#AfricaDay: What is it like to be a Nigerian in South Africa – Part 1

Police search a man outside a dark building (Illegally inhabited building with no running water or electricity). Hillbrow, Johannesburg Photo: @jonowoodinjozi

There are no statistics on the number of Nigerians currently living in South Africa even though in 2017 there was a claim that the number was over 800 000. According to Africa Check, there was no data to support this. 

However, there are many Nigerians that have come to South Africa and have called it home for many years. Even though some are enjoying their stay they have come with some challenges and terrible experiences. The bad experiences range from permit problems, discrimination, and xenophobic attacks. 

Recently the Nigerian Union of South Africa announced on its official social media page it has decided to march against double and illegal passport charges. “We call on all Nigerian citizens living in South Africa including professionals, entrepreneurs, traders, students, student organizations, geopolitical organizations, State organizations, and Local  Government Unions etcetera to come out In mass on the 25th of May, 2021 to demand the withdrawal of excessive charges dubbed “Diplomatic  Extortion” by the Consul General of Nigeria Johannesburg, South Africa His Excellency, Mr. Abdul Malik M Ahmed.”

The significance of the day of the march on May 25 is that it is Africa Day.

On 25 May 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed in the fight against colonialism and apartheid. Africa Day is intended to celebrate and acknowledge the successes of the OAU (now the AU).

From its creation on May 25, this day is normally celebrated with music, dance, and poetry.

This year the theme is “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa we Want”.

In a two-part series, we as Nigerians in South Africa spoke to a few Nigerians who are currently living in South Africa to get a first-hand experience of their stay in the country

Wesley from Northriding says “It’s good living in SA better than Nigeria any day”.

Ronke, however a student in KwaDlangezwa in KwaZulu-Natal. Has been living in the country for less than three years. She says that her experience as a student is that she feels like a stranger in the country. She also mentions that some job applications were declined because of being a foreigner.

“Personally, it is more of feeling like a stranger. People go to places and they feel like they are home. As a student, this is not my experience. Even in the school residence, you meet neighbours who hardly acknowledge your greeting and who find it difficult to smile in return when they do.

And there were instances where applications for some hourly-based job offers within the school were declined on the basis of being a foreigner.”

A Johannesburg-based Brand & Marketing Manager, Timmy Campbell, who has been in the country for the same time as Ronke finds his experience both challenging and exciting.

“It’s Quite Challenging & Exciting at the same time being far from home, but then it feels good knowing that you are surrounded by a lot of Nigerians which makes you feel like you are home.

It’s a bit of a challenge when you are always a second preference and have been denied certain privileges because you are a foreigner which may be common in other countries as well.

However, it’s been a good experience for me taking time to blend and fit in most especially my line of profession which is the Nightlife & Entertainment.”

For someone who has been in the country for close to 18 years in October, Olaniyi a computer technician based in Johannesburg working in the printing industry says the experience of being a Nigerian living in South Africa is personal and one cannot generalise. 

“To the question, What is it like to be a Nigerian living in South Africa?  I think that can only be answered on a personal note. We can not actually generalise that because I believe we all have different experiences based on level of education, based on where we live, based on the work we do and based on the relationships we have with the South Africans. So on a personal note, I would say that I have had very good experiences but not the best experience. But I have had a good experience and  I have had a bad experience.”

Olaniyi highlights a point of being limited in the country due to permit issues and the stigma attached to being a Nigerian.

“I would just say in general one of the challenges we face as Nigerians in South Africa is that we are a bit limited due to certain things in South Africa. To some, they are limited because of permit issues even as much as they try to get their paper fixed it has become very difficult for them to get their paper fixed. Getting a permit becomes very difficult in South Africa. And another thing that limits the Nigerians in South Africa is actually the stigma that Nigerians are involved in drugs and prostitution and all those things. And I would say that these things are not only done by Nigerians they are done by other nationalities as well. I wouldn’t say that Nigerians are not involved in it but not all Nigerians are involved in that.

And as well I wouldn’t say 90% of Nigerians are involved in that no, maybe it’s a selected few that are involved in those kinds of things. But it has become a general stigma to Nigerians when you identify yourself as a Nigerian that is what first comes to mind of a South African and I think it has limited a lot of Nigerians in the workplaces and society as a whole to be able to do what they ought to do or desire to do. Because people look at you in that light when they hear you are a Nigerian they are careful and they are suspicious and even when you are doing your business.”

The computer technician still maintains that the permit issue is a big issue. Many Nigerians at times spend a lot of money using agents to help with their permits. The prices charged by an agent can go up to R50 000 which is a problem because not many Nigerians have such huge amounts of money to part with. 

“And aside the biggest issue I can talk about is the issue of the permit that I first mentioned. A lot of people have permits in South Africa but then when it’s time to renew the permit it becomes a big deal that it will be rejected over and over again and that has given a lot of so-called agents who are involved in permit business has given them an urge and they charge quote lot of money to renew permits to help people fix their permits. They will charge from R20 000-R50 000 to help you renew your permit. And not many Nigerians here would have such an amount to part away with for the permit. So hence it has allowed a lot of people to be without the right or valid papers in South Africa. And limiting them in the workplaces So aside from that I think the other thing we can talk about is the xenophobic attacks but for some time now that has not been happening. Overall my experience has been good, there have been bad experiences as well but it can be better. If there is a way that the government can look into the permit issues that will be highly appreciated. There are people who are well qualified for the permit and they don’t get it. If it can be looked into it can help a lot of Nigerians that are struggling here in the country.”

Adedeji Adeyemo of Kitchen Vibes , Photo: Sawubona Magazine

Owner of Kitchen Vibes, based in Sandton Johannesburg, Adedeji Adeyemo who has been in the country for 16 years is an engineer and restauranteur also reiterates the fact that being in the country is interesting.

“It’s been interesting with its ups and downs. Generally good.”

Mathias Afolabi Sagbo, Yellow-Man, an entrepreneur based in Pretoria in Gauteng. Says it’s not been easy as well living in the country as a Nigerian.  He has been in the country for almost 17 years. He talks about dodgy dealings damaging the reputation of Nigerians. 

“It has not been easy living in South Africa; Most especially being a Nigerian. The name Nigeria has been badly damaged within the South African circle. The reasons for these are not far-fetched. This is based on the fact that many of our brothers from the other side of our country are mostly found or caught to be engaging in certain business ventures that most of us are not proud of.

This, therefore, made the citizens and the authorities of our host country classify every Nigerian resident in South Africa as the same.”

Yellow-Man highlights an issue that is also faced by citizens of the country and that is the cost of living in South Africa. According to statistics found on expatistan.com South Africa is the most expensive country in Africa (1 out of 5).

“Furthermore, the cost of living in South Africa is very expensive. But one good thing about it is that; One will definitely see and enjoy what you are paying for, unlike our own country back at home. While on the other hand, it will not be an overstatement to boldly say that most Nigerians living here S/A, are very hardworking and ready to go the extra miles so as to sustain and maintain the expensive living conditions that S/A is known for.

Moreso, I must equally say that we have a lot of Nigerian University graduates here in South Africa doing the kind of work that ordinary they will never embark on back at home.

Meanwhile, it’s also good to note that there’s a scarcity of jobs in South Africa so those thinking of coming here must think twice before jumping into the plane. Most Nigerians living here had to create a job or go into one form of business /trading to sustain themselves, while the most fortunate ones are those in the medical industry.

Conclusively, South Africa is a very beautiful country but the citizens are not beautiful at heart when it comes to accommodating and relating with foreigners. This rainbow nation is very lovely to live in it, considering the beautiful and the modern infrastructures put in place by their government, but the xenophobic nature of their citizens could sometimes frustrate and makes you hate this sweet America in Africa, known as South Africa.”

Nancy, a Nigerian based in South Africa, has a different story. She came in 2009 to attend a six-month course in Christian Mission Organisation however she has not left since after finding love and getting married.

“During my admission process, I was offered a two-year visa instead of the 6 months I initially intended to do. My intention was not to stay here. After a year I met my husband, so I did not have an option but to stay. It was a bit difficult getting to navigate in the country at first. It was racial prejudice because in Nigeria we are used to all being Nigerians. I love my Nigerian roots. I love the fact that we were taught not to hate and we are all seen as equal.”

Nancy says that coming to this country was an eye-opener, especially with the racial divide.

“But coming to South Africa was an eye-opener getting to experience the different races and how the black race is seen as an inferior race. Also, I think because I got married I didn’t have so many immigration, documentation problems. But I have friends who have been here and it has been really difficult to get their usual work permit which the South African government has stopped. And also to get a proper job. So for now I’m privileged to be a secretary at the Nigerian High Commission. In South Africa you really need to work hard or create your own employment or if you have finances and resources to get educated. This is a very good place to get a good education. It’s not as easy and rosy as people think it is.”

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