War of words excalates between South Africa and Nigeria over xenophobia

Lagos – Nigeria is recalling its top diplomats in South Africa because of “ongoing xenophobia targeting foreigners”.

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International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane briefs the media after delivering her vote speech in Parliament on Tuesday. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

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Nigeria’s ambassador in Pretoria, and the consul general in Johannesburg, will return to Nigeria for consultations.

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A Nigerian government statement noted that some South Africans had organised peace marches and that President Jacob Zuma had condemned the attacks.

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Nigerian legislators have called for the South African government to pay damages and a Nigerian rights group has complained to the International Criminal Court.

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The South African government, calling the Nigerian government’s action “an unfortunate and regrettable step”, said it and a wide range of civic organisations had been “decisive and unequivocal in condemning and rejecting the attacks on foreign nationals”.

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Al Jazeera reported that the statement by South Africa’s Department of International Cooperation and Cooperation went on to deride the Nigerian government over its inability to rein in the Boko Haram insurgency in the north of its country.

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It also pointed out that South Africa did not blame the Nigerian government for mishandling the aftermath of the collapse of a church building last year, which left 84 South Africans dead.

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South African says it remains committed to maintaining friendly relations with Nigeria after Abuja recalled its ambassador to Pretoria in the wake of attacks on immigrants, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation said on Sunday.

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Acting High Commissioner Martin Cobham and Deputy High Commissioner Uche Ajulu-Okeke were asked to return to Nigeria for consultations in the latest sign of African countries’ discontent over South Africa’s handling of attacks on foreigners.

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At least seven people have been killed over the last month in a wave of xenophobic violence centred on areas of Durban and Johannesburg.

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South Africa has been criticised by several governments, including China, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, for failing to protect foreigners from armed mobs. Nigeria is the only country to have recalled its ambassador, the Department of International Relations said in a statement.

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“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 department said.

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“South Africa remains committed to a strong bond of friendship and bilateral relations with Nigeria,” it added.

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The department also said Pretoria would raise its concerns with Nigeria’s new administration when it assumes office next month.

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South Africa deployed troops last week to hotspots in the two cities to try to quell the violence.

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ANA-AP