AFCON Semi Finals: How Safe Are Nigerians In South Africa?

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On the entertainment front, South Africans have spent the last year in a one sided struggle with Nigerians over ownership of the beloved Amapiano sound.  Evidently a product of South African talent, Nigerian artists have infused the log drum heavy sound into the more indigenous sound of Afrobeats, a combination that has had a prolonged impact on the Nigerian music scene. A major point of contention in this dispute has been the boldness shown by Nigerian artists Asake and Olamide in adopting the term Amapiano as the title of one of their tracks, which portrays them as proprietors of the sound. This track subsequently received a nomination for Best African Music Performance at the 66th Grammy Awards, adding more fuel to the fire, however, it lost the award to Water, a song by South African sensation, Tyla. 

On the days leading up to the awards, concerns were expressed online about the potential repercussions of Asake and Olamide winning an award for a track named after the South African genre, in addition to the possibility of  Nigeria’s Super Eagles team winning against South Africa’s Bafana Bafana later today. 

Unlike the fake rivalry between Nigeria and Ghana, which can be viewed as the  typical sibling rivalry rooted in shared heritage, South Africa and Nigeria have not been able to establish that sort of relationship. Recently, a few South Africans took to taunting Nigerians online ahead of the AFCON match and have prompted the Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa to share  a circular, advising Nigerian citizens  to be mindful of where they watch the African Cup of Nations semi finals and refrain from loud and provocative celebrations if the Super Eagles win. 

The match coming up today, Wednesday, 7th February is not the first time Super Eagles and Bafana Bafana have played against each other. In 2019, Super Eagles won a quarter final match against the South African team and no cases of violence against Nigerians were reported in the news. Nevertheless, Nigerians living in South Africa then,expressed panic over the potential harm to their lives. Many refrained from watching the match at viewing centers and bars and were also advised not to go to certain areas or wear the Nigerian jersey until at least a week after the match. 

The panic experienced then and now, is not unfounded. Despite the level of development the country has been able to achieve, South Africa’s crime rate casts a shadow on its advancement. According to the officially documented  crime statistics of the second quarter of 2023 – 2024 financial year (July 2023 to September 2023), there were 6,945 murders, 13,090 sexual offenses and 45,348 common assault cases reported. By those numbers, an average of  75, 142 and 492  crimes are recorded daily.  

In addition to that, South Africa has shouldered a history of xenophobia. A field investigation conducted by the Human Rights Watch in 1998 found that South Africa had become more xenophobic in recent years, perceiving (black) foreigners as a direct threat to their future economic well being and the cause of rise in violent crimes in the country. Hostility towards African foreigners increased over the years and in May 2008, culminated into an attack that started in Alexandra, Johannesburg and spread to seven other provinces. The attack went on for 3 weeks and resulted in a death toll of 62, approximately 40,000 foreign nationals leaving the country and 50,000 being internally displaced. Although the violence was targeted towards foreigners, 21 of the persons killed were South Africans, amounting to the largest group killed in the chaos. Another wave of violence occurred in 2015, triggered by hate speech  as expressed by the then Zulu monarch, King Godwin Zwelithini. It resulted in eight deaths and earned ire from the international community. 

In between those major attacks, there have been frequent reports of foreigners experiencing violence in the hands of South Africans. In recent years, Nigerians have become primary targets. There is also a false assumption that Nigerians make up the largest proportion of migrants, hence cases of xenophobic violence are often inaccurately reported as violence against Nigerians. This results to blanket presumption that most foreigners in South Africa are from Nigeria, despite the prevalence of other nationalities in the country. According to the statistical release of the 2022 South African census, Nigeria is ninth on the list of immigrants, with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and the United Kingdom occupying positions in the top 5. 

Furthermore the assumption indicates a prejudice against Nigerians and explains the hostility directed  towards them. In 2019, Sahara Reports published that 127 Nigerians were killed between 2016 and 2019 and given the persistent rate of crime, it’s likely that the number of deaths has continued to rise up to the present date.

In other instances that do not end up in violence or death, Nigerians are constantly on the receiving end of microaggressions and mistreatments from citizens and institutions alike. A popular case is the 2019 incident with former Big Brother Nigeria housemate, Tayo Faniran, who live streamed the moment he was assaulted and arrested by men of the South African police without just cause. And in 2022,  another Nigerian, Kingsley Ezeh, was killed over allegations of ingestion of narcotics and his refusal to supply them with information they required. 

During a trip to South Africa in 2023, Tosin Adesina, a Business  development expert noted that service providers like drivers often showed signs of anger and resentment towards him upon the realization that he was Nigerian. The hotel he was lodged in, implemented a policy whereby all guests were mandated to be picked up and dropped off from the reception to ensure that the hotel’s  security cameras could track their movements, for safety. Returning from a run one morning during his stay, he was warned by the hotel manager not to do so again because he could have gotten robbed and stabbed. Although he was not harmed during his trip, many instances showed that his presence was not welcomed in the country. 

Foreigners are always targets in other countries and unfortunately for Nigerians who have been given a reputation of  miscreants, they are faced with undue hostility and resentment. Given South Africa’s reputation, despite advancements in other areas, it’s understandable that there’s concern about potential chaos following the match. The hope is that the AFCON match remains a form of entertainment and not a catalyst of destruction.