Africa

Xenophobia in South Africa: 'We Nigerians are not all criminals'

Emmeka Uhanna inside his restaurant in Randburg, Johannesburg

Nigerian Emmeka Uhanna, 47, is a shop-owner in South Africa's economic hub Johannesburg. He tells the BBC's Pumza Fihlani that he is worried following the recent xenophobic attacks in parts of the city and wants the government to intervene for the sake of all Africans.

I've been living in South Africa since 1997, my wife is South African and we have two children, aged 14 and 16.

My wife is worried about what future our children will have if the xenophobic attacks become the norm. We don't know how to explain the hatred against Nigerians to our families, to our children. This is the third round of attacks against foreigners; one was in 2008 where people were killed, again in 2015.

I now get calls from home, my family members want to know if we're safe, they see the stories in the news. I do feel safe, I feel safe because I live in the suburbs away from where the unrest and violence has been happening but I don't know if I could say that if I was living in a poorer area.

There are parts of this city that are no-man's land, where the police have no control over what happens, where there are no consequences for wrong-doing, that is unfortunately where the xenophobia has thrived.

There is just lawlessness from all sides, by all nationalities and that sort of environment is a ticking time-bomb. Life is different in the suburbs but I do worry about my fellow Africans who become victims in these incidents, while they have nothing to do with crime.

I love this country, I consider it my home and it breaks my heart to see what is happening. The government needs to seriously address the concerns people are raising - both South Africans and foreigners.

Fighting stereotypes

People here are saying that Nigerians are bringing drugs and prostitution but can I tell you something, while I don't condone crime, Nigerians are not the only ones involved in crime here.

It's all too easy to profile one group and that is not right, it's also dangerous and puts people's lives in danger.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption In 2015, thousands of people from all walks of life took part in 'peace marches' in South Africa's main cities calling for an end to xenophobia

It's important for South Africans to know that not all of us are criminals, the same way not all South Africans are engaged in crime.

They need to understand that you cannot paint people with one brush.

I am a hard-working man and there are many law-abiding foreigners who are helping to building the country.

I own a restaurant in Randburg, we make Nigerian food and South African dishes. I also own a liquor store which has been in business since 2007. All I want to do is provide for my family and help people make a living too - some of my employees are South African.

It has been a long road to get to this point. Leaving your home with nothing is not easy. There was a time when I had nothing: No money, no food, no-one.

I didn't have a place to sleep and would sleep in police stations and in the streets. I moved here to study but when I came into the country, life was more difficult than I imagined it would be.

It was not easy for me to register because of financial constraints but I stayed because South Africa is one of the best countries in Africa - in terms of facilities. There are better opportunities.

Everyone wants a better life for themselves and their family and South Africa is seen as the best place for that but it's not easy.

After years of working part-time jobs I raised enough to finally take myself to school, I completed a business management course in 2010 and that has helped me with running my businesses.

Home away from home

South Africa is my home now, everything I own is here - that's why I am also unhappy about the crime and the high unemployment here. These things make life difficult.

Image caption Emmeka Uhanna has been running a successful liquor store for 10 years

I understand where the anger is coming from - obviously if you are poor and see your neighbour, who is not even from here, succeeding it will create tensions.

Nigerians love being in the lime-light and have a basket-mouth [trash-talker] and are showy.

When we have money, even if it's a little, we want people to know - this makes us more noticeable than other nationalities.

I think the Nigerians living here need to be aware of that and be sensitive to the issues that may cause.

As for the crime, I know that sometimes people do bad things to earn a living but imagine if that was your own child that was addicted to drugs or being used as a prostitute.

I'm a parent and I worry about that, that's why I don't support crime at all.

Other nationalities need to respect the laws of the country, we are visitors here and need to remember that.

We came to South Africa for different reasons, some of us can never return to our countries, what happens then if you ruin your chances here?

We don't want to live in fear, I'm pleading with the government to address the problems that have come with migration, for the sake of our children.

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