Despite the many issues that should ordinarily discourage many Nigerians from seeking refuge in South Africa, thousands queue for the South Africa visa in Lagos and Abuja while hundreds make their way to the country every month, especially through the country’s airline, SAA.
But beyond the difficulties in getting and renewing the visa and also the likelihood of being target of attacks when they finally make it to the country, Nigerians visit and reside in South Africa more than any other African country.
Of course, there has been an outcry against xenophobia, which had claimed many lives few years after South Africa’s independence in 1994 including Nigerians. In the most recent incident in Kwazulu-Natal Province, the perpetrators of the attacks were warning other African nationals to leave their country or face the worst manslaughter in the history of South Africa after the elections on May 8, 2019.
Well, May 8 has come and gone with no incident of attack on other African nationals yet. Also, it seems the African National Congress (ANC), which won the presidential elections, though with fewer majorities, is determined to redeem its several assurances of safety of lives and property of other Africans in the country.
Despite the apparent safety, some Nigerians in the country are at alert as attacks could happen, especially in the poor townships and settlements where there is fierce competition with equally poor African immigrants for scarce resources and opportunities.
But why visit or live in South Africa, if one may ask? The good life, world-class facilities, orderliness and even the well-shaped women are top among reasons Nigerians still flock the ‘Rainbow Country’ in the face of several challenges.
Asabe Oruke, a Nigerian accountant who works with a financial firm in Sandton, explained that the wages are very high in South Africa and going by the strength of the Rand against Naira, one makes good money working here.
“At N23 to a Rand, one is encouraged to work hard because when you get your monthly pay, it means a lot more at home. If Naira gains strength against Rand, some Nigerians in the corporate service here may consider transfer or relocating back because it pays better doing same job in your own country at higher pay,” she said.
For Obidike Onyeka, a lecturer at UNISA in Pretoria, the infrastructure development is unravelled anywhere on the continent, and gives one a sense of pride that something this good is in Africa, especially if you are from other poor Africa countries.
“Until the 2010 FIFA World Cup, tourists did not look the way of South Africa because they thought it is like every other African country in terms of development. But they were surprised that Africa has a country that is better than some European countries. South Africa is beautiful, orderly and infrastructure, which most African countries lack, is abundant here. That is the major reason people come here,” Onyeka said.
Buttressing his argument further, Onyeka said Cape Town and Johannesburg, two South African cities, have consistently ranked among Africa’s most liveable cities, three of its cities rank among 10 top cities in Africa, among other positive ratings.
“The social security is working here if you are hooked unto the data base; you can easily afford a brand new car, a house or finance some projects, get insurance cover among others just the way they are done in the UK,” he explained further.
But for other Nigerians who are not in the corporate world like Oruke and Onyeka, survival is tougher, but they get by at the end of the day.
Emeka Oduenyi, a liquor store owner in Durban, said there are lots of business opportunities in South Africa, which the locals look down on because of indigene status, laziness or dependence on government.
“Most retail stores in Durban are run by Indians, yet there are many empty spaces one can use as stores. When we discovered this, some Nigerians started opening shops and today, we have a good number of retail outfits that are owned by Nigerians. But it is easy to open such retail stores, the city authority does not demand much, they see it as empowerment that will engage idle hands and reduce crime,” he said.
Oduenyi, who did not get much of education in Nigeria before leaving for Dubai in 2009 and South Africa in 2012, said the standard of education in South Africa is as good as the European and the US standards and even healthcare.
“I know that I am not educated but my three children are in good schools here and I don’t sweat about their school fees. Even if I am leaving to Nigeria tomorrow, I want them to finish here before coming back if they wish”, he said.
Onyeka thinks that beyond the quality of education, qualitative healthcare delivery is also reason Africans are flocking the country as the hospitals parade some of the best professionals including some Nigerian doctors who here earn 10 times their salary at home. “My wife had complications during the delivery of our second son. It involved surgery, but I was astonished by how smooth the process was despite that I was in London for exchange programme. In Nigeria, you have to deposit huge sum, donate blood and also be around to ensure things go well,” he said.
Well, the soft power is also a reason. Bisi Ariyo, a member of the Nigerian Union in South Africa (NUSA), said the number of Nigerian men who are married to South African women is on the increase. He noted that the development was as a result of the assumed well-rounded shape of the women, which lures Nigerian men. Again, marrying a South African woman is a step further to getting your papers, some Nigerian men, especially those faced with immigration challenges, resort to marriage.
“We encouraged the marriage with the hope that if there is a problem like xenophobia, we will have people that will defend us, but it does not work that way,” he said.
Ariyo said there may be attacks in the future, but they would not deter Nigerians from visiting or living in South Africa, except the country stops giving visas to Nigerians.
The reasons, for him, are obvious: South Africa offers many opportunities that other African countries do not have. Even if Naira becomes stronger that Rand tomorrow, or equals to the US dollar, Nigerians would still visit because already family bonds, businesses, partnerships among others, have been developed and built over the years and will be difficult to stop because of the attacks.
Going forward, he thinks that the laws might be strengthened to fight Nigerians and not clubs of the xenophobia attackers. Part of the laws for him is the immigration looking to make visa more difficult to get.