Nigeria and South Africa will deploy "cultural diplomacy’’ to tackle the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa. Picture: Gcina Ndwalane/ANA Pictures
Pretoria – Nigeria and South Africa are to deploy "cultural diplomacy’’ to effectively tackle the incessant xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa.

Towards this, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said Nigeria was keen to work with South Africa to put an end to the attacks by deploying the "soft power of cultural diplomacy’’, widely regarded as "an effective tool" in this regard.

The minister made this known in Abuja on Friday, when the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Lulu Aaron-Mnguni, paid him a courtesy visit. 

Mohammed said relevant parastatals, including the National Council for Arts and Culture, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation and the Nigerian Film Corporation, would soon embark on a series of activities in South Africa to strengthen the understanding between Nigerians and South Africans.

These would include joint musical concerts, co-production in films, and visits of popular Nollywood actors and actresses to South Africa as part of a Nigerian delegation on a confidence-building trip.

Other activities will include exhibitions featuring Nigerian delicacies, titled A Taste of Nigeria, and a "Town Hall Meeting" for Nigerians resident in South Africa, to encourage dialogue on the way forward, especially in their relationship with their hosts.

"These activities, and many more, which we are working on, will kick off in the weeks ahead, and will not be a one-off event.

"While the diplomats do their own thing to continue to strengthen bilateral relations between our two countries, we at the Ministry of Information and Culture will deploy, and ensure the sustenance of, Cultural Diplomacy in order to make it more effective in bringing our peoples together,” he said.

The minister stressed the need to build people-to-people relations, with a view to strengthening the understanding between the people of the two foremost African nations and stemming the tide of xenophobia.

"Therefore, what we are kick-starting today, with the visit of Your Excellency, will have ramifications far beyond the shores of Nigeria and South Africa."

"For a long time, Nigerians have treated South Africans as their brothers and sisters. Over 120 South African companies, perhaps more than those of any other African country, are doing business in Nigeria, thousands of Nigerians regularly travel to South Africa for business and leisure, and historically Nigeria played a front-line role in helping to end apartheid in South Africa."

"We must spare no effort in strengthening this brotherly spirit between our two countries. We have no doubt that the deployment of the soft power of ‘cultural diplomacy’ will be a major tool in this effort, and we will leave no stone unturned in this regard,” Mohammed said.

He added that if the relations between Nigeria and South Africa were more cordial, it would have "a reverberating and positive effect on the whole of Africa".

In his remarks, the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria hailed Nigeria for its invaluable contribution to the liberation of South Africa from apartheid.

He said South Africa was now committed to reciprocating the gesture by developing stronger ties with Nigeria.

"After sharing trenches, we are now a free people. Thanks to your relentless fight side by side with us. When we got our freedom, we had to change and develop ways of building a new South Africa and a New Nigeria and a new Africa,” Mnguni said.

He said South Africa was also looking at how best to use "the soft power of culture" to educate the citizens of the two countries about their time-tested tradition.

Xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa reared its ugly head again early this year with rights groups and individuals calling on the Nigerian government to take sterner measures, instead of employing the diplomatic option.

For instance, the Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria (Huriwa) strongly condemned the xenophobic attacks and called on Nigeria’s acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, to summon the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, to protest against the incessant killings in xenophobic upheavals it said were masterminded by black South Africans.

Huriwa also called on the UN Security Council to send peacekeeping missions to black townships in South Africa to prevent xenophobic attacks against Nigerians and black Africans by black South Africans, because the South African Police in the last decade and a half had failed to stop the killings and to prosecute and punish the perpetrators.

The group had called on the Nigerian government to adopt a number of measures, including downgrading the diplomatic relationship with South Africa and severing trade exchanges, "to demonstrate the Nigerian government’s sensitivity to the well-being of Nigerians living in South Africa, who have been on the front line of xenophobic attacks over the past 17 years’’.

However, the Nigerian government, through the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said Nigeria had taken some measures to put a stop to the incessant attacks on Nigerians in South Africa and expressed worry about the alleged involvement of South African police in the attacks.

"We are doing a lot; we are engaging with the South African Government, we have summoned the South African High Commissioner, Mr Lulu Aaron-Mnguni," Onyeama said during the heat of the crisis.

"We have communicated our deep concern to the South African government, if that is the case on this allegations (police involvement), steps should be taken to ensure that the situation does not happen."

"Nigeria is also concerned about some inflammatory statements by South African politicians, which can incite violence."

"This was brought to the attention of the South African authorities and this has to stop. Security should be provided for Nigerians and there has to be compensation for the victims."

"There are no lives lost, but there were injuries and damages, and we certainly expect that justice would be done."

"The perpetrators should also be brought to book,’’ he said.

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