PRETORIA: South Africa and Nigeria on Monday said they would launch a jointly run “early warning” system to track and deter xenophobic attacks against Nigerian migrants.

South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane met her Nigerian counterpart Geoffrey Onyeama in Pretoria in a bid to diffuse soaring tensions over a recent string of attacks on migrants living in the rainbow nation.

“The early warning centre would allow us keep each other abreast of issues and help prevent violence,” Nkoana-Mashabane said.

There were several incidents last month of South African locals attacking migrants from Africa and elsewhere and their businesses in both the administrative capital Pretoria and the commercial capital Johannesburg.

Many locals have alleged that the targets were brothels and drug dens being run by migrants from elsewhere in Africa, including Nigeria.

More than 20 shops were targeted in Atteridgeville, outside Pretoria, while residents in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, attacked at least 12 houses.

The new violence-busting forum will meet every three months and will be made up of representatives from both countries and include immigration officials, business associations and civil society groups.

Nkoana-Mashabane said it was untrue that “the attacks on foreign nationals were targeted at the Nigerians”, adding that citizens of other countries were also affected.

Onyeama said he had received assurances that Nigerians in South Africa would be able to live in peace and called for an end to “mass attacks”.

According to the Nigerian Union in South Africa, there are about 800,000 Nigerians in the country, many of them living in Johannesburg.

Onyeama added that groups in Nigeria calling for the retaliatory expulsion of South African residents and businesses “do not speak on behalf of government”.

Attacks against foreigners and foreign-run businesses have erupted regularly in recent years in South Africa, fuelled by the country’s high unemployment and poverty levels.

In response to the violence, about 100 demonstrators gathered on Feb 23 outside the offices of two South African companies in the Nigerian capital Abuja — telecoms giant MTN and satellite TV provider DSTV — to protest the upsurge in attacks.

The Nigerian government last month called for the African Union to step in to stop “xenophobic attacks” on its citizens in South Africa, claiming 20 Nigerians were killed last year.

South African authorities have declined to confirm the figure which may have been the result of other criminal activity, not just anti-immigrant violence.

A protest march against “migrant crime” was held in Pretoria on Feb 24 and resulted in violent clashes between crowds of young South African men and migrants from elsewhere in Africa, including Nigerians and Somalis.

President Jacob Zuma responded by condemning the wave of xenophobic unrest and called for calm and restraint, saying that migrants should not be used as a scapegoat for the country’s widespread crime problem.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2017

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