President Cyril Ramaphosa has dismissed suggestions that Nigerians living in South Africa are specifically being targeted for attacks.
While in Abuja, he has had to answer questions on how his government will curb “persistent attacks against Nigerians” living in South Africa. The questions have come from journalists and investors.
“There have been a number of incidents in our country where foreign nationals, some of whom are Nigerians, have lost their lives and I would like to say here and now that has been as a result of criminal activity among our own people, which we are focusing on,” he said.
Ramaphosa is in the Nigerian city meeting with his counterpart, President Muhammadu Buhari, as part of a charm offensive to improve often tense relations between Africa’s power houses.
Ramaphosa said he had wanted Buhari to be his first guest after taking office in February but when it did not happen, he planned his first foreign bilateral meeting outside of the Southern African Development Community to be with Buhari.
The two held a two-hour tête-à-tête where the safety and security of Nigerians and improving trade relations were discussed.
‘117 Nigerians killed’
“We had a wonderful exchange and we both got a sense that we are opening a new page in the relationship between SA and Nigeria and this new page gives us opportunity to go beyond where we have been before in a number of areas,” he said.
Despite high trade volumes between the two countries there is a negative sentiment against South Africa in Nigeria, with local news dominated by attacks against Nigerians living in South Africa.
An official in the Nigerian Presidency was quoted as saying that 117 Nigerians were killed extra-judicially between 2013 and 2018 in the southern African country. A figure dismissed by the South African government.
“I want to dispel this notion that when a Nigerian loses his or her life in SA, it is as a result of an intentional action by South Africans against Nigerians,” he said.
Ramaphosa blamed the “pervasive crime” in South Africa on high unemployment rates, poverty and inequality.
He said South Africans bore the brunt of the high levels of crime.
Concern over ‘dumping’ of goods
Ramaphosa and Buhari also discussed the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement that Nigeria is yet to sign. Earlier he nudged Buhari to sign the agreement, which will allow free movement of goods, dropping tariffs.
When asked if Ramaphosa had convinced him to sign on, Buhari joked he was a “slow reader of checks and agreements”.
There have been concerns in the county, especially from manufacturers, that the free trade agreement will allow for cheaper goods to be “dumped” in Nigeria, endangering local manufacturers.
“Our industries are just coming up, so we are trying to guarantee employment, goods and services for our country,” Buhari said.
“We have to be careful with agreements that will compete against our own infant industries,” he added.
At least 49 countries, including South Africa, have signed the agreement. However, only six have ratified it.