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MTN, MultiChoice close shops amid xenophobic violence

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SA’s leading brands – mobile operator MTN and pay-TV operator MultChoice – have closed shops in Nigeria, SA and Zambia as the spate of xenophobic violence escalates.

A new wave of xenophobic attacks emerged in SA recently, with locals targeting foreigners as well as their businesses in SA.

This has resulted in some African countries retaliating, targeting South African businesses in those countries.

Pan-African telecom titan MTN says it is engaging both governments of Nigeria and SA in seeking a solution to stabilise xenophobia-fuelled attacks in both countries.

MTN says it stands against any form of xenophobia and damage to property, and remains concerned about the situation in both countries.

The telco says: “MTN is working with the relevant authorities and other stakeholders to focus on stabilising the situation both in Nigeria and South Africa, and to ensure the safety and well-being of all those impacted by the unfortunate violence.”

The mobile operator says it has since closed some of its stores in SA and Nigeria.

“MTN confirms that over the last day, four MTN outlets in Nigeria have been the subject of attacks and we have had to close several stores in Johannesburg. There are no reported injuries,” the statement reads.

Running battle

There has been a running battle between Nigerians and South Africans over the past week, with accusations and counter-accusations over the xenophobic attacks being thrown around.

The situation has been exacerbated by the looting of foreign-owned shops in SA, which has seen Nigerians retaliate by attacking retail chain Shoprite, MTN and pay-TV operator MultiChoice.

Nigeria is home to about 120 South African companies, including big brands like MTN, Shoprite, MultiChoice, South African Airways and Game.

With more than 65 million users, Nigeria is MTN's biggest market in Africa, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission.

It also accounts for a third of the company's annual profit. Africa’s leading telecoms group recently listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, being valued at about two trillion naira ($5.6 billion), making MTN Nigeria the biggest company on the bourse.

The MTN Group owns almost 79% of the Nigerian business.

In the Wednesday statement, MTN says: “While we remain committed to providing uninterrupted services, the safety and security of our customers, staff and partners is our primary concern. MTN’s stores and service centres in Nigeria have, therefore, been closed as a precaution.

“As a company, we remain committed to ensuring a peaceful, harmonious and respectful relationship with all our stakeholders across Africa.” 

Tensions have been high between Nigeria and South Africa since June.

Last month, influential Nigerian students body NANS demanded the expulsion of South African businesses from the West African country.

The students’ anger in Nigeria was triggered by the death of Elizabeth Ndubuisi Chukwu, director-general of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria, at a hotel in Johannesburg on 13 June, with an autopsy report stating she had been strangled.

Reacting to this, students in Nigeria, in Yola, Adamawa State, picketed South African businesses, warning them to leave the country in seven days.

NANS threatened to shut down South African business interests in Nigeria by the end of the ultimatum if xenophobic attacks against Nigerians continue.

The students, brandishing placards, blocked the entrance to a Standard Bank branch for several hours.

Meanwhile, Vodacom condemned attacks on foreign nationals and widespread gender-based violence in SA.

In a statement, the company says: “Vodacom condemns in the strongest possible terms the attacks against foreign nationals currently affecting Gauteng province.

“The company also strongly condemns continued gender-based violence against women and young girls, one of the greatest social ills of our time that threatens to reverse the strides made in gender equality.

“We also condemn the criminal attacks on foreign nationals. This violence jeopardises economic co-operation on the continent and damages both unity and solidarity among African states.”

Sombre period

MultiChoice says the situation is being closely managed by teams across its operations.

“In the interest of safeguarding our customers and staff, we have taken the decision to close some of our offices in Nigeria and Zambia until the situation is under control,” says Jabavu Heshu, MultiChoice group executive for corporate affairs.

“MultiChoice is committed to uniting Africans through our programming and cultural initiatives. We advocate equality and condemn all forms of discrimination. The on-going violence in South Africa against foreign nationals is against the spirit of Africa, and counter-productive to the decades of work done by African leaders and well-meaning organisations to unite the continent.

“We are a proudly African company and although our story began in South Africa, today we represent the African continent in all its diversity through our presence across the region.

 “We embrace and celebrate the diversity of varied nationalities, traditions, cultures and religions from across the continent and beyond. This is demonstrated through our multinational staff complement, our multicultural supply chain, as well as the local and international content that we showcase on both our DStv and GOtv platforms.

“We believe Africa’s full potential can only be realised through dialogue, peace and unity. This is a sombre period for every African on the continent and beyond, and we urge all our customers, followers and stakeholders to shun violence,” Heshu concludes.

Additional reporting by Admire Moyo.

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