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Xenophobia: I lost almost N16 million, South African policemen told us to return to our country– Nigerian wheelchair user cries out

Mojeed Kuku, a Nigerian confined to a wheelchair, who also lost his source of livelihood during the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, shares his story with GBENRO ADEOYE

What do you do?

I’m a general merchant; I import and export. I trade. My wife and I have a big shop where we sell goods.

How long have you been in South Africa?

I’ve been here for 15 years. My wife and children are Nigerians. My children are schooling here – three boys. The youngest is 16 years old.

What has been your experience so far as regards xenophobic attacks there?

This would be my first experience. All that my wife and I worked so hard to put together for so many years were destroyed in one day. We went to the Nigerian High Commission to seek financial help because we don’t know where to start. Many of us were there. We were asked to sign affidavits and bring quotations for the things we lost. They said they would see what they could do.

What were the things that were destroyed in your shop?

I lost about R 650,000 (about N15.8m) worth of items. We were selling industrial machines for tailoring, mobile phones, clippers, dryers, Brazilian hair, clothes and things like that – all new.

What is the hope for you and your family?

I don’t have any hope now unless the Nigerian government supports us financially. I don’t know where to start now; I cannot lie to you. I’m at home now, I cannot go anywhere. My sons cannot go to school. We pay schools every month here, not like in Nigeria. Even I don’t know how to pay rent now. My rent is R 6,000.

Tell me your experience. How was your shop burnt?

It started on Monday but my shop was burnt on Tuesday. It was totally burnt; nothing is left there now. All the shops owned by Nigerians on Lillian Ngoyi Street (popularly known as Van der Walt Street), Pretoria, were burnt.

We just heard that they had started attacking foreigners on the street. We saw how they were setting the shops on fire. Everyone ran away. I could not even do anything as I was in a wheelchair. We are tired of this. And we had used all our money to stock goods instead of keeping it in the bank. We don’t like keeping money in the bank because here, if you as a foreigner have too much money in the bank, it will be a problem. They hate foreigners, so foreigners don’t keep too much money in the bank. We use our money to buy goods for the shop.

Were you injured in any way?

I’m living with a disability. I’m in a wheelchair. It happened when I was young. I worked hard to make a life for myself. I brought my wife and children to come and stay with me here a long time ago.

Do you know anyone else who was also affected?

There are friends who also had the same problems sometime ago.

How safe is the life of a Nigerian in South Africa now?

It is terrible because many of us communicate on a Whatsapp platform. Everyone is apprehensive.

Does it mean Nigerians now stay indoors and are afraid to go out?

We are afraid to go out. They attack people, especially in the areas where there were attacks, they said they don’t want Nigerians there.

Which areas are mostly affected?

Central Pretoria. I heard it also happened at Mabopane Station on the outskirts of Pretoria. They said they attacked people and destroyed their shops there too. They injured many people.

Do you think the police in South Africa are doing enough to curb this crime?

The police from Pretoria Central cannot do anything about it.

Why?

Because the police were there when they were burning the shops; we approached them and they said ‘go back to your country’.

The police said that.

Yes, they said go back to your country. They were not ready to do anything.  They saw their citizens breaking shops, looting and then later, they set the shops on fire.

What about the Nigerian High Commission?

They have sympathy but I don’t know if they can help to solve the problem. What I know is that they sympathise with us. They said we should bring the quotations and that they would send them to Abuja.

What do you think can be done to stop this?

Anytime other nationals do something wrong, they always blame Nigerians for it here. We have problems in that regard. The media here blame Nigerians anytime something wrong is done.  Secondly, the Nigerian High Commission mentioned that some Nigerians are doing bad things here. Truly, some Nigerians here are stupid, I am telling you. Some stupid people, who are mostly Igbo, do bad deals here. I am not criticising the tribe but many of them are the ones involved in those things. Some Yoruba people are involved but majority of them are Igbo. They cause a lot of problems for those of us doing legitimate businesses in this country. And because of the illegal businesses they do, the Nigerian High Commission is not encouraged to fight for us but even this country is a corrupt country.

So will you return to Nigeria?

We would have returned to Nigeria but for our country that is not okay; we lack a lot of facilities. But I cannot return now; we cannot go empty-handed. And all my sons are schooling here. Maybe when they finish schooling, I can return home. Where am I going to start from if I return to Nigeria?

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