The clash of the titans on Wednesday involving big foes -- Nigeria and South Africa -- in the semi-final of the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) has ignited fears among Nigerians living in the rainbow country.
Nigerian citizens residing in South Africa fear they could face hostility from their hosts if Super Eagles defeat Bafana Bafana at the Stade de la Paix in Bouake, Ivory Coast in a match scheduled to be played at 8pm (Kenyan time).
Concerned about safety of its nationals in South Africa, the Nigerian High Commission on Monday issued an advisory.
“The attention of the Nigeria High Commission in Pretoria has been drawn to potentially inflammatory online comments made by a section of South African citizens against Nigerians living in the host country,” the High Commission said in a statement.
“Most of the comments consist of veiled threats against 'Nigerians cooking jollof rice' before the match, and showing pepper to Nigerians if the Bafana Bafana lose to the Super Eagles,” it added.
The High Commission urged Nigerians in South Africa to be mindful of their utterances, as well as where they choose to watch the match, especially in public places.
It also advised them to refrain from engaging in “loud, riotous or provocative celebrations should the Super Eagles win the match’’.
The High Commission encouraged the South Africa-residing Nigerians to continue to remain law abiding and report to the appropriate authorities should any provocation occur.
Meanwhile, South Africa's Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO South Africa) issued a statement on Wednesday terming the advisory by the Nigerian consulate as regrettable and seemingly creating unnecessary rift between South Africans and Nigerian nationals living in the Southern Africa country.
DIRCO has learned about an unfortunate advisory issued by the High Commission of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Pretoria.— DIRCO South Africa (@DIRCO_ZA) February 6, 2024
The advisory is regrettable as it seems to create alarm and unnecessary tension between South African citizens and Nigerians living in or visiting SA.
There has been a history of xenophobic attacks against other Africans, not just Nigerians, living in or visiting South Africa over the years, and the feeling has continued and could escalate in the event of defeat by South Africa.
Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria in 2022 alerted Nigerians living in South Africa of a planned attack on foreign nationals.
In 2019, at least 10 deaths were recorded, including two foreigners, and many businesses were destroyed, prompting Nigeria to recall its ambassador while former president Muhammadu Buhari sent a special envoy to South Africa.
Analysts believe the semi-final duels will be fiercely fought.
Nigeria have won three Afcon titles while South Africa have claimed one. South Africa after many years of banishment due to apartheid, has returned to the international football family with a bang.
They were crowned champions at their inaugural tournament in 1996 and went on to finish second and third in 1998 and 2000.
However, Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for the 2021 edition and will be keen to make up for lost time.
Out of seven final appearances, Nigeria was crowned champions on three occasions: 1980, 1994 and 2013. The Super Eagles have also finished third on eight occasions, most recently in 2019. However, it has now been over 10 years since Nigeria lifted the Afcon trophy.
The two sides have come face-to-face 14 times, with their first ever fixture in 1992.
They last met at the 2019 Afcon held in Egypt. Both sides qualified for the Round of 16, with Nigeria finishing second in Group B and South Africa third in Group D.
The sides then found themselves clashing in the quarterfinals with Super Eagles emerging victorious.
South Africa coach Hugo Broos says he will approach the semi-final against Nigeria differently from Bafana Bafana’s style in their quarter-final game against Cape Verde.
Bafana Bafana secured their place in the semi-finals for the first time since 2000.
“We will not lose focus. The players will be in good condition,” he said.
He noted that the pressure of qualifying for the semi-finals for the first time in over 20 years made the game tougher.
He also said that not many people in South Africa believed in the team and he was proud of what his boys had achieved so far.
“In spite of all the doubts, we believed in it and the players believed in themselves as well.’’
Super Eagles coach Jose Peseiro said his team want to beat South Africa whether in 90 minutes, 120 minutes or penalties.
Peseiro insisted that he was not thinking about South Africa’s penalty-saving specialist Ronwen Williams.
“We have to prepare the team well to be focused and show a good mentality. Our players deserve to reach the final, but we need to beat South Africa in a hard match.”
Fanny Amun, a former Super Eagles coach, advised the team not to underrate South Africa.
“The past of the two teams does not really matter. With each match, I’ve seen improvement. We should be prepared to give our best. We shouldn’t underrate a team that has made it to the semi-finals. There must be a winner. Let’s cross this semi-final bridge first then from there we will see how it goes.But I can tell you the final will be very exciting. This year’s edition of Afcon has been filled with pleasant surprises,” he said.
Ebere Amaraizu, former board member and South-East Director, Nationwide League One urged the Super Eagles to fine-tune their midfield before their encounter with South Africa.