South Africans and their government are smart. They have a product that sells well and they pointedly market it for the visibility across nations. Nelson Mandela. His people have his revered image going for them. Last week, South Africans celebrated Nelson Mandela’s centenary birthday even in Lagos, Nigeria. Their Consul-General was at the event where he said everyone should imbibe values that Mandela stood for. Good. Except that in the same week another South African visited Nigeria, President Cyril Ramaphosa, and I thought he stole the show. He said a few things that Nigerians remembered more, and he earned himself our admiration and respect in the process.

There are several reasons Ramaphosa’s visit to Nigeria is worth noting. One, the things he said; they cast him in a light different from what we know about past South African leaders. The things he said at the political level showed him to be a wise, humble, sensitive personality. For there is this thing hanging in the minds of Nigerians that he attends to. We’ve concluded here that some South African leaders carry on as though Nigeria means nothing with regard to that nation’s struggle against the defunct white apartheid government. Nigerians feel that from President Nelson Mandela to Jacob Zuma, they haven’t received the acknowledgment they deserve with respect to how white apartheid government was compelled to leave in that country. I feel Mandela in particular was contemptuous of Nigeria (and this had nothing to do with his role in getting Nigeria suspended from the Commonwealth), yet, ours was the first African country that hosted him after he was released from prison.

I noticed that in his book, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela remarkably hardly mentioned Nigeria. His only reference to Nigeria in passing was how he was in Ghana but didn’t come to Lagos for an event before he was imprisoned in the 1960s. Nigeria was a frontline state in the struggle against apartheid, but Mandela, the leader, didn’t say a word in acknowledgement. He listed other helpers of the ANC fighters in the Diaspora but he maintained a blackout with respect to Nigeria. Ramaphosa however came to Abuja and said what past South African leaders purposely refused to say.

It’s instructive to place my observation against the backdrop of other Southern African nations that Nigeria has assisted. When, for instance, Namibia’s current president, Hage Gottfried Geingob, came to Abuja on July 7, 2018, he profusely thanked Nigerians for assisting his country’s liberation organisation, SWAPO, as well as the struggle against white apartheid government in South Africa. He said he knew of at least two different occasions when the Nigerian government budgeted $1m for SWAPO in the course of the struggle. He also appreciated Nigeria’s Prof. Adebayo Adedeji, a former head of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, for his contribution to the development of the African continent. As the Namibian leader spoke that time, I tried to recall ever hearing any South African leader speak that way about Nigeria. Never. Yet, Nigerians hadn’t ever asked for much. We simply think that if Nigerians have assisted their black African brothers in any way, it’s very African if it’s publicly acknowledged with a simple “Thank you”. As it turned out, a few days after the Namibian leader left, Ramaphosa arrived Abuja and uttered the words that Nigerians had waited for; they were words that would make him remain unforgettable among millions of Nigerians including analysts, academics and historians. The same applies to me. I had stated on this page in that past that I’m a self-acclaimed Ramaphosa’s foremost well-wisher anywhere outside South Africa.

While speaking, the South African leader said he took advantage of the visit to thank the people of Nigeria and the leadership of Nigeria over many years for the support we gave to the struggle against apartheid by South Africans. This South African leader is humble. He’s smart. He knows what can heal a wound fast, and he has delivered it at a time Nigerians worry about the treatment their compatriots receive in South Africa. “Today, we are a free and independent country,” Ramaphosa added, “and this is largely due to the support that we got from a number of countries around the world but more especially on the African continent.” He wasn’t done yet. “Nigeria which is six hours away from South Africa,” he added, “was proudly regarded as a front line state because it was really at the front line of our titanic struggle against apartheid. Nigeria and indeed Nigerians never flinched for a minute in support of our struggle. In fact, Nigerians even took it a little further; President Buhari related that Nigerians through their households contributed money into the Organisation of African Unity Fund to support the struggle against apartheid. So, I took time (during his one-on-one meeting with Buhari) to thank President Buhari and Nigerians for the support that we received during our struggle”. I’m sure that with these humble comments, he has laid Nigerians’ disgruntlement regarding the matter to rest.

But the South African leader had other issues he wanted to lay to rest. There were the regular attacks on Nigerians in his country. What he said regarding this was another good song to the ear. He said the killings (which he described as acts of criminality) weren’t restricted to Nigerians alone, but other foreign nationals as well. To him, South Africans don’t have any form of negative disposition or hatred towards Nigerians. He further explains that Nigerians and South Africans live side by side, they cooperate very well, some are in the corporate structures of South African companies, and that while some Nigerians are traders, many are into a number of other ventures. He dispels the notion that when a Nigerian loses his or her life in South Africa, it is as a result of an intentional action by South Africans against Nigerians. He states that there’s high rate of poverty in his country, and this leads to criminality which has been responsible for attacks on foreigners. However, his government has been doing its best to tackle crime in the country, he promised.

Apart from this, he wants to deepen relations between Nigeria and South Africa. He wants this done not only at a people to people level but also through the respective economies. The usual mechanism between countries, the Bi-National Commission, isn’t missing too. The one for Nigeria and South Africa has been elevated to the presidential level, and as Ramaphosa said, it’s “where the action should happen.”

The South African leader moved on to other issues that were of interest to me. Nigeria and South Africa bonding to lead the continent is one of such. He said he was interested in sending a signal that his government intended to pursue an Africa-focused foreign policy. That sounds like Nigeria’s foreign policy objective too, doesn’t it? Now, I’ve always stated on this page that if Nigeria and South Africa work closely, they can show the path and assist the rest of the continent. I’ve also noted it’s unimaginable that any irresponsible leadership anywhere on the continent would fail to listen whenever Nigeria and South Africa speak with one voice on an issue. Why? They have the resources, the human capital and the liver to add others’ responsibilities to theirs for the good of all in the continent.

I admit to having this sense of elation regarding the visit by the South African leader to Nigeria. He has come close, and I’m sure Nigerians like what they see and hear. I know from experience that when one likes a person, one would like the place he comes from and those related to him. Ramaphosa is the face of South Africa that we know. I sense that Nigerian officials feel good about him, and I think with him in power, officials from both countries will work together better on issues that are mutually beneficial. As his party and nation also regard him as one to rescue them from moral, political and economic morass, I wish Ramaphosa the maximum terms in office. Our two countries and the continent in general need his kind of personality for as long as the South African constitution permits.

Tunji Ajibade / PUNCH

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Nigerians in South Africa
Nigerians in South Africa 11133 posts

We are about democracy, human rights, public opinion, political behavior, civil rights and policy aimed at improving the human condition, with a focus on African countries.

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