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South Africa, Nigeria trade barbs over attacks on migrants

The South African government reacted angrily Sunday to Nigeria’s decision to recall its ambassador from Pretoria over a wave of mob attacks on African migrants that killed at least seven people.

“We are not sure which actions or behaviour of the South African Government the Nigerian Government is protesting,” the South African foreign ministry said in a statement.

“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,” the ministry said, lamenting Nigeria’s “unfortunate and regrettable step.”

Taking aim at its rival for economic and political dominance in Africa, Pretoria said it had held off blaming Nigeria’s government when 84 South Africans were killed in the collapse of a church building in Lagos last year.

South Africa had also refrained from blaming Nigerian authorities for the “more than nine months delay” in the repatriation of the bodies “or for the fact that when these bodies eventually returned, they were in a state that they could not be touched or viewed as required by our burial practice.”

The testy statement from Pretoria comes a day after Nigeria announced it was recalling its ambassador in Pretoria for consultations over “the on-going xenophobia” in the country.

South African President Jacob Zuma deployed troops last week to quell the violence in Johannesburg and the port city of Durban, which forced thousands of people from their homes over the past few weeks.

No deadly attacks have been reported in the past week.

– ‘Fear and uncertainty’ –

The Nigerian foreign ministry said the attacks by mobs accusing foreigners of stealing their jobs had “created fear and uncertainty” among African migrants in “the former apartheid enclave.”

On Wednesday, the country’s junior foreign minister Musiliu Obanikoro summoned South Africa’s High Commissioner in Abuja to demand Pretoria take “concrete steps to quell the unrest”.

Obanikoro also demanded South Africa compensate the victims of the attacks.

Hundreds of Zimbabweans, Malawians and Mozambicans have been repatriated by their governments over the unrest, which has drawn fierce criticism of South Africans from Africans in other parts of the continent.

In its statement Sunday, South Africa’s foreign ministry hit back, reminding Nigeria of its own security shortcomings, as laid bare by the Boko Haram insurgency.

“We hope that the more than 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram will someday be reunited with their families,” South Africa said referring to a group of students kidnapped in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok that have been missing for over a year.