SA rushes to mend spat with Nigeria election

2012-03-10 15:11

Following a bitter diplomatic spat this week, South Africa scrambled to make up with Nigeria to ensure it does not become an issue that affects the African Union (AU) chairpersonship campaign.

Ebrahim Ebrahim, deputy international relations minister, apologised to Nigeria this week following a tit for tat deportation saga.

On March 2 the South African authorities deported 125 Nigerians because their yellow fever certificates all had the same serial numbers, suggesting they were issued fraudulently.

To reciprocate, the Nigerian government promptly deported 28 South Africans who had flown to Lagos that week.

Threats by the Nigerian government to kick South African companies out followed and Nigerian airline Arik Air suspended its Lagos-Johannesburg route for a day in protest.

A flurry of comments then ensued, stoking up old arguments about South Africa being xenophobic and not truly African.

A senior government official told City Press: “They have been saying that since the time they said Mandela was a black man leading a white country. We had to put an end to this immediately, otherwise it would continue and get worse.”

Eventually, the South African government relented and sent an apology letter to Nigeria, promising to jack up local immigration systems.

Ebrahim promised the “reopening of the vaccination clinic” at OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg, but a yellow fever vaccination takes three days to kick in, rendering an injection service at the airport useless.

The departments of health and home affairs are pointing fingers at each other about who is responsible for the deportations.

Home Affairs put the blame on health officials, saying their immigration officers did not make the decision to stop the Nigerians from entering South Africa.

Behind the scenes, officials admit South Africa had to apologise to Nigeria so that this issue does not cloud the campaign by South Africa to take over the AU chairpersonship.

South Africa has again thrown its name in the hat after a humiliating defeat in a bid for the chairpersonship in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January.

Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma ran for the top job on the continent and was defeated by the incumbent, Jean Ping. But because Ping could not secure the necessary two-thirds majority, the election will be rerun in June in Lilongwe, Malawi.

South Africa is determined to make its bid work this time, which means any negative publicity is viewed in a
serious light.

“We are running the most important campaign of our lives and we can’t have these people ruining it over something so stupid,” said another official.

Nigeria is campaigning feverishly for Ping to retain his position because it fears South Africa entrenching itself as the big brother of Africa.

South Africa is also not in a position to dismiss Nigeria outright.

Nigeria is one of two African countries that has a trade surplus with South Africa – the other is Angola – because of South Africa’s heavy dependence on the crude oil reserves in these nations.

Nigeria has more than double South Africa’s population, which presents a massive market for South Africa to sell its goods and services in.

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