Cape Town: The leaders of Africa’s two biggest economies, South Africa and Nigeria, pledged closer ties on Tuesday in what was hailed as a milestone in a some time patchy relationship.
President Jacob Zuma rolled out a red carpet for his counterpart Goodluck Jonathan as ministers signed nine sectoral pacts covering oil and gas, power, defence and communication.
“South Africa and Nigeria are critical countries,” said Jonathan who is on the first state visit by any Nigerian leader since 2009.
“If the continent of Africa must move forward, then the world will expect maximum cooperation between South Africa and Nigeria and we’re just doing that.”
Saluting each other as “brother”, the two leaders pointed to a new path for the continental powerhouses.
Zuma described the trip as a “historic state visit”.
“We are very pleased with the outcomes of our discussions, they do mark a higher level of cooperation between the two countries.”
Jonathan’s visit comes on the heels of a trip last month by Zuma to Lagos.
The South African leader on Tuesday hailed Nigeria’s support for the southern nation’s anti-apartheid struggle.
“We have a duty to take these historical relations further,” he said.
Zuma also stressed the need for an African Union standby force “for rapid deployment in crisis areas without delays”.
“The need for an intervention brigade has become more crucial in light of the sits of instability in the Central African Republic, the eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Mali where decisive intervention is needed.”
Jonathan was due to address South Africa’s parliament at 12.00 GMT, with Nigerian and South African flags lining the road in Cape Town and also hanging outside the National Assembly.
The state visit was hailed as a positive step in bilateral ties which have faced many rocky patches and frequent rivalries.
“Nigeria and South Africa must come together, must work together, to help the continent of Africa,” said Jonathan.
“Because whether we like it or not if we refuse to cooperate, we will be considered as failures.”
While South Africa is still the continent’s biggest economy, Nigerian business activity is set to grow more than twice as fast, by 7.2 per cent, this year, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.
Total two-way trade has risen to $4.1 billion, with a surplus in oil-rich Nigeria’s favour, according to South Africa’s department of trade.
Nigeria is the continent’s most populous country and its biggest oil producer.
The two states, which both want seats in an expanded UN Security Council, were at loggerheads last year over who would become head of the African Union’s commission.
South Africa has also taken actions in countries considered Nigeria’s neighbourhood, such as the conflict in Ivory Coast.
An embarrassing tit-for-tat row also broke out over yellow fever vaccinations. This led to passengers being turned away at airports in both countries in March last year.
While courting the emerging BRIC markets - Brazil, Russia, India and China - South Africa has not shown the “same political eagerness on the continent” with Nigeria an obvious target, said Dianna Games, honourary chief executive of the South Africa-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce.
“If this is the start of a closer relationship, then I think that would be a very good thing all around for both countries and the continent as a whole because they are the two big powers in Africa,” she said.
The two leaders will attend a meeting of a bilateral business forum, while Jonathan will also hold separate talks with the South African-based MTN telecommunications company, as well as representatives of car manufacturers Toyota and Nissan in South Africa.