John Ameh and Tobi Aworinde
A cross section of Nigerians living in South Africa narrowly escaped death on Saturday during attacks on their lives and property in South Africa.
Several of them, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH, relived their encounter with locals who assailed them in their apartments in various parts of Pretoria with machetes, knives, metal rods and guns.
Worried by the development, members of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Relations, sought more dialogue between Nigeria and the authorities in South Africa over the rising incidents.
About 100 Nigerians have been reported killed in South Africa in the last two years.
Most of the deaths resulted from violence against Nigerians by fellow black South Africans in neighbourhoods and city centres.
However, there were instances where the police clobbered defenceless Nigerians to death on suspicion of being involved in criminality.
Speaking with Sunday PUNCH in Abuja, the Chairman of the committee, Ms. Nnena Ukeje, said that there was a huge gap of lack of understanding between South Africans and their fellow black Nigerians, which must be addressed.
A boutique owner, Uchechi Okon, told SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday that the attacks in his neighbourhood of Rosazitta Street, Pretoria West lasted from 8.30 am to 4 pm.
Okon, who has spent 10 years in South Africa, said, “Everything happened in a flash. They said they were looking for Nigerians selling drugs. I was sleeping. The next thing I heard was loud banging on the gate. The apartment I stay in one of two. My Nigerian roommate and I occupy the building in front, while the back was occupied by the family of my white landlord.
“A mob of South African women and men were forcing the gate open. We ran to the back of the premises to hide. By then, they had broken the door down and come into the compound. They said they were looking for the Nigerians that lived there, but my white landlady was shouting back that there was no Nigerian living there.
“They came with all kinds of weapons—knives, rods and so on. I heard later that they shot people in similar attacks, but I couldn’t see if they had guns. I was peeping through the window. It happened between 8.30 am and 4 pm. They went from house to house.”
He added, “When they didn’t see us, they stole all our properties and burnt my apartment with my clothes. Right now, I don’t have a passport. I don’t know whether they stole it or it got burnt down with the rest of my clothes and other belongings. I am now living in my car. The only clothes I have are the ones on my back.”
Segun Adegoke, a four-year resident in South Africa, told our correspondent that at Church and Rebecca, the attacks took place 20 metres from a police station.
Adegoke, a friend of Nigerians occupying the building, said, “Our people went to the police station. The police said they should wait for people who were in charge of the matter before they would come to their aid. Nigerians locked the gate to that apartment building called Daily Word where the looting took place.
“More than 20 apartments in that building were looted. People’s passports, TV sets, and travelling bags containing heir clothes were taken away. Police officers were on the ground when all of this took place. When they (Nigerians) locked that gate, they refused entrance of the police into the building. The exact words of the police officers were, ‘Why won’t you people go back home?’”
“A man and his wife had machete cuts on their hands. They have two kids, three and eight years old. A pastor was also attacked with machetes,” Adegoke added
The Secretary General, Nigerian Union South Africa, Adetola Olubajo, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the attacks began two weeks ago.
He said, “It all started in Johannesburg. They attacked an organised community and 29 cars were burnt down. We were there with the minister of home affairs to have a security walkabout. That subsided, then we started hearing and seeing notices that these people wanted to attack foreigners, Nigerians in particular on February 23 and 24. So, we have been telling our people to be vigilant.
“Nigerians are on the verge of fighting back, because their lives are in danger. These attackers are not here to scare anybody. They are here to kill. I have seen them strike before. Some of them (Nigerians) have kids. Their entire lives are here.”
Olubajo stated that apartments are commonly looted before being burnt down.
According to him, the attacks are carried out under the watchful eye of the police.
“Some of our people said the police were looting with them, which is what we have seen before. It is not the first time that we are seeing the police, who are supposed to be protecting us, looting with the hoodlums.
“The most annoying thing is that our mission here is about 5km from the scene of the attacks. But none of them is coming to do anything, while the embassies of other nationals, who have not been attacked, have demonstrated their assistance.
“We have informed the High Commission of Nigeria, but they are not coming out. Some have even called the High Commissioner,” he added.
Ukeje told SUNDAY PUNCH in Abuja that the development should be handled through intensified dialogue between the Federal Government and the South African Government on the need for the latter to pursue deliberate policies of educating South Africans to be welcoming. (Punchng.com)