from AHMED MOOLLAH / EMEKA OKONKWO in Cairo, Egypt
CAIRO – THE long running rivalry between South Africa and Nigeria will take a sporting dimension on Wednesday when the two sides contest a quarterfinal match at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt.
Bafana Bafana and The Super Eagles are scheduled to clash at the Cairo International Stadium at 21h00 South African (Pretoria) time.
It will be the 14th clash between the two sides who have a rivalry dating back to October 10, 1992 when the Nigerians thumped South Africa 4-0 in World Cup qualifier in front of 40 700 fans at the Stade Surulere in Lagos.
Nigeria has always had the upper hand over their rivals, winning six of the previous fixtures between the two sides while Bafana Bafana have won two, including a famous 2-0 win in Uyo when Tokelo Rantie and in-form forward Percy Tau scored in June 2017 in the qualifiers for the current tournament.
There is a lot at stake in the Wednesday fixture, which comes as the two countries have a long enmity in the spheres of politics and the economy.
Nigeria and South Africa are the continent’s biggest economies and arguably its most bitter enemies, culminating in the holding of a conference by business leaders between the two countries to promote calm tensions and promote investments.
Relations between Nigeria and South Africa have been strained over the years and on the sporting front, military leader Sani Abacha withdrew the Super Eagles from the 1996 AFCON which South Africa hosted.
This followed criticism by then South African president, Nelson Mandela, criticising the regime’s human rights abuses.
Bafana Bafana eventually won the tournament but debate is rife Nigeria could have defended their title if they had participated.
Relations have been on a free-fall since then.
Increasing competition between the two countries for positions at multilateral organisations has worsened affairs.
Nigeria acted against South Africa to replace Jean Ping with South African Home Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the powerful position of the African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson.
Relations further deteriorated over competition between the two for a permanent seat in the United Nations (UN) Security Council.
The two governments have collided in recent years as Nigeria accused South Africans of targeting its citizens during xenophobic attacks in that country. Nigeria claims over 100 of its nationals have been killed during the intermittent violence.
The pair would again clash after 84 South Africans died in Nigeria at a church building owned by controversial pastor, Prophet TB Joshua.
South African businesses operating in Nigeria have claimed unfair treatment, most prominently MTN, which was fined a record US$5,2 billion (R73 billion) for failure to meet a deadline for disconnecting unregistered mobile subscribers in 2015.
President Muhammadu Buhari wished Nigeria well ahead of the match with South Africa.
“With yet more hurdles to scale before lifting the diadem (crown), the president urges the team and their handlers to remain focused and determined, assuring them of the fervent prayers and support of all Nigerians,” presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa also rallied Bafana Bafana.
“You’ve shown that you have a lot of fight in you. We’re proud that you’ve made it this far. All the best for the rest of the tournament. The whole country is behind you,” Ramaphosa stated.
– CAJ News