13/03/2017 14:36 SAST | Updated 13/03/2017 14:43 SAST

You Say Criminality, I Say Xenophobia, But Let's Make This Whole Thing Good

Nigeria and South Africa set up early warning system to warn of problems.

NTB Scanpix/Haakon Mosvold Larsen/via REUTERS
Nigeria Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama

Nigerian ministers are expected to meet with President Jacob Zuma later on Monday following a meeting with some of his Cabinet members in which the two countries agreed to kiss and make up.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama and Interior Minister Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau met their South African counterparts, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Malusi Gigaba, in Pretoria.

There was agreement that there should be strong relations between the two countries and an "early warning system" to alert leaders to any possible strains in the relations, but it still seems that the delegations were using different terms for the attacks on foreigners that surface in South Africa sporadically.

Nkoana-Mashabane, however, did go as far as describing the attacks as stemming from "Afrophobia".

Asked whether there was agreement on whether the attacks were xenophobic, as Nigeria has labelled these, or criminality, as the South African government insists, Onyeama said: "No, they're the same issue, whatever you call it. Those xenophobic attacks are criminal attacks. It's pure criminality and actually should be dealt with (by) law enforcement agencies, so it's absolutely the same thing."

Nkoana-Mashabane did describe the attacks as stemming from Afrophobia, he said. "We're completely on the same line (we have an early warning) mechanism to deal with it. It's on the same line whether you call it Afrophobia, xenophobia or criminality."

He said South Africa was ready to engage, which meant "there is appreciation that there is a problem".

Onyeama has previously called for compensation for Nigerians whose businesses were destroyed in attacks against foreigners, but he said it was not on the table at this meeting as there were not enough facts to deal with the question.

The early warning system would consist of officials from both sides and would meet every three months to deal with problems Nigerians experienced in South Africa, as well as problems South Africans experienced there. Onyeama said South African businesses have complained about difficulties they experienced in their operations in Nigeria.

The ministers also agreed that it was a minority of South Africans involved in attacks against foreigners, and that the South African government didn't condone it. From Nigeria's side there were also concessions that a minority of Nigerians get involved in criminal activities abroad.

Preparations for a state visit by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari are also underway, but a date has not been set yet. Buhari returned to work on Monday after spending almost two months recuperating from an undisclosed illness in London.