By Ifeoluwa Adeyemo
The South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, on Wednesday explained that Nigerians were not deliberately being targeted to be killed in his country.
Mr Ramaphosa gave his view on the troubling issue when he paid a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja.
Xenophobic attacks have been going on in South Africa for over a decade with many Nigerians caught in the attacks.
The News Agency of Nigeria reported that no fewer than 117 Nigerians have been killed in South Africa since February 2016.
Though there have been interventions by the Nigerian Mission in South Africa, these killings have persisted.
In February, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tope Elias-Fatile, said most violent conflicts and killings of Nigerians in South Africa were more of criminal activities than xenophobic attacks as the ministry was in constant touch with the Nigerian Mission in that country to get reports of criminal-related issues involving Nigerians.
The most recent of such attacks on Nigerians affected Ozumba Tochukwu-Lawrence, who was allegedly killed by a gunman on July 6.
While speaking to journalists after his meeting with Mr. Buhari, the South African president said the attacks are as a result of criminal activity among his people.
He said his government is now focusing on the issue from a criminal element point of view.
He added that the attacks are not only against Nigerians and that South Africans do not have any form of negative disposition or hatred towards Nigerians
“I will like to say here and now that, that has been as a result of criminal activity among our own people which we are focusing on from a criminal element point of view.
“I want to state here and now that South Africans do not have any form of negative disposition or hatred towards Nigerians. And in the main, Nigerians in South Africa and a number of places in our country live side by side, they cooperate very well and some are in the corporate structures of our various companies and some are traders and some are into a number of things.
“So, I want to dispel this notion that when a Nigerian loses his or her life in South Africa, it is as a result of an intentional action by South Africans against Nigerians. That is simply not true,” he said.
Mr Ramaphosa also disclosed that the high level of criminality in his country is as a result of unemployment among his people
“Twenty-seven per cent of South Africans are unemployed which amounts to about nine million and most of these are young people.
“Poverty is still all pervasive in South Africa and this emanates from our very sad history of apartheid misrule.
“There is still inequality in South Africa, a few people are extremely rich and majority of our people are very poor and all these factors and other social factors have contributed to the high levels of crime. And criminality is something like I said that we are focusing on, doing everything to bring it down,” he said.
However, Mr Ramaphosa said his government had been reducing crime in the country and is working on a concerted basis to ensure that crime goes down.
The South African president added that while a great number of South Africans are involved in criminality, many other foreigners, some of whom are Nigerians are also involved.
“These are acts of criminality and I want to end by saying that, when we were involved in our struggle, we said that the South Africa that we are fighting for is the South Africa which will regard everyone who lives in South Africa on the basis of equality, respect for human right.
“And we said that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it. So, the Nigerians who are in South Africa are also part of our community.
“They can never be targeted on an intentional basis as people who must either be attacked or killed. And when that happens, l will like all of us to see that as an act of criminality which in the main affect many South Africans in the various parts of our country,” he said.