Opinion

AFCON: South Africans mustn’t attack Nigerians after Super Eagles, Bafana match

AFCON: South Africans mustn’t attack Nigerians after Super Eagles, Bafana match

Rather than looking forward to the thrills and spills associated with the round leather game, a lot of Nigerians have in recent times been on the edge over the foreboding from today’s crunchy match between the Super Eagles and the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in the ongoing AFCON tournament in Cote D’ivoire. The apprehensions have been heightened by threats flying around on social media. 

The South Africans have been circulating hate and inflammatory messages on social media against Nigerians resident in their country ahead of Wednesday’s semi-final AFCON 2023 cracker. Not just Nigerians living in that country are worried, their relations and loved ones back home are terrified as well. They worry over what would become of their limbs, lives and livelihoods if the match doesn’t go the way of the South Africans. Some of these Nigerians may even be rooting for Bafana to win just so that no harm comes to them or their means of living.

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Bookmakers will easily give the crucial match to the Super Eagles, especially with Napoli forward and reigning African Men’s Player of the Year, Victor Osimhen now fit to return to the field of play. This will be the 15th time Nigeria’s Super Eagles will be squaring off against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa. Out of the 14 matches already played by both teams, the former won seven of the matches, drew five while the latter won two. You can then understand why people are looking beyond the match into the aftermath.

In order to avert the provocation of xenophobic attacks by frustrated South African supporters, the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa warned Nigerian football fans to refrain from boisterous celebrations if their team wins. This was in the same statement that reads in part: “The attention of the Nigeria High Commission Pretoria has been drawn to online comments made by a section of South African citizens against Nigerians living in the country.

“This is largely influenced by the 2024 AFCON Semi-final match between the Super Eagles and Bafana Bafana on Wednesday. Most of the comments consist of veiled threats against Nigerians if the Bafana Bafana lose to the Super Eagles, among others”. Despite what anybody says, this advisory from the embassy is quite appropriate given the propensity of South Africans to target Nigerians in xenophobic attacks.

The unfortunate thing about these attacks is that it is encouraged by politicians and highly-placed persons in their society. Recall that there was violent jingoism in South Africa between 2016 and 2017 after the Zulu king called on all foreigners to leave the country. You can imagine that a highly-placed government official like the Head of Public Diplomacy, Clayson Monyela yesterday pleaded that his job requires him to “play nice” in response to a bellicose South African who censured him for not sounding tougher while reacting to the innocent advisory issued by the Nigerian mission in Pretoria.

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This is a clear indication that South Africa isn’t honest with its pontification that the well thought-out and prolly intelligence-inspired advisory from the Nigerian High Commission was totally unnecessary. Trying to be diplomatically correct also means that Monyela shouldn’t be taken seriously when he says “SouthAfricans pose no threat to Nigerians.”

If not just to play nice, the South African Head of Public Diplomacy would have seized the moment to disabuse minds and rein in hostile countrymen like the so-called Maradinho10 who had tweeted: “Your level of tolerance is why all these African countries make SA their playing ground. This level of disrespect should have high consequences, not this jolly-jolly approach you are displaying here”.

What tolerance is that X user even talking about? If South Africa and its government were tolerant in the very least, there wouldn’t have been those xenophobic hooliganisms of 1998, 2000, 2008, 2009 and 2013. The attacks of 2016 and 2017 were even more vicious despite that the governments of Nigeria and South Africa had in 2013 signed a Memorandum of Understanding to reinforce diplomatic ties with the hope of preventing further attacks.

Most of these episodes of violence in the former apartheid enclave were over the ridiculous claim that foreigners, including Nigerians, were taking away their jobs and women! If such hare-brained reasons can cause natives to kill and loot foreign nationals at random, it can then be imagined what Nigeria’s possible defeat of South Africa on the pitch tonight can provoke! While such threats kill the spirit of sportsmanship, it is hoped that it doesn’t kill the morale of the Nigerian players and their supporters.

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They must do what should be done to win the match and not allow themselves to be intimidated. The South Africans must learn the spirit of Ubuntu and sportsmanship from the Ivorians who as host of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2024 remained hospitable and genial even after Nigeria defeated them in a penalty shootout. They can also learn to conduct themselves in the fashion of gentlemen from Nigerians who didn’t raise hell after Tyla won the Best African Music Performance Award at the 2024 Grammys. It is equally worthy of note that Nigeria has also been locked in a long debate with Ghana over which country’s jollof rice is better without any harm coming to Nigerians in Ghana.

Having publicly claimed that “BafanaBafana have played the Super Eagles many times & there’s no history of soccer hooliganism associated with the outcome of such encounters”, the onus is on the South African authorities to keep it that way. The world is watching. The world is watching and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) must pay keen attention. To avoid stories that touch as we say in local parlance, Nigerians living in South Africa will do well to heed the advisory from their High Commission in Pretoria and take other necessary precautionary measures.

 

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