Government on Tuesday distanced itself from a scathing statement issued by Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela following the recall of Nigerian diplomats from Pretoria.
At a media briefing in Pretoria, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe was asked to explain whether the strongly-worded statement issued by the department had assisted in mending bilateral relations with Abuja.
Radebe responded: “The interview yesterday [Monday] is not an official position of the South African government.”
“Our relations with the Federal Republic of Nigeria are very cordial.”
Radebe was leading six government ministers addressing reporters on government’s response to attacks on foreign nationals.
Monyela on Sunday termed the decision to recall Nigeria’s acting high commissioner to Pretoria “unfortunate” and “regrettable”. His statement suggested that Nigeria’s decision was exploiting the xenophobic attacks in South Africa for an ulterior motive.
“If this action is based on the incidents of attacks on foreign nationals in some parts of our country, it would be curious for a sisterly country to want to exploit such a painful episode for whatever agenda,” it read.
Monyela added that South Africa wished to retain good relations with Nigeria, and that it did not blame the Abuja government for the death of scores of South Africans in the collapse of an evangelical church in Lagos in September or the lengthy delays in the repatriation of the victims’ bodies.
He said Pretoria would not blame Abuja for the ravages of Boko Haram’s insurgency in northeast Nigeria.
“We shall continue to support and not blame the Nigerian government as it battles to deal with Boko Haram that continues to kill many innocent civilians. We hope that the more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram will someday be reunited with their families,” said the Dirco statement.
On Tuesday, Radebe insisted relations between South Africa and Nigeria were “very cordial” because President Jacob Zuma has an invitation to attend the swearing-in of president-elect Muhammadu Buhari.
“If you had a negative sentiment out of the statement that is not reflective of government’s position. We continue to have very good relations as I have indicated,” said Radebe.
“Our president has been invited to the inauguration of the incoming president. Diplomatic relations between the two countries exist and continue. We believe we will be moving from strength to strength.”
Nigeria’s acting high commissioner to South Africa Martin Cobham and the deputy high commissioner Uche Ajulu-Okeke were recalled on Saturday. They are expected to brief their Parliament on the xenophobic violence which has left at least seven people dead in South Africa.