South Africa and Nigeria at 30: Fostering a Spirit of Friendship and Collaboration

Bobby J. Moroe

The year 2024 marks exactly 30 years since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between South Africa and Nigeria in February 1994.  These relations that span three decades, “are a testament to the enduring commitment of both nations to foster regional stability, economic growth, and cultural exchange”.  By no coincidence of history, “the year 2024 also marks the 30th anniversary since the dawn of the new democracy in South Africa in April 1994”.  “On 27 April 1994, South Africa held its first non-racial democratic elections, marking the end of over three hundred years of colonialism, segregation and white minority rule and the establishment of a new constitution, ushering in a democratic government led by Nelson Mandela and a new constitution.

For this year’s Freedom Day Celebrations, South African Missions in Nigeria hosted their 2nd South Africa Week Celebrations to recognise the significant milestones of the past 30 years of democracy and unbroken diplomatic relations with Nigeria.  The two weeks’-long celebrations which took place from April 24– May 4, 2024, provided an opportunity for our Missions in Nigeria, South Africans and Nigerians alike, to “reflect on our collective achievements, acknowledge the challenges we face, and explore the untapped potential for future collaboration of both countries and their people”.

The South Africa Week Celebrations sought to simplify the often-complex definition, practice and understanding of diplomacy as a noble craft and seek to break it down into segments that could be easily understood by the less discerning. Events associated with these celebrations are premised on the idea of building friendships, promoting social compact, recognising talent, appreciating diverse cultures of both countries, including music, film and fashion, inter alia.  It also provided an opportunity for South African Missions in Nigeria to showcase their efforts in promoting South Africa as a preferred destination for tourism and investment, showcase South African products in retail stores, highlight opportunities in higher education, promote tourism, and hospitality.

Above all, South Africa Week showcased how the country’s favourable climatic conditions have contributed to some of the finest produce; wine and beef – considered worldwide as some of the best nature has provided to a nation.

It is our firm belief as South African Missions in Nigeria that strong bilateral relations are built on strong foundations of respect and cordiality amongst the people of both countries. We recognise that magnanimity and benevolence amongst the people of both countries are the cornerstones of successful relations.

We also recognise that these celebrations served as a stark reminder that the preservation of relations between South Africa and Nigeria, reflect on the shared common elements of our history.

As South African diplomats in Nigeria, our philosophy makes it even more critical to pursue social compact as our key strategic focus in the next few years, and South Africa Week Celebrations remains a linchpin in order to achieve that. South Africa Week is also a platform through which we expose the public to a tapestry of arts & cultures, trade & investment in both countries.  For many years, economic collaboration has been a cornerstone of the diplomatic journey between the two countries, with both nations recognising the potential for mutual benefit, albeit with some undertones of competition rather than collaboration.

In certain instances, trade and investment initiatives have flourished, contributing to the economic development of each country and reinforcing their roles as key players on the continent.

For the past 30 years, diplomatic ties between South Africa and Nigeria have not only strengthened their bilateral relations, but also served as a foundation for collaborative efforts in addressing regional challenges and advancing the interests of Africa on the global stage.

As vanguards and advocates of the continent and its development, the three decades of unbroken ties with Nigeria is a reaffirmation of shared leadership values and commitment by both nations in the continent. Furthermore, South Africa Week sought to “foster a deeper tie between South Africa and Nigeria among the public, scholars, and policymakers”. “Over the years, South Africa and Nigeria have navigated the complexities of international affairs, forging a diplomatic bond that extends beyond mere political interactions.

The relationship has witnessed significant milestones, overcoming historical nuances and embracing opportunities for cooperation in various sectors”. For 2024, South Africa Week comprised of a slightly different programme tilted towards promoting economic diplomacy and social compact, whilst encouraging people to people relations. 

The first segment of South Africa Week Celebrations resumed with the in-store activation of South African products in partnership with Pick n Pay.  The rationale for this is to introduce South African products to the market, and create an appreciation of their value, authenticity and for an opportunity to expand their availability in Nigeria, contributing to what in diplomatic nomenclature is called “soft power”. Similarly, the presence of MTN, Multichoice, RMB, ABSA, Sanlam, and other proudly South African entities in Nigeria remain our greatest currency and influence in sectors such as banking, insurance, entertainment and telecommunication – just to mention but a few.

The second segment comprised of a public lecture jointly hosted by the South African missions in Nigeria and the University of Lagos. This public lecture, “celebrated the milestones of three decades, identified opportunities, demystified the prevailing negative narrative, and paved way for continued cooperation between South Africa and Nigeria, fostering a spirit of collaboration as opposed to competition between the two nations”. Aptly titled, “Celebrating 30 years of unbroken diplomatic relations between South Africa and Nigeria”, this lecture brought together scholars, diplomats, and students from all walks of life to exchange ideas on how to make use of the gains of the past 30 years of these relations to benefit humanity. The lecture gave birth to the establishment of the Nigeria-South Africa Higher Education Forum, an initiative which will propel and foster academic excellence and cultural collaboration between institutions of higher learning in both countries.

The third segment was dedicated to a celebration of sports diplomacy through the South African Golf Tournament held at the prestigious Ikoyi Golf Club in Lagos. This event presented an opportunity to promote sports diplomacy, and leveraged the universal appeal of sports to strengthen cultural and diplomatic ties between Nigeria and South Africa. Furthermore, it showcased South Africa’s hospitality, while building diplomatic bridges and strengthening social compact in the business community.

The fourth and final segment comprised of the Freedom Day held on 04 May 2024. This was the zenith of the South Africa Week as the day marked the end of the two-week long activities. This mega event, powered by private sector partners from both South Africa and Nigeria, was an idea whose time is apt. The evening was undoubtedly one of a display of Nigerian and South African excellence in culinary arts, carefully selected to satisfy and match the palettes of guests.

The South Africa Week 2024 did not only serve to celebrate freedom and democracy in South Africa, but also acknowledged the strength of collaboration as depicted by a Sesotho proverb, “Kopano Ke Matla”, loosely translated as “Unity is strength”. In Yoruba, the proverb “Unity is strength” can be expressed as “Èéfín ni ìwà; kò ṣeé fi pamọ́”.

Bobby Moroe is the Consul General of South Africa in Lagos. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of KwaZulu Natal, in South Africa, and serves as Professor of Practice at the Centre for Afrocentric Governance of Public Affairs (AGOPA), North-West University, South Africa. He is a published author of a book titled, “South Africa and India – Perspectives on Socio-economic and Political Relations.”

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