COMING after attacks were recorded on businesses believed to be owned by South Africans in Nigeria, the country has announced a temporary closure of its embassy in Abuja and Lagos.
Naledi Pandor, the South African Foreign Affairs Minister, said the decision to shut the mission was based on concerns for the safety of the staff following received threats.
Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the ongoing World Economic Forum (WEF), the minister acknowledged the existence of “Afrophobia”, which she described as a complex phenomenon.
“There is Afrophobia we are sensing that exists, there is resentment and we need to address that,” she said.
“There is a targeting of Africans from other parts of Africa, we can’t deny that. But, there is also criminality … because a lot of this is accompanied by theft.”
Lunga Ngqengelele, South African Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, confirmed that the closure of the diplomatic missions took effect on Wednesday, and said they will be re-opened when “necessary”.
“After receiving reports and threats from some of the Nigerians, we decided to temporarily close while we are assessing the situation,” Ngqengelele said.
“A group of people… came and tried to force themselves in” at the consulate in Lagos, he explained. “It was on those basis that we felt we need to protect the employees and shut it down”.
Oby Ezekwesili, Nigeria’s former education minister, who is attending the World Economic Forum, described the wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa as “sordid”.
“I think there has to be a very distinct session for us to discuss the issues of our collaboration as Africans,” she said during a panel discussion on Wednesday.
“This is the issue. We cannot have Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement and, yet, we have a situation where there is black-on-black violence in this country. So, I do hope that we are going to go beyond the marginal conversations of it and get to the heart of the matter of what kind of integrated Africa we want to drive forward.”
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who was scheduled to address a Thursday panel at the forum was withdrawn, in protest, by the Nigerian government from participating.
Zenith Bank Chairman Jim Ovia who was at the forum on Wednesday has also announced his withdrawal from further activities “following the hypersensitivity of the issues surrounding the lives and well-being of Nigerian citizens living in South Africa”.