Fear of Boycott Grips South African Brands

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Philip Akesson Travelstart Manager for Nigeria

For South African brands doing business in Nigeria, the fear of losing money is the beginning of wisdom. The reaction to the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa couldn’t have been worse for business, as they were caught unawares by the backlash from Nigerians.

Some of them had to temporarily close shop, while others flew below the radar, hoping the Nigerian public doesn’t beam the searchlight on them.

It is no wonder that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa – himself a successful businessman with major interests in MTN – sent a special envoy, Jeff Radebe, to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, in order to convey “sincerest apologies about the incident that has recently transpired in South Africa”.

South Africa has huge investments in Nigeria, with Shoprite, MTN, Travelstart, DSTV and other companies jostling with local companies for a share of the continent’s biggest market. And while the destruction and looting of the assets belonging to these South African brands has been successfully curtailed by the Nigerian police, the undercurrents of animosity remain, with calls for a boycott of these businesses and their services a recurring theme.

For Nigerians, an apology from the South African president is not enough. Rather, balancing trade between both countries should be the ultimate goal. While Nigeria enjoys a positive trade balance with South Africa, 99 per cent of South Africa’s imports from Nigeria is from crude oil.

On the other hand, South Africa’s exports to – and business footprints in Nigeria – are across various sectors from plastics to edible fruits to electronics, due to the conducive business climate afforded them.

The demand is that the South Africa government should be as welcoming to Nigerian businesses in a similar way to that which has ensured South African businesses thrive and rake in millions – in some cases, billions – of dollars in Nigeria.