Nigerians pimp out PEThu, 16 Apr 2009 12:04 AM
A Nigerian businessman, intent on changing negative perceptions
about his countrymen, has joined forces with a group of South
African shop owners to fight crime in Port Elizabeth's once
notorious Parliament Street.
The campaign spearheaded by the Nigerian, Sunday Smith, has been
hailed a major success by local business owners.
?Mr Smith had met with the Nigerian High Commissioner and wanted
to do something to help the area,? says Etienne Barkhuysen, the
chairman of the Parliament Street Business Forum.
?We were happy with his proposal and so on his own he went ahead
and formed a community watch association.?
Smith and his association along with the business forum work
closely with the Port Elizabeth police. If trouble crops up, it is
quickly dealt with.
?We want to keep Parliament Street safe for everyone,? Smith
?It is a wonderful place to walk at night and relax with your
family. We want it to stay that way.?
It bothers him that Nigerians have a bad name.
?There are around 140 million Nigerians worldwide, but only a
very small portion make trouble,? he says.
Not fair on hard workers
?It's not fair on those of us who are hard workers and want
Smith, 33, originally from the Niger Delta region in Nigeria,
arrived in South Africa in 2000 to study business. After a time in
Johannesburg he moved to Port Elizabeth where he started a
restaurant selling West African food. He is married to a local
Xhosa-speaking woman and has a daughter with her.
Smith is one of the founding member of the Nigerian Union,
formed in January this year after a visit to Port Elizabeth by the
Nigerian High Commissioner Mohammed Marwa. Marwa met a Nigerian
community leader, Chukwudi Obiezu, and Smith and urged them to form
the union to fight negative perceptions about their countrymen.
Smith, who runs a business on Parliament Street, approached the
street's business forum and offered his services.
?It was a positive meeting,? he says. ?The forum was very keen
to know how we could help.?
Smith called the Nigerians working in Parliament Street together
and told them of his plan to form a community watch. They, in turn,
One of the problems Smith had to deal with initially was
?People would be on their phones and someone would come past and
snatch the phone,? he says.
?Those who are part of the blockwatch would let me know when
something happened. I would then report the information they gave
me to the police.?
Smith, who is six foot tall and stocky, has also had to deal
with bottle breaking and the occasional fight. He says he always
tries to calm a person down when small incidents arise.
He has not seen anyone selling drugs on the street, but should
he encounter this, he says, he will immediately report it to the
?We want this street to stay clean and be a welcome place for
both South Africans and foreigners. Our businesses will suffer if
the area is not kept clean and safe. We are not going to let a few
hard heads destroy our names.?
Shaun Moodley, who owns a bar on the street, says a very
cosmopolitan crowd visits the street on Friday and Saturday nights.
Now it's the place to be
?People are here until 4am,? he says. ?It's safe for them. The
area is well lit up. In fact the lights are quite beautiful. It
wasn't always like that. Parliament Street used to be dirty. It
wasn't somewhere you would want to come. Now it's the place to be.?
Kevin Baker, who runs a 24-hour mini market on the street, says
he is able to keep his windows and doors open throughout the night.
He attributes this to the police and community forum.
?I wasn't able to do this before,? he says. ?All the business
owners on the street are working together. We want this to be a
Barkhuysen says businesses are slowly but surely coming back to
Parliament Street. He points to a new coffee shop being built and a
new upmarket hotel nearing completion.
Within the next few years, he expects that businesses will be
queuing to get in.
Jaiyestiwa Ademola, the secretary of the Nigerian Union who runs
a video store nearby Parliament Street, says it is part of Nigerian
culture to look after your neighbour.
?We are from a communal society where it is your responsibility
to look after your neighbour,? Ademola says.
?The Nigerian Union works closely with the business forum and
the police to keep the street functioning well. The police are
always here when we need them. They do an excellent job.?
Fewer than 1000 Nigerians
He says fewer than 1000 Nigerians live in Port Elizabeth.
?People seem to have the impression that there are two million
of us here,? he says.
?There are a number of Nigerian doctors working in public
hospitals around Port Elizabeth and several Nigerian small
businesses giving employment to people.?
He says he and Smith want to use the Nigerian Union to celebrate
their culture in South Africa.
?We want to show people the richness of our culture,? Smith
?We want to educate South Africans about Nigerians and most
importantly, we want to remove negative perceptions.?