Masterson: Most South Africans are largely unaware of Nigeria’s role


Mr. Grant Masterson is Programme Manager(African Peer Review Mechanism, APRM, and Governance) at the South Africa-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA). In a chat with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, he explained that there is high degree of ignorance about Nigeria’s role in supporting anti-apartheid movement, stressing that Nigerians have a right to feel aggrieved.

Against the backdrop of Nigeria’s role during apartheid, how legitimate is the feeling by many Nigerians that the country is not getting a fair deal from South Africa?

Nigeria’s role in supporting the anti-apartheid movement is hardly ever discussed in South African politics or by politicians from the anti-apartheid struggle. While other countries like Tanzania and Mozambique are often recognised for their support to the ANC-in-exile, Nigeria rarely features in conversations about the anti-apartheid struggle. As such, there is likely a high degree of ignorance about Nigeria’s role in supporting the anti-apartheid movement. But whether Nigeria is getting a fair deal is too subjective for me to comment on.

There have been some recent altercations between the two countries, for example, the xenophobic attacks, the yellow card imbroglio, the seizure of monies, the Synagogue deaths, the MTN sanction, and so on. Do you think matters are being handled by both governments satisfactorily?

Relations between Nigeria and South Africa post-1994 have often been friendlier at the Heads of State level than between the two countries’ citizens. Some South African businesses have enjoyed beneficial working relationships with the Nigerian government, but the post-1994 Nigeria-South Africa relationship has never been very cordial among the citizenry.

It is probably fair to say that Nigerians have a right to feel aggrieved at the treatment of Nigerian nationals visiting South Africa, but South Africans also perceive Nigerians as not liking them very much.

The TB Joshua church deaths demonstrated how terse diplomatic relations can be between the two countries, and the Yellow Fever card incident was downplayed by both sides before it caused more harm to the public image of relations between the two countries.

However, the most complex issue facing South Africa-Nigerian international relations is the xenophobic attacks. President Goodluck Jonathan recalled Nigeria’s ambassador from South Africa in protest at the 2015 violence, which was deeply embarrassing and presented by officials in the South African government. The South African government’s response has been to massively tighten visa controls, but it is important to note that this applies to all African visitors, and doesn’t specifically single out Nigerians.

Both countries are the largest economies on the continent, is the face-off manifestation of rivalry?

At times, such as the nomination of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to the Chairpersonship of the African Union Commission, the two countries form rival power blocs. At other times, however, the two countries have worked together with significant results, such as during the Obasanjo-Mbeki era when African development was put onto the global agenda through their joint efforts.

However, the two countries have distinctly different philosophies about the global order, with South Africa leaning towards a state-centric developmental mindset along the Chinese lines (hence increasingly anti-western in its rhetoric) and Nigeria preferring a less ideological, more pragmatic pro-western, free markets approach. At times, these ideological differences make for uneasy relations between the two countries.

Whenever talks emerge on an African permanent membership of the UN, which of the two countries should be supported?

Africa needs permanent seats on the council, and if no brokered solution between the two countries can be found, then it would be better for both countries to step back and for a third option to be found (e.g. Kenya or Ethiopia would be potential third-way options). Broadly, when Nigeria and South Africa work together to advance African positions, the continent fares better than when they work against one another.

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1 Comment
  • bobo

    Hmm! So how come every white South African that I’ve worked with stopped talking to me, or responded whenever I said hello to them as soon as they found out I’m Nigerian? They blame Nigeria for destroying their country. They never use the word “apartheid”. It’s always “I don’t like Nigerians. They destroyed my country. I wouldn’t be here if not for the Nigerians”.