Cyril Ramaphosa, The South African President, has dismissed the notion that South Africans deliberately target Nigerians for killings, stressing that the killings involving Nigerians are rather perpetrated by criminals against all foreign nationals.
Ramaphosa who made this comment in the State House, Abuja, during a joint briefing with President Muhammadu Buhari after a closed-door meeting, said his government was determined to come down hard on such criminals.
Killings of Nigerians have been a recurrent tragedy in South Africa in recent times, thus prompting a belief that it was a xenophobic act being deliberately perpetrated against Nigerians by South Africans.
But Ramaphosa who said it was not true that South Africans have elements of hatred for Nigerians, added that there had rather been quite a number of incidents involving the killings of foreign nationals, including Nigerians “as a result of criminal activities among our own people which we are focusing on from a criminal element point of view.”
He attributed the criminal acts to prevalent of high levels of unemployment among young South Africans, as well as the appalling state of poverty in the country, which he said was caused by several years of apartheid in the country.
He added that inequality between the rich and the poor among South Africans also goes a long way in fueling crimes in the country.
He added: “I want to state here and now that South Africans do not have any form of negative disposition or hatred towards Nigerians and there are many Nigerians in South Africa and in a number of places, in our country, they live side by side (with South Africans). They cooperate very well and some are in the corporate structures of our various companies and some are traders and some are into a number of things.
“So, I want to dispel this 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. That is simply not true.
“You will know that South Africa has a number of challenges, one of which is criminality and which is all pervasive. We have over a number of years been bringing down a number of crimes in our country and we are working on a concerted basis to ensure that crime does come down. And the criminality that we have is borne out of a number of factors – one of those is unemployment among people.
“Twenty seven per cent of South Africans are unemployed which amounts to about nine million and most of these are young people. Poverty is still all pervasive in South Africa and this emanates from our very sad history of apartheid misrule.
“There is still inequality in South Africa, a few people are extremely rich and majority of our people are very poor and all these factors and other social factors have contributed to the high levels of crime. And criminality is something like I said that we are focusing on, doing everything to bring it down.
“And on top of everything else, people in various parts of the country who get engulfed in acts of criminality, majority of them are South Africans and some of them will be foreign nationals and will either be Nigerians and other people from other countries.
“These are acts of criminality and I want to end by saying that, when we were involved in our struggle, we said that the South Africa that we are fighting for is the South Africa which will regard everyone who lives in South Africa on the basis of equality, respect for human rights. And we said that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it. “So, Nigerians who are in South Africa are also part of our community. They can never be targeted on an intentional basis as people who must either be attacked or killed and when that happens, l will like all of us to see that as an act of criminality which in the main affect many South Africans in the various parts of our country. In that regard, and we will like that you should never think that it is being done against Nigerians intentionally.
“It is an act of criminality and our government is determined to bring the levels of criminality down and also to go after those who perpetrate these acts of criminality so that anyone who attacks anyone in South Africa will be pursued with the might of the law to make sure they are brought to justice.”
Ramaphosa who said Nigeria was the first African country outside the Southern African region that he would be visiting because of its importance to South Africa, said the visit was meant to deepen relations with Nigeria.
He also said both countries would focus on Bi-National Commission that was set up between them, disclosing that he had invited Buhari to the next Bi-National Commission meeting in South Africa.
On his part, Buhari while responding to a question from a South African journalist on why he failed to sign African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA), added that he was always cautious in signing documents, especially when they involve states or nations.
Disclosing however, that he would sign the agreement very soon, Buhari said he was only careful not to hastily sign an agreement that would hamper the interests of industries in Nigeria.
“I am very careful about what I sign whether it is my cheque book or agreements especially when it involves nations, states. As your president has said, we are so populated and have so many young unemployed citizens and our industries are just coming up.
“So, in trying to guarantee employment, goods and services in our country, we have to be careful with agreements that will compete maybe successfully against our upcoming industries. I was presented with the document, Iam a very slow reader maybe, because I was an ex- soldier. I didn’t read it fast enough before my officials saw that it was all right for signature. I kept it on my table. I will soon sign it,” he stated.