The decision by the Nigerian government to recall its ambassadors in South Africa over the recent xenophobic attacks on foreigners in that country appears to have touched the raw nerves of Pretoria.
The South African government cast aside diplomatic language and called for a street fight with Nigeria. It taunted the Goodluck Jonathan government over the abducted Chibok girls, reminded the country of the building collapse at the church of Pastor Temitope Joshua in Lagos, in which 68 South Africans died, and the ill-manner that it said the bodies of the dead victims were kept.
The South African government promised to take the matter up with the incoming federal administration in Nigeria.
Xenophobic attacks by South Africans on fellow Africans in the last few weeks led to the death of at least seven people. Shops of foreigners, including Nigerians, were looted while those who survived physical brutality currently live in fear.
Last Saturday, the Federal Government recalled the country’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Martin Cobham, and his deputy, UcheOkeke.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, AminuWali, foreign affairs minister, who announced the recall via a press statement, said that the envoys were being withdrawn for consultations in relation to the xenophobic attacks.
The statement read: “The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador AminuWali, has summoned for consultation, Nigeria’s senior diplomats on tour of duty in South Africa. These are the Acting High Commissioner in Pretoria, Ambassador Martin Cobham, and the Deputy High Commissioner in Johannesburg, Ambassador UcheAjulu-Okeke.
“The invitation is in connection with the ongoing xenophobia in South Africa targeting foreigners, mainly African migrants.
“It will be recalled that the current spate of attacks began about three weeks ago, and have so far claimed some seven lives, destruction of property and created fear and uncertainty in the minds of African migrants in the former apartheid enclave.
“The South African President, Mr. Jacob Zuma, has condemned the attacks in a statement presented to the South African National Assembly. Ditto for the Zulu Monarch, Goodwill Zwelithini, whose alleged inciting comment provoked the attacks. Well meaning South Africans have also organised peace marches against xenophobia.”
But, barely 24 hours after, the South African government on Sunday reacted angrily to the Nigerian government’s decision.
“We are not sure which actions or behaviour of the South African Government the Nigerian Government is protesting,” the South African foreign ministry said in a statement.
“If this action is based on the incidents of attacks on foreign nationals in some parts of our country, it would be curious for a sisterly country to want to exploit such a painful episode for whatever agenda,” the ministry added, lamenting Nigeria’s “unfortunate and regrettable step.”
Taking aim at Nigeria which is known to be Spouth Africa’s rival for economic and political dominance in Africa, Pretoria said it had held off blaming Nigeria’s government when 84 South Africans were killed in the collapse of a church building in Lagos last year.
It said it had also refrained from blaming Nigerian authorities for the “more than nine months delay” in the repatriation of the bodies “or for the fact that when these bodies eventually returned, they were in a state that they could not be touched or viewed as required by our burial practice.
“We hope that the more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram will someday be reunited with their families,” South Africa said referring to a group of students kidnapped in Chibok town in Borno State, that have been missing for over a year.