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No, South Africans did not attack Nigerians after the 2024 Afcon semifinal – photos from 2019

IN SHORT: The Africa Cup of Nations semifinal match between South Africa and Nigeria had fans on the edge of their seats. But Nigerians living in South Africa were not attacked after their team won the game, as was claimed on social media.

Nigeria’s Super Eagles beat South Africa’s Bafana Bafana 4-2 on penalties in the 7 February 2024 semifinal of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) football tournament.

Soon after the tense match, three photos appeared on social media with the claim they showed people in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, attacking Nigerians after their team’s win.

“Breaking News: South Africans Begin Attack On Nigerians In Johannesburg And Looting Of Their For Losing To Nigeria,” reads a typical caption.

“At least six Nigerian shops have been set on fire while others are been looted by South African anger moob for losing to Nigeria last night.”

The first photo shows a man kicking a burning object in a city street with a crowd behind him. The second shows a burning tyre and an angry crowd gesturing towards the camera. The third is a blurry photo of a car dealership in flames.

The claim can also be seen here, here, here and here.


Nigerian high commission warns of threats

On 6 February, the day before the match, the Nigerian high commission in South Africa issued a warning of “inflammatory online comments” and “veiled threats” of reprisals if Bafana Bafana lost to the Super Eagles.

It advised the “Nigerian community in South Africa” to be “watchful of their utterances, be mindful of where they choose to watch the match … and refrain from engaging in loud, riotous or provocative celebrations should the Super Eagles win the match”.

South Africa’s international relations department dismissed the warning as a “false alarm” that created “unnecessary tension between the citizens of South Africa and Nigerians living in or visiting South Africa”.

It said there was “no history of soccer hooliganism among South Africans” after the “many” matches between the two national teams.

But South Africa does have a long history of xenophobic violence against migrants from elsewhere on the continent, including Nigerians.

Do the photos show that violence did in fact erupt in Johannesburg after the Afcon semifinal? We checked.

Attack and counterattack – in 2019

Google reverse image searches reveal that all three photos are more than four years old.

The first and third appear in news reports on the September 2019 xenophobic attacks in Gauteng, the South African province that includes Johannesburg. Businesses thought to be owned by migrants were looted and set on fire.

The second photo was taken the same month in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, during retaliatory attacks on South African companies.

Both the first and second can be found on stock image sites.

The first is on Getty Images, credited to Agence France-Presse photographer Michele Spatari.

Its description reads: “A man kicks a burning piece of furniture during a riot in the Johannesburg suburb of Turffontein on September 2, 2019 as angry protesters loot alleged foreign-owned shops today in a new wave of violence targeting foreign nationals.”

The second photo can be found on AP Newsroom, the Associated Press stock media site.

Its description reads: “Protesters throw rocks at policemen during an attack on South African business, in Abuja, Nigeria, Wednesday Sept. 4, 2019. South African-owned businesses operating in Nigeria are being targeted with violence in retaliation for xenophobic attacks carried out against Africans working in South Africa.”

Malvern businesses set ablaze

The origin of the blurry third photo of a burning car dealership was more difficult to find. A larger version appears in early reports of the September 2019 violence – in Nigeria here, and in South Africa here – credited to “via WhatsApp”.

It’s said to show one of many businesses attacked during the night of 1 September 2019 on Jules Street in Malvern, a suburb in the east of Johannesburg.

Its caption in a 2 September report by Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reads: “One of the Auto Marts set ablaze by an angry mob on Sunday, Sept. 1, in Johannesburg, South Africa.”

The report says “witnesses living on Jules Street” described the mob as “very organised and well-coordinated in looting and burning of any shops/businesses suspected to be owned by foreign nationals”.

The burned banner on the dealership shows the address 161 Jules Street. Text on the left and the right indicate the business was called Salbro Auto.

We googled Salbro Auto and found a 2 September 2019 article on TimesLive.

It reads: “Tears flow as family members of Salbro Auto hopelessly walk through their car dealership which has been burnt to the ground. Nothing but burnt down frames of 40 cars, which were once worth millions, are left.”

The article interviews the owner, a South African.

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