The South African government on Thursday said it has temporarily closed its diplomatic missions in the Nigerian cities of Abuja and Lagos following violence against South African businesses in the country. 

“After receiving reports and threats from some of the Nigerians we decided to temporarily close while we are assessing the situation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lunga Ngengelele said. He added that the missions were shut down on Wednesday.

The South African Foreign Affairs Minister, Naledi Pandor said on Thursday that the embassy was closed temporarily after threats led to fears for staff safety.

“There is Afrophobia we are sensing that exists. There is resentment and we need to address that,” Pandor told Reuters news agency.

The announcement which signals worsening diplomatic relations between the two African countries is coming after Nigeria introduced plans to evacuate its nationals from South Africa following a wave of attacks on foreigners, mostly Nigerians.

The Nigerian Foreign Ministry also announced that Air Peace, a commercial airline had offered to send an aircraft on Friday to evacuate nationals who were willing to return ‘free of charge’.

“The general public is hereby advised to inform their relatives in South Africa to take advantage of this laudable gesture,” Nigerian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye said on Wednesday.

He added: “Interested Nigerians are therefore advised to liaise with the High Commission of Nigeria in Pretoria and the Consulate General of Nigeria in Johannesburg for further necessary arrangement.”

The statement was made after Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama maintained that the country would not cave in to Pretoria.

“The South African government has to assume its responsibilities and protect Nigerians in South Africa and we have to hold them to account and they have to do that as well as pay full compensation,” Onyeama said.

It also came a day after Nigeria recalled its High Commissioner to South Africa, Ambassador Kabiru Bala and pulled out of the World Economic Forum (WEF)  in Cape Town.

Although the South African Police has yet to pinpoint what triggered the violence which began on Sunday, the rioting reportedly led to the death of at least five people in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

On Tuesday, Nigerians launched what appeared to be reprisals against South African businesses like Shoprite and MTN located in several cities across the country.