Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has met his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa, weeks after xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg stirred tensions between Africa’s leading economies.
Nigerians had been particularly targeted during the wave of violence which resulted in the death of 12 people and led to an extraordinary airlift of hundreds of people last month.
On Thursday, amid warm smiles and a joint commitment to strengthen bilateral relations, Buhari said the attacks were “unacceptable” and called for preventive measures.
“We call for the strengthening and implementation of all the necessary measures to prevent the reoccurrence of such actions,” he said at the start of the talks.
At the welcome ceremony in Pretoria’s Union Buildings, Ramaphosa and Buhari referred to each other as “brothers” to send out a message that the two African nations were willing to tackle challenges in various sectors together.
“Our meeting today presents us with an opportunity not only to renew the general state of our bilateral relations, but stand firm in the determination that the ties between our two countries will be further strengthened through your visit here,” Ramaphosa said.
The South African leader, in his opening address, acknowledged Nigeria’s support in the struggle against apartheid. Formal relations between the two countries were established after the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994.
It is Buhari’s first visit to South Africa since Ramaphosa’s new administration was established earlier this year. The three-day visit is also the first to the country by a Nigerian leader since 2013.
While the talks were aimed at strengthening economic relations between the two countries, voices requesting reparations for the victims of last month’s violence emerged from Nigeria in recent weeks.
Buhari and Ramaphosa, accompanied by key ministers, discussed various issues, including the recent xenophobic attacks, when foreign-owned shops were looted and damaged.
Ramaphosa reiterated “South Africa’s deep regret about the incidents of public violence”.
“Everyone involved in criminal activities, regardless of their nationality, will be prosecuted,” he said.
Buhari called for “necessary measures” to prevent such incidents in future. He also condemned the acts of revenge against South African shop owners in Nigeria in the aftermath of the xenophobic attacks.
The Nigerian president is also set to hold a town hall meeting with the Nigerian community in South Africa over the recent attacks.
However, the atmosphere in the gardens of the South African president’s office in Pretoria looked friendly.
Buhari and his ministers were welcomed with cannon shots and a guard of honour under a bright spring sun. While introducing each other to their respective delegations, the two heads of state burst into loud laughter.
Buhari’s visit marks the 20th anniversary of a Bi-National Commission (BNC) established between the two countries in 1999. Since then, dozens of trade agreements have been signed between them.
In 2018, the total value of trade between them amounted to $3.35bn, making Nigeria South Africa’s largest trade partner in West Africa.
A joint business forum between South Africa and Nigeria was held on Thursday afternoon.
“We want to create an enabling environment for doing business in our respective countries,” said Ramaphosa, pointing out road, mining and infrastructure as key areas.
Buhari said his government is committed to fighting unemployment and poverty in his country. He also promised more opportunities for investors in Nigeria.