Relations between the two countries since apartheid have been dominated by clashes and tensions over a range of issues: from the bitter fallout in the Mandela presidency, following the order by autocratic former Nigerian leader Gen Sani Abacha to hang Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other human rights activists; to problems stemming from the countries’ competing aspirations for continental leadership, including Nigeria’s opposition to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s bid for appointment as chairwoman of the African Union (AU) Commission and tit-for-tat spats over immigration policies.
The relationship was recently tested to the limit by the manner in which the Nigerian authorities responded to the deaths of 84 South Africans following the collapse of a church building in Lagos. And Abuja recalled its ambassador to SA in protest against last month’s xenophobic attacks against African immigrants.
South African and Nigerian officials like to describe ties between the two countries as a “strategic partnership”. This is questionable. The reality is that this is a dysfunctional relationship.