Johannesburg - Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari visited South Africa this week for a state visit, weeks after relations between the two powerhouses had been stained following xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
The visit by Buhari after the major shake-up in diplomatic relations between the two countries was the first for South Africa's sixth administration.
Speaking to journalists prior to the visit, Khusela Diko, spokesperson for South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa and Nigeria share sound political, economic and social relations that were formally established in 1994, immediately after South Africa’s first democratic elections hence the visit was aimed at enhancing this existing relationships.
"Formal relations have been conducted through a Bi-National Commission (BNC), established in 1999 as a structured bilateral mechanism to provide for political, economic, social, cultural, scientific and technical cooperation. The state visit marks the 20th anniversary of the BNC which was elevated in 2016 to be presided over at Heads of State level. The BNC has over the years recorded remarkable achievements, and provides a useful platform for enhancing bilateral relations, notably on the economic front," said Diko.
She said much progress had been made in different sectors of the two countries since the establishment of the BNC.
"There are more than 30 agreements which have been negotiated and signed since the establishment of the BNC, and which are at different stages of implementation. These include the Bilateral Trade Agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Economic and Technical Cooperation and an Agreement on Cooperation in Defence.
Diko added that one of the main features of the visit was a joint business forum, with a focus on trade and investment.
“The state visit will not only provide an opportunity for the two presidents to strengthen and deepen political, economic, social and cultural relations between the two countries, but will also create space for deliberations on issues of mutual interest and concern pertaining to the continent and global governance,” she added.
There is a significant footprint of South African companies currently doing business in Nigeria in various sectors, mainly in telecommunications, banking, retail, hospitality, mining, tourism, agriculture and construction and tourism.
The total value of trade between South Africa and Nigeria amounted to R50.8 billion in 2018. The major South African products exported to Nigeria include machinery and mechanical appliances; mineral products, and chemical Products.
Major products imported from Nigeria include mineral products, products of the chemicals or allied industries, base metals & articles, plastics & articles (rubber), vegetable products, machinery & mechanical appliances, etc.
Last week, Ramaphosa hosted former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo during a courtesy call, following a wave of violence and looting which hit business hubs in Gauteng. South Africa has experienced a wave of protests, in which communities looted both foreign and South African-owned shops while calling for an end to drug syndicates.
Diko at the time said Obasanjo had expressed gratitude that Ramaphosa had appointed a team of special envoys, who have in days prior to the visit been to a number of African states “to deliver a message from the president regarding the incidents of violence”.
Meanwhile, speculation was high that although Buhari and Ramaphosa will try to focus on the positives during the state visit, chances were high that the former would demand compensations for Nigerians who lost their property during the xenophobic attacks.
Analysts, however, predicted that Ramaphosa was likely to rebuff the demand as Pretoria consistently rejected demands from Nigeria for compensation after previous bouts of xenophobic violence.
Nigerians were the most vociferous in their reaction to these attacks, with Nigerian mobs in Lagos and other cities attacking South African-owned businesses and demands by the head of Buhari’s ruling All Peoples Congress party that these South African companies should be nationalised.
After criticising Pretoria for its failure to contain the xenophobic violence, Buhari dispatched a special envoy to meet Ramaphosa to convey his concerns. Ramaphosa, in turn, sent a team of special envoys led by former cabinet minister Jeff Radebe to visit the leaders of countries whose nationals had been caught up in the violence.
After meeting Buhari in Nigeria where he apologised for the violence against people from that country, Radebe said he believed the demand for reparation would be part of the agenda which Nigeria would present at the ninth Binational Commission.
South African officials have indicated that South Africa will not agree to any demands for official compensation or reparations for damage suffered by Nigerian nationals. They said these Nigerians should seek restitution from their insurance companies — just as South African companies whose properties were damaged in the retaliatory attacks in Nigeria should seek compensation from their insurance companies and not the Nigerian government.
They also said Pretoria had rejected similar demands after eruptions of xenophobic violence in 2008 and 2015.
Ramaphosa is also likely to tell Buhari that the extent of attacks on Nigerians has been greatly exaggerated, especially on Nigerian social media which gave the impression that several Nigerians had been killed and scores injured.