By VICTOR NZE
The last two years has been torrid in terms of cordiality in trade relations between the two biggest economies in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria and South Africa.
The wave of renewed violent attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and their properties, particularly Nigerians in the capital cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, in the last three weeks, has only served to dent the cordial bi-lateral relations which both countries had worked hard to achieve.
Since the impasse which occurred in the wake of March 2012 that followed the embarrassing mass deportation of over 100 Nigerians by the South African Immigration department on suspicion of possessing fictitious yellow cards, as well as the retaliatory action by Nigeria of deporting nearly 30 South Africans, relations between both countries have improved up until recently.
There are presently over two million Nigerians residing in South Africa with one-third illegal immigrants, compared to less than 100, 000 South Africans in Nigeria, with the figure believed to have dropped with the closure of a number of South African firms in the country.
South Africa today remains one of Nigeria’s top sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) on the sub-Saharan region as the level of horizontal, vertical or platform foreign direct investment (FDI) between Nigeria and South Africa alone, is astounding, with net capital inflows into Nigeria from the businesses of the country’s nationals resident in South Africa accounting for an appreciable figures in the sum total of Nigeria’s net capital inflows.
In the same way as significant returns on investment (ROI) annually declared by most South African private businesses operating in the country can only mean increased net capital inflows to the southern African country.
On its part, South Africa kicked off moves at exploring the full potential of relations with Nigeria with the official outsourcing of visa processing by the government back in 2010 following the opening of an independent South African Visa Application Centre to handle the well over fifty thousand annual South African visa applications and operated by the VFS Global Services, Ikoyi, in addition to the South African Tourism House in Victoria Island, Lagos to promote inbound tourism from Nigeria.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s State Visit to South Africa in May 2013, it would be recalled, provided a veritable platform for the expansion of contents of the Bi-National Agreement between both countries in 1999.
A fallout of that document was the agreement in September 2012 by both governments to accelerate the implementation of the ‘Cooperation in the field of Tourism Agreement,’ earlier signed in 2008 and designed to deepen tourism relations between both countries and the rest of Africa.
The tourism bilateral agreement between South Africa and Nigeria which covers interactions between tourism and travel trade officials; the exchange of tourism research, statistics and human resource development, also includes investment, exchange programmes, joint marketing, and establishment of a joint commission, entry formalities and environmental matters between the two countries.
“Both Nigeria and South Africa have seen a tremendous partnership and significant engagements in areas such as telecommunications, media, tourism and aviation. This has led to more than US$3 billion in trade volume between South Africa and Nigeria. And there is further rich potential for both countries not only to maintain this mutual and symbiotic relationship, but to up the ante too,” said the then Tourism Minister of South Africa, Marthinus van Schalkwyk.
“There is need to continue to forge partnerships and working relationships between Nigeria and South Africa to further boost and grow our tourism sectors to provide employment opportunities, as well as to contribute a significant percentage to the economies of our dear nations,” remarked Chief Edem Duke, Nigeria’s former minister of Tourism and Culture, at that occasion in Pretoria, South Africa.
Barely five years later, Nigeria and South Africa are at loggerheads again in a dramatic precedence that began back in September 2014 when nearly 70 South African nationals lost their lives while on a religious pilgrimage in Nigeria at the Synagogue Church Of All Nations, Ikotun, Lagos when the church collapsed on them.
That incident was followed by the October 20, 2015 National Communications Commission (NCC) fine on South African telecommunications services firm MTN Nigeria for infraction of the provisions of the NCC and failure to disconnect 5.1million improperly registered lines within the prescribed deadline.
After nearly six months of negotiation and re-negotiation over the initial fine, the amount was eventually reduced to N330 billion plus an additional payment of N50 billion earlier made by MTN to the government.
Till date, Clothing line, Truworths, beverage company, Clover, hospitality establishment, Sun International have since pulled out of Nigeria with others like MTN, Power Giant, Eskom Nigeria, South African Airways, South African Breweries (SAB miller), Stanbic Merchant Bank of Nigeria, Multichoice, and Umgeni Water still on ground.
All has not been well since then.
According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a total 116 Nigerians have been killed in South Africa through extrajudicial means in the last two years with nearly seven in 10 of the killings carried out by the South African police.
Dabiri-Erewa who made the disclosed this, Tuesday when she met with the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Lulu Louis Mnguni in Abuja, said: “The latest killing of a Nigerian in South Africa occurred in December 2016 when Metropolitan Police in Cape Town suffocated Victor Nnadi, a native of Imo State, to death.
“In the last two years, 116 Nigerians have been killed in South Africa and according to statistics, 63% of them were killed by the police. We should do more with our business relationships. And hopefully take over not just the African continent but also the world,” she said.
Only, penultimate weekend, at least 15 houses either belonging or rented by immigrants, especially Nigerians, were burnt by angry South Africans in Rosettenvile, south of Johannesburg on allegations that foreign nationals had turned the neighbourhood into a drug haven.
In the past two weekends, at least 22 houses either belonging or being rented by foreigners were burnt in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg in a wave of violence orchestrated South African who locals allege that “drug dens” were mushrooming in the area because of immigrants.
The chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum, Mr Marc Gbaffou, said the situation was tense in Pretoria, adding that immigrants had to close down their businesses and flee as the attacks started early on Saturday.
“The situation is really tense, it’s a repetition of what happened in Rosettenville in the last two weekends. They say they are fighting drugs and prostitution and they are attacking shops belonging to foreign nationals,” Mr Gbaffou said adding that they feared the attacks could be a build up to a march against foreigners scheduled for next Friday, February 24.
“We are worried because this is a build up to the February 24. These are signs to prepare for this march. It’s possible that after the march people will be attacked,” he said.
Organisers of the February 24 march have vowed to go ahead full steam despite calls to accept foreigners and treat them fairly, declaring that the march would not be called off despite some foreigners contributing to the economy of the communities they lived in.
Most of those targeted were from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
Travel and Tourism experts posit that Nigeria and South Africa need to do more at the governmental level to safeguard whatever is left of the bi-national agreement between both countries as they would gain tremendously from such move.
“The Muhammadu Buhari administration should pick up from where the last government left off as governance is a continuum. There are immense benefits to be reaped by both countries from better relations. They are gaining from it, maybe not as much as they want, but we stand to gain better from it,” Martins Kolade, a Lagos-based tour operator said.
“Wrong perceptions, are long embedded in the minds of South Africans. We need to change the stigma, stop illegal immigrants to South Africa because they are the ones that give the bad name to Nigeria. We need to find a way to make the Nigerians in South Africa understand that illegal business just gives their country a very poor name and status, there must be some literature to all travellers on this matter,” posited a South African travel and hospitality consultant, Elisha Maistry.
Experts have also stressed the imperative of a stronger show of intent by Nigeria to breathe life into any previously signed broad-based bi-national agreement with South Africa, as Nigeria is still regarded by many as stalling or dragging on either commitment or full implementation of these agreements.