Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is likely to demand reparations for Nigerians who lost property in recent xenophobic attacks when he makes a state visit to South Africa on Thursday, 3 October.
But President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to rebuff this demand. South Africa has rejected demands from Nigeria for compensation after previous bouts of xenophobic violence, officials insist.
Buhari’s state visit has been scheduled for many months, but it is coincidentally occurring just weeks after the shops and other possessions of some Nigerians and other foreign African nationals were damaged or destroyed in rioting by South Africans in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, partly directed at foreigners.
Nigerians were the most vociferous in their reaction to these attacks, with Nigerian mobs in Lagos and other cities attacking South African-owned businesses and demands by the head of Buhari’s ruling All Peoples Congress party that these South African companies should be nationalised.
After criticising Pretoria for its failure to contain the xenophobic violence, Buhari dispatched a special envoy to meet Ramaphosa to convey his concerns. Ramaphosa, in turn, sent a team of special envoys led by former cabinet minister Jeff Radebe to visit the leaders of countries whose nationals had been caught up in the violence.
After meeting Buhari in Nigeria where he apologised for the violence against people from that country, Radebe said he believed the demand for reparation would be part of the agenda which Nigeria would present at the ninth Binational Commission which Buhari and Ramaphosa would co-chair on Thursday.
Officials from both sides have been preparing for the commission since last week and on Wednesday South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Naledi Pandor, will co-chair with her Nigerian counterpart Geoffrey Onyeama, a ministerial meeting to finalise the agenda.
South African officials have indicated that South Africa will not agree to any demands for official compensation or reparations for damage suffered by Nigerian nationals. They said these Nigerians should seek restitution from their insurance companies — just as South African companies whose properties were damaged in the retaliatory attacks in Nigeria should seek compensation from their insurance companies and not the Nigerian government.
They also said Pretoria had rejected similar demands after eruptions of xenophobic violence in 2008 and 2015.
Ramaphosa is also likely to tell Buhari that the extent of attacks on Nigerians has been greatly exaggerated, especially on Nigerian social media which gave the impression that several Nigerians had been killed and scores injured.
After meeting former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Pretoria last week, Ramaphosa said through his spokesperson Khusela Diko that the two leaders discussed “misconceptions created about the situation in South Africa that gave the impression that Nigerian nationals in particular had been victimised. No loss of life was reported among Nigerian nationals in South Africa during this period”.
It is also likely that Ramaphosa, while repeating his apologies for the abuse of Nigerians, will also stress the “push” factor which his government perceives as part of the xenophobic violence — the fact that some other African countries have not created the socio-economic conditions to encourage their people to stay at home.
However, South African officials also stressed that both sides will be trying to avoid the xenophobic violence overshadowing positive co-operation between the two economic giants of sub-Saharan Africa, for the advancement of both countries and the wider continent.
“This is an opportunity to look at how we can work together to strengthen relations and advance the integration of the continent,” a South African official who preferred to remain anonymous told ISS Today.
Among the issues on the agenda are the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, (AfCFTA) the first continent-wide deal liberalising markets, which was recently launched but has not yet come into effect.
South Africa is eager to leverage the AfCFTA to open lucrative markets in West Africa, including Nigeria which signed onto the deal quite late because its manufacturers fear being flooded by imports from other African countries, including South Africa.
Buhari is expected to be accompanied by a larger business delegation so the AfCFTA and many other complications in the business relations between the two countries are sure to be discussed.
“It’s generally accepted, we believe, that for the continent to move forward, South Africa and Nigeria need to work together,” the South African official told ISS Today. “We don’t need to agree on every issue. But we do need to find agreement within broad strategic parameters.”
Dianna Games, Executive Director of the South Africa-Nigeria Business Chamber (Johannesburg), told ISS Today that while it was coincidental that Buhari was coming at this time, it did provide an opportunity for the two countries to really tackle xenophobia and other issues once and for all.
She said neither country could afford to allow such issues to distract them from co-operating and advancing together.
“Nigeria and South Africa have gradually lost the mantle of African leadership because of their ongoing distraction with bilateral challenges and their failure to co-operate and engage proactively for the good of each other and the continent.
“The rest of Africa is not waiting for us to get over our relationship issues. They have moved on and are looking elsewhere for leadership, to fast-growing and modernising countries in East Africa, for example.”
But it wasn’t too late, Games said.
“We hope this visit will provide a new platform for them to show their leadership mettle and move forward in a spirit of co-operation and mutual benefit.” DM