Why HR leaders should be concerned about the xenophobic attacks

Revenge attacks have implications for the safety of employees and can impact relationships between colleagues.

The spate of xenophobic violence in South Africa seems to be resulting in retaliation against South African businesses in other parts of the continent with Reuters today reporting that the Nigerian division of South African telecom operator MTN announcing it would  hut all stores and service centres in the country until further notice after its facilities in three cities were attacked. 

The violence against South African businesses in South Africa brings to fruition a threat made by young students in Nigeria have been protesting against South African corporations within their borders. Meanwhile, Fin24 reports that South African television group MultiChoice has shut its offices and branches in Nigeria and Zambia, according to its head of corporate affairs Joe Heshu. 

“This follows protests at the group's Nigerian and Zambian offices in Lagos and Lusaka,” reads the report. 

Similarly, Shoprite has confirmed that several stores in South Africa, Nigeria and Zambia were unable to open due to protest action, and that there had been extensive damage done to their supermarkets over the past 24 hours.

South African multinationals operating on the continent will have to be on high alert as more citizens of other African nationals seek recourse against the attacks of migrants within South Africa. The violence echoes sporadic outbreaks of xenophobic attacks in 2008 and 2015 when many migrants were killed and even more were displaced by the violence. 

For HR practitioners, the outbreak of violence is not only a safety issue for employees but could also begin to sow divisions within organisations that purport embrace people of all cultures, nationalities and backgrounds, if the way employees engage around these issues does not live up to those values. As employees debate the unfolding events within office corridors, it is important that organisations keep an eye on how employees relate and engage with one another. In some cases, employees may be dealing with trauma of a family member or friend that has fallen victim to the violence and thus needs counselling as a result. 

Read more about whether South African employees working in Nigeria are at risk.