Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has met his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa, almost a month after xenophobic attacks in South Africa stirred tensions between the two countries.
Nigerians were particularly targeted in the latest outbreak of xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg, resulting in the death of 12 people, with over 640 Nigerians fleeing back to their country and looting of shops in various other African countries.
Buhari who is on a two days visit for a joint business forum between the two countries in South Africa stated that the xenophobic violence had to be addressed quickly. The two presidents stated that they regretted the violence and subsequent retaliation in Nigeria against South African businesses as they pledged to deepen trade ties. They also sent special envoys to manage the diplomatic fallouts from the attacks.
“As the government of South Africa, we have expressed our deep regret at the attacks directed at foreign nationals and our condemnation of all forms of intolerance and acts of violence,” Ramaphosa told journalists. “We decided to take concrete measures to prevent the recurrence of such unacceptable incidents in the future,” Buhari added.
Buhari’s visit marks the 20th anniversary of a Bi-National Commission (BNC) established between the two countries in 1999. Since then, dozens of trade agreements have been signed between them.
According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, in 2018, Nigeria imported from $514.3 million from South Africa and the 2018 total value of trade between the two countries amounted to $3.35 billion, making Nigeria South Africa’s largest trade partner in West Africa.
South Africa is the most economically unequal country in the world and in the last eight years, over three million South Africans have been living below the poverty line, a study by Statistics South Africa shows. With the spate of xenophobic attacks in the county, the county has reduced on the ease of doing business chart and Ramaphosa who pointed out roads, mining and infrastructure stated that “We want to create an enabling environment for doing business in our respective countries.”
Although Africa’s biggest economies have pledged to deepen ties and have committed to increase trade between them, this will not alleviate the misplaced aggression that South Africans have. With no favourable immigration law and the idea that foreigners are coming to take their jobs, racial sentiments were birthed and have given rise to xenophobic attacks and ethnic prejudice in the country. Until South Africa tackles its cultural and racial sentiments, bilateral ties may increase but xenophobia will never truly go away.