S. Africa closes embassy in Nigeria amid escalating row over xenophobic violence

Marius Bosch, Reuters | Police patrol the streets after overnight unrest and looting in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, South Africa, September 3, 2019.

South Africa said Thursday it has closed its diplomatic missions in the Nigerian cities of Abuja and Lagos following violence carried out against South African businesses in reprisal for attacks on foreign-owned stores in Johannesburg.


Both countries stepped up security on Wednesday after deadly attacks on foreign-owned stores in South African cities triggered reprisals against South African businesses in Nigeria.

"After receiving reports and threats from some of the Nigerians, we decided to temporarily close while we are assessing the situation," foreign ministry spokesman Lunga Ngqengelele said, adding the missions were shut on Wednesday.

South Africa is "monitoring the situation," he said, and would re-open the missions "when see it necessary".

Ngqengelele said the decision to suspend operations at the two missions was made after "a group of people... came and tried to force themselves in" at the Lagos consulate.

"It was on those basis that we felt we need to protect the employees and shut it down".

The rioting has killed at least five people in Johannesburg and Pretoria in recent days, and on Wednesday South African companies MTN and Shoprite closed stores in Nigeria after retaliatory attacks on their premises. Police have made almost 300 arrests, while people across the continent have protested and voiced their anger on social media.

Nigeria boycotts economic summit in Cape Town

The embassy closure comes after Nigeria said on Wednesday it would boycott an Africa economic summit in Cape Town, intensifying a diplomatic row after a series of deadly attacks on foreigners in South African cities.

The withdrawal of Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo from the World Economic Forum gathering has cast a cloud over initiatives to boost intra-African trade. He was scheduled to address a panel on universal energy access on Thursday.

"Clearly with this climate, he (Osinbajo) and Mr. President have agreed that he should not go," Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama told a news briefing.

Onyeama had previously summoned South Africa's envoy to Nigeria and demanded an explanation for "the continued burning and looting of Nigerian shops and premises ... with ineffective police protection".

On Tuesday, Nigeria summoned the South African ambassador for talks and said President Muhammadu Buhari was sending an envoy to convey his displeasure to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Rwanda also withdraws

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Malawi's Peter Mutharika also pulled out of the conference, but their governments did not give an official reason for their no-show.

South Africa's Department of International Relations and Cooperation, commenting before Nigeria announced Osinbajo's withdrawal, said attendance was "satisfactory".

WEF spokesman Oliver Cann said Kagame and Mutharika had informed conference organisers by Saturday - before the attacks had started - that they could not attend.

Ramaphosa has tried to limit fallout from the violence, which has rekindled memories of previous deadly attacks on foreigners that also led to reprisals on South African businesses abroad.

"We need to quell those incidents of unrest," Ramaphosa said. "South Africa must be a country where everyone feels safe," the country’s president said on Wednesday.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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