Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

Johannesburg - The State visit to South Africa by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was hailed as historic on Thursday by President Cyril Ramaphosa, as the two leaders dealt with the aftermath of the xenophobic attacks in both countries.

Addressing the issue that was very much the elephant in the room, Ramaphosa referred to the recent xenophobic attacks, saying, “We have expressed our deep regret at the events of the past few weeks that manifested themselves through attacks that were directed at foreign nationals, and our condemnation of all forms of intolerance and acts of violence remains firm.

“We are committed to addressing the genuine concerns of our people on issues such as poverty, employment, crime, drugs and migration. We are equally committed to upholding the rule of law and ensuring prosecutions.”

In response, Buhari said: “We agreed to address people-to-people challenges that saw attacks against foreign nationals, including Nigerians and their properties, which we strongly condemn. We have decided to work together and take concrete measures to prevent the re-occurrence of such unacceptable incidents in the future.”

The Nigerian leader implored his countrymen to respect the laws of their adopted country.

“It is a question of competition at very low levels where there are small shops I think Nigerians know the stand of the leadership - that when you are in Rome you do as the Romans do. But police forces must be very alert and not allow violence to escalate,” Buhari said.

The two leaders agreed to set up early warning mechanisms to inform each other of emerging restiveness, and promises were made for greater co-operation in policing and intelligence sharing.

Ramaphosa and Buhari also upgraded relations between the two countries, which boast the biggest economies in Africa, to a strategic partnership.

“This is a great opportunity to renew strong bonds between our two nations. We have just inaugurated the elevated session of the Binational Commission, which is the first session to be held at Heads of State level. This provides us with a platform to re-engage and further deepen political, trade and investment relations, as well as people-to-people relations,” Ramaphosa said at the Union Buildings.

He emphasised the strong economic ties between the two countries and said that growing bilateral relations are evidenced by the 32 bilateral agreements and memorandums of understanding in trade and industry, science and technology, defence, agriculture, energy, tourism.

Buhari weighed in and stressed the need to implement agreements in force and ratify signed agreements not in force and renew expired agreements. Both leaders took note of the significant footprint of South African businesses operating in Nigeria in sectors such as telecommunications, mining, aviation, banking and finance, retail, property, entertainment and fast food industries.

They also noted and welcomed the business activities of Nigeria’s small, micro and medium enterprises, as well as the investment of Dangote Sephaku Cement in South Africa. Ramaphosa said that he would like to see larger Nigerian companies coming to invest in South Africa. Nigeria accounts for 64% of SA’s total trade within the west African region.

The Nigeria-South Africa Business Forum also met to promote trade and investment. The two leaders welcomed the decision to establish a Joint Ministerial Advisory Council on industry, trade and investment. The inaugural meeting of the council would be held not later than April in Abuja.

The council is expected to serve as a critical vehicle in facilitating and promoting private sector participation in the economies of both countries.