Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene had not discussed the MTN-Nigeria crisis with a counterpart in Nigeria because a cabinet in that country had not yet been appointed, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said on Thursday.
Describing relations between South Africa and Nigeria as “very good and very cordial”, Radebe said, “Our understanding is that the president of Nigeria is very serious about fighting corruption in his country.”
“He [President Muhammadu Buhari] has not appointed a new Cabinet yet because he wants a new chapter in Nigeria. So this issue does not affect the cordial relations of South Africa and Nigeria.”
He said that Nigeria’s actions against MTN were in compliance with the laws of the west African country. However, “obviously there have been discussions between MTN and the Nigerian government”, Radebe said.
South Africa’s cellphone and communications giant MTN suspended trading on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) last week at the height of the impasse over a $5.2bn fine to be imposed by Nigeria’s telecommunications regulator by November 16.
The fine came after MTN failed to timeously disconnect more than five million customers who were not registered in accordance with the law.
Radebe said the issue was between MTN and the Nigerian authorities, but government was concerned and hoped that talks would bear fruit for the sake of economic relations.
As soon as a Nigerian finance minister was appointed, there would probably be interactions between the governments, he said.
Relations between South Africa and Nigeria went through a rocky patch last year after delays in the repatriation of bodies of South Africans killed when a building of preacher TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in September.
A court in South Africa also ordered the return of $9.3m confiscated in South Africa from an Israeli arms dealer acting on behalf of Nigeria, after diplomatic explanations and requests.
Parliament’s telecommunications committee has also said it wants answers from MTN on the matter.