The South African (SA) government expressed its concern yesterday about the growing perception that it is limiting the number of Nigerian nationals wanting to visit SA for business and tourism purposes.
The diplomatic tension between SA and Nigeria was visible at the 10th anniversary of the Nigeria-SA Bi-National Commission in Abuja, attended by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe last week, where his Nigerian counterpart, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, recorded his country’s disquiet about the treatment of Nigerians by SA.
It was also reported in various Nigerian newspapers and electronic media that SA’s embassy in Lagos was deliberately delaying or rejecting visa applications by Nigerians.
“This government has no policy of targeting or limiting the visits of Nigerians to SA,” said international relations and co-operation director- general Ayanda Ntsaluba.
He told a media conference that Nigeria was one of SA’s strategic economic and political partners on the continent and nothing would be allowed to jeopardize the relations.
His department had already held a meeting with the Department of Home Affairs to discuss ways of increasing the capacity of staff in Lagos to speedily resolve the issue.
He said the matter went beyond the number of days it took to issue a visa to Nigerians, which involved verification of documentation as a normal practice by all embassies.
According to an Institute for Security Studies report on organized crime, a government assessment showed substantial activity by Nigerian organized crime groups in SA. However, there have been comparatively few arrests and fewer successful prosecutions.
Ntsaluba said SA also wanted to ensure that international standards in classifying diplomats as a distinct group from ordinary citizens were applied. “We’ve found that some of our African brothers tend to give the status of diplomatic visa to people who are not necessarily diplomats … we insist on following international protocol,” Ntsaluba said.
On Jonathan’s concerns over the countries’ trade imbalance, Ntsaluba said this was not based on the right figures. Trade had grown from R174m in 1999 to R22,8bn last year. SA’s exports to Nigeria grew from R505m to R7,1bn in that period while imports from Nigeria went from R123,6m to R15,7bn.
Nigeria argues that more South African businesses exist in Nigeria than Nigerian businesses in SA. At least 100 South African groups operate in Nigeria. There are no figures for Nigerian businesses in SA.