Captains of commerce and industry have warned of dire consequences for the continent as Africa’s two biggest economies intermittently fall out over violent attacks on foreigners in South Africa, especially on Nigerians.
The xenophobic violence in Gauteng sparked a diplomatic fracas between the two countries.
The strain was visible in the past week as the South Africa-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce (SA-NCC) held its board meeting where concerns were raised for business bearing the brunt of the xenophobic attacks.
This not only affects the small businesses that have been looted or destroyed in Gauteng, but also South African multinationals in Nigeria and beyond.
“Every time there are attacks on foreigners in South Africa – and unfortunately it has not been a one-off problem – the most exposed group in terms of either potential retaliatory attacks or hardening attitudes to South Africa in general is South African businesses,” said Dianna Games, SA-NCC executive director.
She pointed out that multinationals were the most visible face of the country elsewhere on the continent, particularly companies with consumer-facing businesses.
Therefore, the hostilities had the potential to affect the business relationships and possibly even deals with other African markets long after the media had lost interest in the topic.
“South Africans are generally made to feel welcome in Nigeria. Their companies are popular employers.
“The two countries are not just important trading partners, people in both countries employ nationals of other African countries. Creating hostility just undermines all the potential benefits of these relationships.”
Launched in 2005 in Sandton, Johannesburg, the chamber has been facilitating business and networks between the two countries.
Although there was only one large Nigerian investor in South Africa – the Dangote Group through its investment in local company Sephaku Cement – there were many smaller Nigerian-owned businesses, some of which employ South Africans.
“Nigeria is also one of the biggest suppliers of crude oil to South Africa, which puts the trade balance with South Africa in Nigeria’s favour,” she said.
In the midst of the diplomatic row, SA-NCC has been in contact with the diplomatic missions in both countries to express concerns on behalf of its members.
It further expressed disquiet at South Africa’s response, saying the country did not respond “quickly or decisively enough” to convince Africans elsewhere that it was really concerned about the attacks on foreigners, or determined to stop it at all costs.
Meanwhile, a development economics expert at the Lagos Business School, Adi Bongo, warned that while Nigerians had previously turned the other cheek, alleged complicity by law enforcers in South Africa had incited reprisals against South African firms lately.
“Barbaric as this may sound in a purportedly modern economy such as that of South Africa, we see this as a manifestation of the failure of leadership characteristic of the current political elite in South Africa today.
“It is obvious President Jacob Zuma’s leadership has failed to produce dividends for the larger majority of black South Africans who are now inclined to take out their frustration on hapless foreigners.”
Bongo spoke as Nigerian students threatened South African businesses operating in Nigeria, while that country’s Senate dispatched a delegation to South Africa.
“It is important that things are brought under control in South Africa. Otherwise, reprisal attacks and a boycott of South African businesses in Nigeria might be the consequence,” he warned.
Acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, who presented South Africa’s crime statistics on Friday, told City Press that no amount of anger or emotions in society should encourage lawlessness and people taking the law into their own hands.
“We cannot condone an attack on anyone, whether he is a foreign national or not. We consider the happenings of Rosettenville, Pretoria West and Atteridgeville unfortunate and regrettable.”
Phahlane said where there are instances of police colluding with criminals, such officers should be reported.
“We cannot dispute there is an element of collusion and we will appreciate if factual information is presented to us to enable us to take action against our own,” he said.[Source: News24]