President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa from Wednesday, October 2 to Friday, October 4, 2019, has come like a heavy downpour that neutralizes a hot and excruciating heatwave. In no small way, the high-level meeting has given birth to a measure of relief from the bitterness that exuded from last month’s xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg on foreign nationals, among them Nigerians.
The visit was initially perceived as a response to the xenophobic attacks, but it was actually a pleasant coincidence, as the high-level Bi-National Commission had been planned since 2018, one year before the attacks. The commission is described by the government as “an important framework for our two countries to institutionalize our partnership and to address concretely every aspect of that relationship.” As a result of the importance attached to it, Buhari attended the meeting with a large delegation made up of three state governors and the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Interior, Industry, Trade and Investment, Mines and Steel Development, Police Affairs, Power and the Chairperson of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission.
In a three-page joint communique issued after the commission’s meeting, both leaders “noted with great satisfaction the economic cooperation between the two Republics and welcomed steps to increase trade volumes as well as private sector investments.” Buhari made a case for the South African government to open up its economy, not only for big investors but also for small and medium scale entrepreneurs from Nigeria. The highpoint of the meeting was the presidents’ “strong commitment to take all necessary measures to stop a recurrence of [xenophobic] attacks which they say undermine the vision of a strong and prosperous Africa.”
President Ramaphosa promised to ensure that such attacks no longer occur, but we urge the South African authorities to do more than the diplomatic rhetoric expressed during the meeting. There should be a deliberate attempt to educate and mobilise South Africans, especially those in the lower stratum of the society, on the need to eschew hostility towards blacks from other African countries. They should be made to realize that most of these Africans, especially Nigerians, are industrious, self-starters and engage in self-employment or set up small enterprises in order to survive in the difficult and harsh economic realities of modern Africa. Instead of venting their frustrations on these immigrants, South Africans should emulate their hardworking African compatriots by embracing entrepreneurship.
This is not to discount the fact that some immigrants could descend to the pit of criminality. However, instead of taking the law into their hands, South Africans should rather subject such criminals to the country’s justice system. Migrants who commit crimes should be properly investigated, they should be given a fair hearing and, if found guilty, they should be punished in line with the law. Jungle justice should not be encouraged, as every immigrant is entitled to Right to Life, enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” This declaration does not diminish one’s right to life if he is an immigrant.
We commend the agreement reached by the two presidents to begin to issue 10-year visas to businessmen, academicians, and frequent travelers. This will go a long way in sanitizing the chaotic visa-issuance process and reduce the crowds and related scams that occur at consular offices. We challenge the two presidents to ensure that the decisions taken at the high-level Bi-National Commission meeting last week are implemented so that the hopes raised are not tragically dashed.