South Africa: Relief After Rivals Nigeria, South Africa Reconcile

President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted his Nigerian counterpart, President Muhammadu Buhari, for a State visit on Thursday October 3, 2019.

The meeting between the leaders of Nigeria and South Africa offers the two superpowers and economic rivals a platform to repair tetchy relations strained by years of political, economic and social impasses.

Presidents Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria) and Cyril Ramaphosa (South AfricA), respectively, met during the former's three-day official visit to the Southern African country.

Coming on the back of a diplomatic row over the latest rounds of xenophobic attacks in South Africa and retaliatory violence against South African entities in Nigeria, it marked the first such visit since 2013.

The on and off relationship is on again following the meetings in the capital Pretoria.

Things appeared uptight with the lack of the typical embrace each time leaders in Buhari's and Ramaphosa's position meet. However, it was jovial as the day progressed.

Predictably, the recent spate of xenophobic violence topped the first day of Buhari's state visit.

The leaders were unanimous in their condemnation of the horrendous violence that left at least 12 people, mostly South Africans, dead.

They also condemned the reprisal attacks.

Ramaphosa said his country was an integral part of the continent and thus advocated for a peaceful, vibrant and sustainable Africa.

"As Africans, we all have a shared commitment to foster peace and greater continental unity," Ramaphosa said.

Buhari urged his compatriots in South Africa and elsewhere to obey the laws of their host countries.

"I think Nigerians know the stand of the leadership that when you are in Rome, you do as the Romans do. When you are in a country, you stay with the people and follow the laws of that country," the Nigerian leader said.

It is believed there are 20 000 Nigerian nationals in South Africa.

Nigeria evacuated 600 of its nationals from the Southern African country following last month's deadly violence.

It sparked a diplomatic tiff. Nigeria boycotted the World Economic Forum on Africa, which was held in Cape Town, coincidentally during the attacks.

Some hardliners in Buhari's government called for breaking off relations.

It was the latest twist in the long-running saga that dates back to 1996 when military leader, Sani Abacha, withdrew Nigeria from the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations that South Africa hosted and won.

This followed criticism by the then South African president, Nelson Mandela, of the regime's human rights abuses.

Relations have been on a freefall since then.

Increasing competition between the two countries for positions at multilateral organisations has worsened affairs, including competition between the two for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

The pair would again clash after 84 South Africans died in Nigeria at a church building owned by controversial pastor TB Joshua.

On the economic front, some locals, besides retaliating against South African companies, demanded their "nationalisation" by Buhari's government.

South African businesses operating in Nigeria have claimed unfair treatment, most prominently MTN, which was fined a record US$5,2 billion (R73 billion) for failure to meet a deadline for disconnecting unregistered mobile subscribers in 2015.

The two rival economies, however, appear to have buried the hatchet after signing more than 30 agreements and Memoranda of Understanding under the Nigeria-South Africa Bi-National Commission (NSABNC).

A Business Forum took place on the margins of Buhari's state visit.

A Joint Ministerial Advisory Council on Industry, Trade and Investment was established.

The respective governments reaffirmed their commitment to working together in pursuit of sustainable peace and economic development on the continent in the context of the Africa Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.

In addition to their status as Africa's biggest economies (Nigeria is bigger), both countries currently hold prominent positions in global politics.

Nigeria is the current chair of the 74th Session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. South Africa is the president of the UN Security Council for the month of October 2019 and as the upcoming chair of the AU for the year 2020.

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