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South Africa closes embassies in Nigeria after threats

September 5, 2019

South Africa has temporarily closed its embassies in Abuja and Lagos as it seeks to contain the fallout from xenophobic attacks in its own country.

Burning types and thick black smoke are seen on the road to Abuja airport
Image: Reuters/A. Sotunde

South Africa's foreign ministry spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, said the government had closed its diplomatic missions in Nigeria on Wednesday "after receiving reports and threats."

Ngqengelele said the decision to suspend operations at the two missions was made after "a group of people... came and tried force themselves in" at the Lagos consulate.

"So we will be monitoring the situation and when see it necessary to open, we will re-open," he said on Thursday.

The announcement followed violence against South African businesses in Nigerian cities in reprisal for recent burning and looting of foreign-owned stores in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

On Wednesday, South African mobile giant MTN  and the supermarket chain Shoprite closed stores in Nigeria after attacks and protest on their premises. 

Security guards stand outside a mall in Abuja
Shoprite said had closed stores in Nigeria and that several of its stores had been extensively damagedImage: Reuters/A. Sotunde

Nigerians are angered over the recent wave of xenophobic violence that unfurled through South Africa's Gauteng province and other parts of the country this week, killing at least seven people and leaving scores of foreign-owned businesses in ruins.

South Africa is a major destination for economic migrants from neighboring Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Others come from much farther away, including South Asia and Nigeria.

Strained international relations

Despite a downturn in violence, tensions rose on the diplomatic front with Nigeria, which has declared it would boycott the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town. 

Nigeria's vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, was to address the forum on Thursday. 

"Clearly with this climate, he [Osinbajo] and Mr. President have agreed that he should not go," Nigeria's Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama told a news briefing on Wednesday. 

Onyeama had previously summoned South Africa's envoy to Nigeria and demanded an explanation for "the continued burning and looting of Nigerian shops and premises ... with ineffective police protection".

Nigeria has also issued a travel warning for South Africa.

South Africa's Foreign Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor told Reuters on Thursday that her government was in constant contact with Nigerian authorities to try to restore calm.

"There is an Afrophobia we are sensing that exists, there is resentment and we need to address that," Pandor said.

She added there was no provision in local law for compensation for damage caused in the attacks in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote – reputedly Africa's richest man – said violence between Africans hindered "our aspirations for a shared and sustainable prosperity."

"It is time for Africans to put Africa at the centre of its own development, by harnessing our entrepreneurial and intellectual skills," Dangote wrote on Twitter. 

Africa-wide concern over attacks

Other African heads of state have also spoken out against the xenophobic violence in South Africa.

"The incidents in South Africa concern us all," Senegalese President Macky Sall tweeted on Thursday. "I call for peace between countries and African people."

Chad's foreign ministry called on its citizens in South Africa to make contact with the embassy and avoid areas "where they could be targeted".

"(The ministry) asks the South African authorities to ensure the safety of all foreigners living in South Africa," it said in a statement.

Hundreds of University of Zambia students dressed mostly in black and chanting "No Violence" protested outside the South African High Commission on Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, the Football Association of Zambia called off the country's friendly soccer international against South Africa in Lusaka on Saturday, citing "prevailing security concerns in South Africa".

kh (AFP, Reuters)