LIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA: THE GOOD, THE BAD…

LIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA: THE GOOD, THE BAD…

Despite spates of xenophobic attacks, which sometimes put their lives and entire life earning in danger, Nigerians living in South Africa seem to be of a consensus that conditions of living there far outweigh what obtains in their home country. Gboyega Alaka reports.

KNOWN as the Rainbow country, South Africa held lots of promises – not only for its nationals, but for the entire black Africa continent, which felt the plight of the people during the apartheid struggle, fought in their little ways and felt that they jointly owned its hard-earned freedom. Of note of course is Nigeria and Nigerians, whose government stood at the fore-front of the battle to free its fellow black nation from its white oppressors. It will be recalled that successive Nigerian governments threw sanctions against the regime, spending money, providing asylum to freedom fighters on the run, boycotting competitions and international meetings, all in a bid to cripple and stifle the apartheid regime and get its leading players to relinquish power.

It was on the back of this that the whole continent celebrated when leading nationalist, Nelson Mandela, who had been in jail for 27 years, was released and the white minority apartheid regime eventually collapsed. Its organised system and buoyant economy naturally meant it became the biggest economy in Africa and pronto, it became a preferred destination for migrating African nationals. The grossly mismanaged economy back in Nigeria and a dwindling quality of life also meant Nigerians formed a sizable chunk of the migrants.

However, happenings in the past few years have left a bitter taste in the mouth of Nigerians, who have especially become targets for rampaging South Africans, who pick on them for attacks, maiming, killing and destroying their hard-earned properties.

This year alone, there have been reports of attacks. In January this year, the Nigerian community in Krugersdorp, near Jo’burg raised an alarm over a mob that attacked and destroyed four houses belonging to their members. Cyril James, a Nigerian community leader in the locality said the attacks began, when the mob alleged that a Nigerian abducted and raped a South African girl.

That same month, Adetola Olubajo, president of the union said two Nigerians were killed in Rustenburg and Durban and called on the South African government to engage at the highest level to prevent further loss of lives and property of our citizens.

A News Agency of Nigeria report put the total death of Nigerians in South Africa in the last two years at 116, while following two other deaths of young Nigerians in February this year, the Daily Post of South Africa put the number at 118. However, while the attacks may have become a regular occurrence, more Nigerians continue to beseech the South African Embassy in Nigeria, desperately seeking visas; while those resident there hardly consider returning home. The questions therefore arise as to the reasons for the obsession. Many, back home, have especially wondered why anyone would want to go live or insist on staying put in a country where security of their lives and property are not guaranteed. Are the opportunities so much better? Or could the high points so over-ride the downsides?

It’s a far better country

Mrs. BosedeAdegboye, a widow has been in South Africa for 12 years, but despite all the challenges, including an attack that claimed the life of her husband, her response, when asked if she was considering leaving South Africa was an emphatic, ‘No’.

“Even with this crisis, I don’t intend coming home, because the Nigerian economy is very harsh. Except for the attacks, life here is still better because things are better and well-organised.” She pointed out.

Bosede’s husband relocated to Nothern Cape Town Province, South Africa in 2002, and she was only able to join him four years later with her three kids, due to paper issues. Not long after however, she said calamity struck. Exactly six months after arriving South Africa, she received an emergency call that her husband had been knocked down and killed on the spot by a South African.

“I thought it was a dream until I got to the scene of the accident and beheld my husband in a pool of his blood. I wept bitterly because this was another man’s country with nobody to call on except my husband, who unfortunately had just been killed.”

She recalled that it was at the scene of the accident that she was warned not to even consider pressing charges. Even then, she made efforts to bring the killer to the book, but she said “the case was discarded on the ground of accidental killing.”

Bosede, however, insists that it was not in any way accidental, stating categorically that “Eye-witnesses at the scene of the accident told me the killer deliberately knocked my husband down, all because he is Nigerian. In a nutshell, that was how we forgot about it, but it was really sad.”

But rather than consider returning to her home country, Bosede trudged on as a single mother. In the words of the fashion designer, “Life has not been easy. It has been tough and the discrimination is just too much. I hardly get a contract from South Africans. Once they discover that you are Nigerian, they retrieve the contract from you, even if you are damn good.

“As Nigerians living in South Africa, we live like cat and mouse with our hosts. We are pleasant to them only when they are pleasant to us, but the moment they are hostile, we withdraw into our shells because at any point, you could be their target and they can destroy you and your family members within minutes if care is not taken.”

Recalling how she was almost lynched on one occasion, she said, “That fateful day, I was in my house because I work from home for safety reasons, when we heard that we (Nigerians) were under attack; I quickly ran to my children’s school, withdrew them and ran to safety. In the area I reside, we Nigerians have a signal to notify each other whenever there is a crisis so that we can quickly run to safety.”

Worst of all, she said is the fact that “Even the children are not left out in the hostile display. You see young South Africans hitting young Nigerians with arrogance, in a manner that says nothing can happen. So I ensure that my children’s school is very close to where we reside, so I can quickly dash over and whisk them away to safety in case there is an emergency.”

Blessing, a housewife and mother of two, who lives with her husband in Free State Province, East-Central region is also of the opinion that South Africa is a better place to live in, especially “in areas of infrastructure, food, and other basic needs.” She, however, would not commit on whether Nigerians in the Rainbow country prosper more than those at home, saying, “It depends.”

In terms of employment opportunities, she is of the opinion that there are better opportunities, even though it can be really difficult if one does not have work permit. “Once you’re documented and have a good job, you can afford the basics of life within a short time, because they can be purchased on credit and you can pay by instalments. “

Regarding xenophobic attacks on Nigerians, she says she has never witnessed any in Free State where she and her family reside.

“I have never really witnessed or heard of any in our state, except for the ones I watch on TV or read in the newspapers. But I’m aware that they break into foreigners shops. They normally claim that foreigners are making all the money at their expense.”

It’s a more economical country

John Chukwudi (not real name), a student at the University of Johannesburg, says he does not consider South Africa a dangerous place to live in despite the spate of attacks. For one, he says he stays in the university residence, which he says is not open to such attacks; he also says it depends on the area one is resident and at what time one hangs out.

As a foreigner, Chukwudi says he tries as much as possible to understand his environment and ensure he is guided in the way he threads in places. “I ensure I don’t walk at night, and if anything warrants it, I use Taxify or Uber. Overall, I’ll say it is safe to stay here (SA). I have not been attacked, even though I have evaded some.”

Speaking further, he says, “I think areas prone to such attacks are basically suburbs. However, there are a lot of attacks here in SA which anyone can experience, irrespective of their nationality. This may be in the form of a hijacking of vehicles, collecting laptops and several other things… That’s why here in SA, it’s not advisable to walk at night.”

Asked whether some of the deliberate attacks on Nigerians may be due to jealousy or show-off, as some Nigerians back home have suggested, Chukwudi replied that this was a sensitive question. He however said, “If you study the South African history, you’ll discover they’ve been oppressed during the Apartheid era. They were really deprived of their rights, so now that they’ve been liberated and gained their independence, the feeling of the oppression lingers. It is for this reason that they feel somehow oppressed when a foreigner comes into their country and dominates. I think that could be partly responsible for the attacks. Also, I won’t say jealousy is the cause but the lifestyle of foreigners could be a form of oppression to them and provoke attacks.

Regarding allegations that the police in South Africa do not protect foreigners enough, Chukwudi simply said, “So I’ve heard people say, but I haven’t had any such experience.”

Chukwudi also concurs that it is economical to live in South Africa. He says feeding, basic commodities and transport aren’t expensive, except for accommodation, which he says “looks pretty expensive.” However, he insists that such a person must earn a basic salary in South African currency (Rand).

He also said, “Job opportunities are numerous. However, there are conditions to be fulfilled before you can get a job here. That is the ‘critical skill visa’ also known as ‘work permit’. The issues of cars, apartment, education, and health are no big deal when you get a good job here. Well, that is my observation.”

Using himself as a typical example, Chukwudi said, “As a student, I live on the average of 4500 Rands a month, accommodation, transportation inclusive.”

Like Chukwudi, Cynthia Adewale is a student, though of the University of Cape Town, stays in Western Cape and has only lived the Rainbow country for six months. She, however, insists that that is long enough to pass a verdict on the standard of living in the country. “I stay in Western Cape and living cost is high there. Nevertheless, I consider South Africa a way better place to live in, compared to Nigeria. I can confidently say that many of the world’s citizens are represented here at the University of Cape Town. While I may not be categorical as to whether Nigerians prosper more here compared to Nigeria, I can, however, say that SA is a more organized place. I also think South Africa is like a stepping stone to better destinations. For example, it is easier to move from SA to other places in the world.

“And if you’re talking of pay packet, I’d say it depends on your line of study or critical skills. If you’re speaking in terms of foreign exchange, then my answer is ‘yes.’

On the issue of attacks, Adewale admits that she is aware of it but has never experience any directly or remotely. “I think it happens in different ways, not just physical attacks or killing. From the much I know, I think it happens more in black populated areas.”

Asked why she thinks South Africans perpetrate these attacks, Adewale gave an answer almost similar to Chukwudi’s. “History has it that the blacks in SA suffered a lot in the hands of the whites, so when foreigners, especially blacks, come to their country and excel above them, it’s like adding salt to injury. I think it is more than mere jealousy.”

All said and done, she said, “From what I’ve heard, a foreigner may get a good job, depending on his qualification, but he will not be treated equally with a citizen.”

Going by the aforementioned, she concluded that, “I don’t think Nigerians should live here permanently.”

Wale Odunewu, who lives in Western Cape, also choruses the consensus that South Africa is a better place to live in than Nigeria. His reasons, he says include the fact that there are opportunities to take loans for basic amenities and the fact that the government supports education.

“The government have good infrastructure in most places and takes care of its citizens through various welfare packages.

Also, Odunewu says there has not been any case of xenophobic attacks anywhere near her province but rampant in places like Johannesburg and Pretoria and gives reasons for the attacks as crime, business opportunities and relationship issues.

Overall, Odunewu is of the opinion that South Africa “is not really safe because of the proliferation of small and dangerous arms. People are attacked on a daily basis by gangs and thieves.”

Gboyega Alaka / The Nation

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Nigerians in South Africa
Nigerians in South Africa 1587 posts

We are about democracy, human rights, public opinion, political behavior, civil rights and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.

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