continent are two factors that shape the current phase of Nigeria-South Africa relations. The character of Nigeria-South Africa relations changed with the commencement of multi-racial democracy based on the universal adult suffrage in South Africa and the return to civilian rule in Nigeria. Anti-apartheid and anti-military policies that previously defined their relations became irrelevant. Nigeria and South Africa are regional as well as continental leaders in terms of economy and politics. Their cordial relationship is pivotal to the advancement and all round development of Africa. However, evidence abounds that relations between the two countries at any given conjuncture largely depends on the pursuit of their objectives and national interests, hence the deep-rooted competition for supremacy.

Again, economic factors have been identified as major causes of the strain in Nigeria and South Africa relations. Competition for scarce resources is a common factor in ethnic conflicts within both states. In Nigeria and South Africa, ethnic communities violently compete for properties, jobs, education, social amenities, healthcare, etc. Both countries have professed an unwavering commitment to the foreign policy of Afro-centricism. However, there exists a wide disparity between the two foreign policy objectives in the sense that while South Africa‟s foreign policy is dynamically based on reciprocal relations, that of Nigeria is rigidly based on sentiment.

Nigeria took practical steps to discourage apartheid and colonial rule in Africa. Sequel to this, Africa became the centerpiece of Nigeria‟s foreign policy. However, the dynamics of world affairs as regards diplomacy has made it imperative for Nigeria to adopt multilateralism with the welfare of her citizens and the health of her economy as her overriding national interest. While Nigeria remains active in African affairs, the nation should seek to enhance national development and welfare of the citizens. Again, Nigeria at the dawn of the 21st Century still remains largely an amalgam of several groups, language and creeds. It is easy for the foreign commentators to portray her as a highly disorganized country, failing to shed into light the challenges faced by the neo-colonial state. Beset by several social and economic ills. Many Nigerians themselves may speak of the insecurity of lives and property, complain bitterly about some aspect of the country‟s socio-economic development and decry the wide gaps between the rich few and the miserable millions. But behind these images of apparent confusion and the public concern over lingering crises in some quarters, lies the reality of a nation more hopeful and promising than it was at its birth. For all their different cleavages, Nigerians are hopeful that the nation‟s fortunes will be much brighter under President Mohammadu Buhari‟s new dispensation, than they ever were in the past.


While it is not possible to eliminate social tensions in any country, it still remains expedient on the part of the South African government and its nationals to respect universal and regional treaties, declarations, norms, protocols and conventions rather than resort to barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of Nigerians and Africans. Indeed the unwholesome politicization of migration as an excuse for xenophobia in South Africa must be addressed by diplomatic means by both countries. The issues and factors of migration that include increased unemployment, poverty and greed must be top in re-tooling the new Nigeria-South Africa partnership. Both countries must promote and sustain protection mechanisms for human rights and conducive environments for decent work by migrant workers and their families whether documented (economic) migrants or undocumented migrants.

Equally, Nigeria has also provided a robust and unrestricted market for South African businesses like MTN and Multichoice. Therefore, Nigeria must also forge strategic business alliance in South Africa to balance the unhealthy business equation. Furthermore, beyond the existing skewed bilateral and economic relations in favor of South African businesses in Nigeria, there is an urgent need for both countries to initiate a liberalized migration regime and a robust migration management capacity towards enhancing and strengthening the strategic role of Nigerians in the diasporas as development partner and factoring their contributions to the overall Africa development agenda for sustainable peace and security.

The two countries in my view are not exploiting their leadership and governance roles in sustaining the African dream and indeed the drive for poverty eradication through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, South Africa and Nigeria, representing the two leading economies in Africa, must play leading roles in driving a sustainable green revolution that would provide food security thereby contributing significantly to overcoming hunger and social tensions that have fueled African emigrations. It is imperative for the government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari to escalate and mainstream key external relations that are mutually beneficial in ties with South Africa, while respecting all treaties and obligations on persons and related matters.

Crucially, sustained job creation particularly for youths at home and positive imagebuilding abroad would enhance the respectability of Nigerians in the Diasporas and indeed address the negative way the world sees us as a people and a nation. Furthermore, our government at home must understand the relationship between poverty, irregular migration and the overall issues of xenophobia, which is not new in South Africa.

Nigeria‟s relevance within the global system depends on relative strength and control at the domestic level and our continued relevance within the Africa continent and indeed the changing world. Against this backdrop, Nigeria‟s international communication and reputational image-building mechanisms must be hinged on diplomatic caution and decency to safeguard our nationals wherever they are in the globe, beyond the xenophobic realities in South Africa. In addition, the African union (AU) has to be alive to its continental responsibilities for the emancipation of Africans from the clutches of poverty, walking the talk of development for its people across the continent.

Nigeria‟s international engagement strategy should be done with diplomatic finesse and dexterity and pragmatic efforts should be pursued to improve on our foreign relations mechanisms, particularly on the issues of cross-border migration. Nigeria should desire to play by the rule of international law and its obligations in spite of its visible failings at home in providing basic social welfare and essential services for majority of its people who live on less than one dollar a day.

The challenge of xenophobic attacks again is wake up call for the Nigerian government to organize its affairs by improving living conditions at home, as well as strengthening its foreign policy objectives. Interestingly, South African state security institutions such as the police and immigration services show no sympathy to black settlers from other African countries; the xenophobia appears institutionalized and as such systemic. Therefore, Nigeria‟s international diplomacy should not dwell much on the criticism of the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, but rather much attention should be placed on understanding the dynamics of international politics, which is a game of selective morality, outrageous paradox and double standard. Hence, concrete efforts should be made at home to culture an enabling environment that would create jobs and livelihoods for the common people in Nigeria. In addition, Nigeria must re-evaluate her diplomatic institutions to engage the South African government.


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