World

Hundreds of Nigerians, Zimbabweans leaving South Africa in wake of deadly violence

At least 640 Nigerians have signed up to take free flights home from South Africa after xenophobic attacks on foreigners, a spokesperson for Nigeria's president said Tuesday, while Zimbabwe also has plans to repatriate over 170 of its citizens.

Recent deadly riots in Pretoria and Johannesburg killed at least 12 people, including 2 foreigners

Residents of local hostels march with homemade weapons in Johannesburg on Sunday. At least a dozen people have been killed last week, and other countries on the continent have expressed concerns about their citizens in South Africa. (The Associated Press)

At least 640 Nigerians have signed up to take free flights home from South Africa after xenophobic attacks on foreigners, a spokesperson for Nigeria's president said Tuesday.

The flare-up in violence directed against mainly African foreigners has been widely condemned by South Africa's neighbours and has caused a diplomatic dispute between Nigeria and South Africa, the continent's top two economies.

Private Nigerian airline Air Peace plans to operate two flights with Boeing 777 aircraft, the first leaving Lagos, Nigeria, late Tuesday to return Wednesday with evacuees.

The plane can carry about 300 passengers.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday called for the immediate voluntary evacuation of all Nigerians wanting to return home, and Air Peace offered free flights last week.

"A private citizen who owns an airline has offered to evacuate Nigerians from South Africa who want to leave, and obviously there are immigration rules that go with that, so it's a process," Ayanda Dlodlo, South Africa's Minister of State Security, told reporters in Cape Town.

Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo told reporters in the capital Harare that the government planned to evacuate 171 people from South Africa, including the bodies of two people.

Moyo added that Harare would "escalate" the evacuation if the situation deteriorated, and he was seeking support from international organizations to help those affected.

Tensions between locals, undocumented migrants

In the latest outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa, deadly riots last week in Pretoria and Johannesburg killed at least 12 people, including two foreigners, and targeted foreign-owned businesses.

The root causes of the latest series of attacks are unclear, although analysts suggest stubbornly high unemployment and grinding poverty were fuelling criminality.

A riot police officer throws a teargas canister as looters make off with goods from a store in Germiston, east of Johannesburg on Sept. 3. The root causes of the latest series of attacks may be tied to stubbornly high unemployment and grinding poverty in some of South Africa's biggest and most segregated cities. (Themba Hadebe/The Associated Press)

In Katlehong, a township around 35 kilometres south east of commercial hub Johannesburg, 755 foreign nationals including 228 children are being cared for at community centres after fleeing violence.

"While there has been a significant decline in the number of incidents, police forces remain on high alert and are closely monitoring hotspots to ensure further violence does not erupt," Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said.

Police have arrested 653 people in connection with the attacks, mostly South African but including foreigners, police minister Bheki Cele said.

South Africa does not know how many undocumented foreigners are in the country of 58 million people. Congo, Bangladesh and Ethiopia topped the list of countries where people applied for asylum or refugee status in 2018.

Nigeria placed seventh with 948 people applying for refugee status and zero accepted, said Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

Retaliatory attacks in Nigeria forced South African businesses to shut down for several days, and South Africa temporarily closed its embassy on safety fears.

Buhari will visit South Africa next month to address the attacks and seek a solution.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.