Xenophobia: South Africa apologises to Nigeria as pressure mounts on Buhari to sue

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has apologized to the Federal Republic of Nigeria over the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians living in South Africa. The apology was tendered to President Muhammadu Buhari in the State House, Abuja by the two special envoys Ramaphosa dispatched to Abuja on Monday.

 

“We met a short while ago with President Muhammadu Buhari to convey our President Ramaphosa’s sincerest apologies about the incidents that have recently transpired in South Africa. Those incidents do not represent what we stand for as constitutional democracy in South Africa and the President has apologized for these incidents and he has also instructed law enforcement agencies to leave no stone unturned so that all those involved must be brought to book so that the rule of laws must prevail in South Africa,” he said. President Ramaphosa, according to the envoy, said Nigeria and South Africa must continue to play a critical role in rebuilding of Africa to attain the Agenda 2063.

 

President Buhari had in the wake of the xenophobic attacks by South Africans against foreigners including Nigerians, sent Amb. Ahmed Abubakar, Director-General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), as his Special Envoy to South Africa. The President, who received the Report of the NIA boss on Sept. 9, ordered for the immediate evacuation of all Nigerians who are willing to return home from South Africa following the xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals.

 

The Management of Air Peace in collaboration with the Federal Government had on Sept. 11 evacuated 187 Nigerians from South Africa while another set of 320 Nigerians would be evacuated from that country on Tuesday. The South African apology came as the Federal Government said it would not rule out any option in its response to the xenophobic attacks against Nigerians by South Africa. It stated this following the advice by a former External Affairs Minister and Prof of Political Science, Bolaji Akinyemi, urging the Nigerian government to take South Africa to the International Criminal Court of Justice.

 

The violence against Nigerians and other Africans in parts of South Africa had erupted on September 1, forcing the Nigerian government to evacuate its citizens from the country. Akinyemi accused the South African government of failing to protect Nigerians and making statements unbecoming of a responsible country. According to him, Nigeria must sue because the attacks were in violation of Article 2, Paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. He said they also violated Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the International Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers.

 

He further accused South African authorities of sponsoring or condoning the attacks, noting that the stance of the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Naledi Pandor, amounted to Africaphobia. He noted that statements by South African leaders such as Pandor, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and former Deputy Minister of Police Bongani Mkongi encouraged the latest attacks on Nigerians and other foreign nationals.

 

But former Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku said it would not be wise for Nigeria to approach the ICC on the matter, stressing: “The two countries have large mutual interests to protect for themselves and for Africa.” He said the statement of apology by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the funeral of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in Harare “should be welcomed and high level diplomacy should now be employed by Nigeria to de-escalate the situation and make South Africa pay compensation.”

Anyaoku described the recurring aggression as provocative, given Nigeria’s role in ushering in non-racial democracy in South Africa and his (Anyaoku’s) seminal role as Commonwealth Secretary-General in the negotiations. “It is very saddening,” he said, “to see the current xenophobic violence against Nigerians and other Africans legally residing and doing business in South Africa. But maturity and internal African solution must be brought to bear on the situation.”

 

President Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Femi Adesina and Special Adviser on Diaspora Abike Dabiri-Erewa said only the ministers of foreign affairs and information could comment on Akinyemi’s advice. “All matters relating to diplomatic moves or foreign affairs policies should be directed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs,” Dabiri-Erewa said.

 

Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said Nigeria “cannot rule anything out for now” when asked if the country would sue South Africa. “We are still receiving reports from our High Commission and the Consulate General, evaluating them and weighing options,” Onyeama said. 

 

Besides Nigeria, Ramaphosa also dispatched special envoys to seven African countries to deliver messages of pan-African unity and solidarity following the attacks, said presidential spokesperson, Khusela Diko. The envoys will reassure fellow African countries that South Africa is committed to the ideals of pan-African unity and solidarity. They will also reaffirm South Africa’s commitment to the rule of law, Diko said. The envoys, according to him, will visit Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. They will brief governments in the countries about steps the South African government is taking to stop the attacks and hold the perpetrators to account.