South Africa Will Never Take Nigeria, Others For Granted –– High Commissioner
Mr. Lulu Louis Mnguni, is South Africa’s High commissioner to Nigeria. In a chat with ABOSEDE MUSARI, he explains what is being done by his government to salvage the situation generated by the recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa.
In Nigeria, the Senate has threatened to formally react to attacks in South Africa on Nigerians and other nationals. What is South Africa doing to calm frayed nerves?
WE are doing our best to stop the violence and to correct the situation by making sure that those that have been displaced by this violence are given shelter and that their lives are normalised. We have made sure that enough police are deployed and ministers that have relevant portfolios to address the situation, such as the minister of police, the minister of social development and the minister of national security, are deployed to work closely with Gwazulu Natal provincial government. And the Gwazulu Natal government has put in place a structure that will make sure that all efforts are geared towards ending this violence.
Is there anything in specific the country is doing in bringing to justice, King Goodwill, whose utterances allegedly incited the violence?
Maybe, we need to understand the story very well as to what actually happened. It’s not the role of the government to charge people. We have departments with responsibilities to do that. But what I can add is that the Zulu king was responding to what was happening in a mining firm where I think workers were making certain demands. But unfortunately, the owners of the mines decided to expel all the workers, especially South Africans because they had a union.
What then happened is that the owners of the mines decided to bring in foreign workers as labour to replace the South Africans. That is how the anger came about. I think the mine was not far from the king’s place and of course, in the spur of the moment, he got angry and said whatever he said. Of course, he said that his intention was not to provoke violence. And then if you check, the area around which there was a problem in Pongola, people did not engage in any violence.
However, it’s not for me to answer for my government as to (what line of action should be taken). What we are doing is to try and save lives. And of course, thereafter, other things can be looked at by us and those affected. We had to call on the king to come out openly to condemn the violence and to call on all those who are claiming it was because of him they engaged in violence; that it was not in his name and that he does not support this. And that they must immediately stop engaging in violence.
We tried to mobilise other traditional leaders to work with us in containing this violence. But what happened thereafter, I really can’t say. But we’ll appeal that we did not inflame and alienate those, despite the mistakes they might have committed, who came to be our partners in containing the situation.
A lot of Nigerians think that South Africa is being ungrateful to Nigeria for sacrifices made for your country in the past. What would you say about this?
We have said many times over that we appreciate what Nigeria and other countries have done. You cannot just act, as a country, on the bases of few individuals who acted irresponsibly and then you make it a South African position; it is unfair. I don’t know how many times I have been invited to comment on our relationship. Even when things are normal, I say, ‘we are very grateful for what Nigeria has done for us otherwise we will not be talking to you as a free people, otherwise our leaders, including Nelson Mandela would have still be languishing in prison.’ To say that we are not grateful, I don’t know what we need to do.
Normally, Africans don’t remind you always of what they have done for you when you were in problem. But people do things in different ways, maybe this is how things are done and we can’t criticise it. But we really appreciate. I really want to say that even today, we will not be where we are as an ambassador of South Africa in Nigeria if Nigeria and other African countries did not help us. We know what happened. Very powerful countries supported the apartheid regime. But despite these, they took risks to be with us. There is no way we can forget this.
Actually in Nigeria, it’s not in our culture also to remind you all the time of things we did for you in the past. But if you recall the faceoff both countries had last year in the case of the yellow card issue when a lot of Nigerians were returned from South Africa, don’t you think this recurring incidences have made reminding South Africa necessary?
You have to understand. The first person who returned many people to Nigeria from South Africa then was a Nigerian, not a South African. It was a Nigerian working in our department of Home Affairs. Even those of us in Nigeria have come to realise that Nigerians sometimes would forget the card at home and then there were people sitting at the airport selling these cards. And then they buy them and go to South Africa. In South Africa when you put these cards through the machines, they are rejected.
But all the same, we put a structure. Ourselves in Nigeria, we have a consular forum that was to look at all these consular challenges and then we said every three months, we need to meet and look at every problem emanating from consular issues and try and come up with a solution towards solving them. Things happen. There was a yellow fever thing and it was addressed. And of course, we will not cease from making mistakes. Sometimes it would be Nigerians, sometimes it would be us.
Mistakes will always happen. Sometimes an official may do something without realising the enormity of his action as regards our relations. In this case, you cannot consider his action as a South African thing. South Africa believes in separation of powers. We cannot tell the police what to do and what not to do. We are foreign affairs, they are the prosecuting authority. But at some stage we can tell them that we have come to this agreement with the Nigerians, can you please help us put this matter to rest?
Speaking of trade between the two countries; what do you buy from Nigeria and what do you sell to Nigeria?
We buy a lot from Nigeria. The balance of trade favours Nigeria. We buy a lot of oil and products. And of course, Nigeria buys cars and car parts and maybe some electrical from us. It’s a two way process but trade reaches about R42 billion still in favour of Nigeria.
How many Nigerians are in South Africa?
Many. And you know, most Nigerians don’t live in these quarters –– in the areas affected. That’s why you find that they are not much affected as other countries. Most of them live in towns, and in towns there are no problems, but those who live in quarters met with some of the problems.
Also one thing I want to correct. Yes there were seven people who died in the violence. Not all of them are foreigners. Three of them are South Africans. We don’t want this matter to divide us. We want to work together with Nigeria. We have a lot of work to do for our people and for our continent. So, we do not have the luxury to engage in misunderstandings.
People must know that as long as we live in this world, there will be mistakes. But this must not make us to turn our backs on each other. Also, we must not obviously use this friendship to take each other for granted. We must exercise this friendship with responsibility. Let us not move away from each other.