'What wrong have we done?' - Nigerians prepare to leave SA

2019-09-11 22:06
Goods of some of Nigerian nationals who wanted to be assisted to go back home

Goods of some of Nigerian nationals who wanted to be assisted to go back home (Ntwaagae Seleka)

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Desperate Nigerians living in South Africa, including some who were forced to close their businesses following attacks on foreign nationals in Gauteng, are preparing to leave the country, lock, stock and barrel.

On Wednesday, scores of Nigerians and their children, armed with documents and their belongings, rocked up at the offices of the Consul General of Nigeria in Illovo.

All of them had the same idea – to return home where they believe they will be safe.

Their native country - among the most populated countries in the world - will welcome them with warm hands, they said.

Since the beginning of September, streets in Gauteng have been left covered in ashes after shops, buildings and vehicles were set alight by angry protesters baying for foreigners' blood.

On Wednesday, security guards at the offices of the consul general battled to cope with the number of Nigerians who wanted help.

They were all told that they would be flown back to their home country on Thursday.

Penniless and homeless

Emeka Ojiego, who has been in South Africa since 1998 and is also married to a South African woman, was among those at the office.

The father of three said he was not prepared to go home that he was accompanying one of his brothers who was leaving.

His brother, Chindu Mweremikwu, said he lost everything two weeks ago, in Jeppestown, when his shop was set on fire.

He was inside his shop when he said a group of locals "who had Zulu accents arrived looking for foreigners".

"I was seated at the back of the shop and I quickly escaped by scaling a fence.

"I turned back as I was fleeing and saw my vehicle spares shop on fire. Every part that I was selling was on fire. I am happy that I fled with my life although I have lost everything that I worked hard for," he said.

Mweremikwu said he was heading back home on Thursday and would start life afresh there.

"I came here in 2013 to start an honest life and change things back at home. I didn't foresee that one day I will be left penniless and homeless because of a certain group of ethnic people who doesn't want foreigners (sic).

'It is a few people'

"What wrong have we done? If we are drug dealers and run brothels, the law should have taken its course. Not all of us are here to ruin the reputation of this beautiful country. South Africa is respected worldwide and not everybody is xenophobic. It is a few people that don't want us [and they have] their own motives," Mweremikwu said.

He vowed not to return to South Africa.

READ: Agony, grief and fear stalks shelter set up for foreign nationals in Katlehong

Emmanuel Iloegbu said he would start a new life in Nigeria.

Iloegbu arrived in South Africa in 2000 and said he ran a successful business, fixing and spraying vehicles in Jeppestown.

"Everybody, including residents of Jeppe Hostel knew me. I was fixing and spray-painting their cars. They were my customers. I was shocked when they turned their backs on me two weeks ago.

"They ordered me to vacate my shop before looting it. They pushed my cars outside my workshop and set them alight. I lost everything but I am happy that I am alive and am going back home to start a new life.

'South Africa is a good place...I am shocked'

"South Africa is a good place with many good people who love everybody, including foreigners. From what I have seen two weeks ago, I am shocked that is this the future of South Africa.

"There are many South Africans doing business, working and studying in many countries, including Nigeria, and they are not treated there the way we are being treated here.

"I foresee a civil war coming in South Africa. After chasing all foreigners in this country, South Africans will kill each other," he said.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  crime  |  xenophobia  |  west africa

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