On 1 March a plane carrying 125 Nigerians landed at OR Tambo International Airport. However, the group was prevented from entering the country because their yellow fever vaccination certificates were deemed to be fake by South African immigration officials. This was done in full compliance with immigration protocol.
The following day the group was sent back to Nigeria, sparking Ashiru’s fury. “I find the action as totally unfriendly and unAfrican,” he is reported to have said. “They should know that they do not have a monopoly on deporting travellers. Henceforth, for every 10 Nigerians that are deported, Nigeria will take decisive and reciprocal actions. All requirements must be met before we consider the issue resolved.”
More threats were allegedly made by the foreign minister against South African business interests in Nigeria. In a retaliatory move, 28 South Africans were turned back on 5 March at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos and a further 56 South Africans were deported the following day.
Reacting to the Nigerian minister’s utterances and the subsequent deportation of South African nationals, spokesman for the department of home affairs, Ronnie Mamaoepa, said, “This is standard international protocol. The public must understand that communicable diseases must be controlled.” The incident then escalated into a full diplomatic row.
I understand diplomatic considerations tend to take a wider and longer-term view of bilateral relations between countries. In the “diplomatic world” compromises and concessions are made to keep strategic partnerships healthy. Furthermore, South Africa has major business investments in Nigeria, where thousands of Nigerians are employed and, yes, South African companies make good profits there. I am also told by an economist that Nigeria is a country with handsome future economic growth prospects and South Africa would do well to remain friendly with the oil-rich nation.
It is also important to recognise that South Africa is rapidly developing, throughout Africa, a notoriety for being grossly xenophobic, particularly against other black Africans. Indeed South Africa is not the friendliest place for foreigners, particularly those of African descent. An unfortunate reality for which South Africans should own up and be ashamed. Let us not forget South Africa’s bid for head African Union commission by home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as another important reason to mend any damaged relations with Nigeria. It is understandable South Africa would want to make amends.
You would be excused for thinking that Dirco is run by a bunch of “unevolved” primates after observing the diplomatic buffoonery that followed the deportation and Ashiru’s tirade. In a disgustingly weak and pathetic excuse for expeditious diplomatic initiative, Ebrahim apologised most profusely to the Nigerian government for the “inconvenience” of deporting the 125 travellers.This was done at a press conference with members of the Nigerian high commission present. Perhaps it was the stench that emanated from the deputy minister as he grovelled that gave the Nigerian officials a disgusted but smug look on their faces. The reason Dirco deemed it necessary to apologise so publicly, so humiliatingly was not because the vaccination certificates were in fact authentic and that the immigration officers at ORT were incompetent. Neither was it because any law, practice or protocol had been transgressed, but because an “inconvenience” had been caused. What hogwash! The substance of the argument for the apology is that visas were issued by the South African embassy in Nigeria. Refusing them entry was simply a lack of coordination between government departments in SA. This caused the “inconvenience” for which we had to apologise, most humbly.
Anyone who has been to Nigeria will tell you how easy it is to simply buy a fake vaccination certificate outside the airport on the day you board a plane. That is why there are checks and balances such as immigration and customs officials at ports of entry throughout the world. Furthermore, the issuing of a visa does not guarantee one entry into a country, but simply gives you permission to go to that country’s points of entry. Entry still depends on the immigrations officers’ satisfaction that you comply with all of that particular country’s requirements for entry. This is true for all sovereign countries including South Africa and Nigeria.
In an attempt to save face, the Dirco spokesman, Clayson Monyela, went on Talk Radio 702 on Thursday, to explain the rationale. He said investigations were still underway to establish why immigration officers at ORT and the South African embassy in Nigeria seemed to be out of sync. When pushed on why the premature apology then, before the findings of such an “investigation” could be established, no coherent answer was forthcoming. Listeners described his explanation as “blatant obfuscation”. One can only sympathise with a man whose job it is to speak for such gross incompetence.
I would like to see the same contrite spirit in an apology to South Africans for violating our sovereignty, national integrity and dignity from Ebrahim. An apology to the South African immigration officers who were simply doing their work, who are now being used as the scapegoat in this whole debacle is vital. Perhaps while he is at it, he can apologise to the Dalai Lama for being such a coward and allowing South Africa to be bullied by China. Perhaps he should also apologise to the people of Syria for South Africa’s abstinence from a UN Security Council vote that would have ensured the slaughter of the people of that country by a murderous leader did not happen. Perhaps an apology is in order to the people of Libya for the unprincipled decision to support the implementation of a “no-fly zone” decree over Libya. Perhaps Dirco should apologise to the people of Côte d’Ivoire for attempting to prop up a despot like Laurent Gbagbo undermining legitimate democratic processes in that country. Perhaps Ebrahim should apologise to the people of Zimbabwe for SA’s failed mediation between Mugabe and the MDC which has seen many Zimbabweans displaced, alienated and poverty stricken. I would like to see a similar apology from the Nigerian government to South Africa, particularly from Ashiru for his irresponsible and inflammatory statements and diplomatic immaturity.
It is truly disappointing to see how incredibly spineless South Africa has become. South Africa needs to grow a pair and stand for something because, right now, we fall for everything. When we sacrifice principle on the altar of expedience, we flirt dangerously with certain demise. DM