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South Africa - US Relations

The United States has maintained an official presence in South Africa since 1799, when an American consulate was opened in Cape Town. The US Embassy is located in Pretoria, and Consulates General are in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Americans and South Africans also have many nongovernmental ties; for example, black and white American missionaries have a long history of activity in South Africa. South Africans (particularly the ANC leadership) also acknowledge support from and ties to the anti-apartheid movement in the US.

By 1977 a lively debate had emerged over the appropriate relationship the United States should maintain with the Republic of South Africa, a country governed by a leadership committed to a policy of apartheid, or racial segregation. That debate arose essentially for three reasons. First, it is a response to events which had occurred within the 18 months pu tothe end of 1976 in South Africa itself, in particular, the violent disturbances in Soweto and other black townships, the death in detention of the foremost leader of the black consciousness movement, the massive arrests and bannings of scores of black and white opponents of apartheid, and the closing of the largest circulation black newspaper in the country. These events bring home the reality of the potential for conflict in a country that has prided itself for years on a reputation for stability.

A second factor contributing to this debate is the dramatic political transformations which have occurred in southern Africa as a whole. Within the past 3 years, the entire strategic balance has shifted in the region. For centuries, southern Africa had been dominated by a coalition of white minority governments that maintained unchallenged control of the richest and most strategically important part of Sub-Saharan Africa. That traditional structure has collapsed, presenting South Africa with its greatest foreign policy challenge since the Boer War.

The third reason accounting for the debate over United States-South African relations was the coming to office of the new administration of Jimmy Carter, committed to a policy of promoting human rights as a vital component of American foreign policy. Perhaps no other area of the world presented as hard a test of the human rights issue as South Africa, a country whose complex social, economic and political systems were based on a complex of laws, policies, customs and attitudes enshrining racial domination. What sets South Africa apart from other countries which had equally oppressive and, in some cases, quantitatively worse records of human rights violations is that (1) South Africa's policies are based on race as the sole criterion of discrimination, (2) its human rights violations have been made "legal" through legislative and regulatory actions that have institutionalized racism into the fabric of society, and (3) its policies are justified in the name of defending the Free World of which South Africa claimed to be a member.

At the heart of this debate was the question of the role of American corporations. Although the scope of US ties with South Africa was extensive, the economic relationship constitutes the strongest and the most controversial aspect of America's association with South Africa. US economic ties with Pretoria reached back to the 19th century. The United States was South Africa's largest trading partner, its second largest overseas investor, and the supplier of nearly one-third of its international credit. This relationship confirms a close interdependence which makes a position of strict noninvolvement or neutrality on the issue of apartheid virtually impossible to maintain, given these economic realities.

From the 1970s through the early 1990s, US-South Africa relations were severely affected by South Africa's racial policies. However, since the abolition of apartheid and democratic elections of April 1994, the United States has enjoyed a solid bilateral relationship with South Africa. Although there are differences of position between the two governments, mainly on political issues, these largely do not impede cooperation on a broad range of important subjects. Bilateral cooperation in counterterrorism, fighting HIV/AIDS, and military relations has been particularly positive. In April 2010, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a strategic dialogue aimed at deepening cooperation on the entire range of issues of mutual interest and/or concern. U.S.-South African economic and trade relations remain strong. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States also provides assistance to South Africa to help it meet its development goals. Peace Corps volunteers began working in South Africa in 1997.

U.S.-South Africa trade grew 12 percent in 2008, totaling $16.1 billion. U.S. exports rose 18 percent to $6.2 billion, while South African exports to the United States increased 9 percent to $9.9 billion. South Africa was the third largest beneficiary of total exports (after Nigeria and Angola) and the largest beneficiary of non-oil exports under the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2008. The U.S. was South Africa's largest export market in 2007 and an impressive 98.1 percent of South Africa's exports entered the U.S. with zero import duties in 2007 as a result of normal trading relations (NTR), GSP, AGOA and other benefits. Japan displaced the U.S. as South Africa's largest export market in 2008.

Over 600 US firms had a presence in South Africa, with 85 percent using the country as a regional center. South Africa's stable government, sound fiscal and monetary policies, transportation infrastructure, sophisticated financial sector, and, by African standards, large market are the primary attractions for U.S. businesses. Nevertheless, South Africa has failed to attract a proportionate share of global foreign direct investment since 1994. Reasons include a volatile exchange rate, distance from developed country markets, high unit labor costs, strong unions, skills shortages, crime, HIV/AIDS, regulatory uncertainty, and the impact of Black Economic Empowerment policies. The U.S. was the largest portfolio investor and the second largest foreign direct investor in South Africa after the U.K. ($6.6 billion at year-end 2007). General Motors, Ford, and Timken are among the top industrial investors in South Africa. Teletech recently opened a large call center in Cape Town and has plans to open smaller centers in other parts of the country. Lockheed has a contract with state-owned aviation manufacturer and services provider Denel for Denel to open a licensed service center to repair, maintain and overhaul Lockheed C-130s from Africa and the Middle East.

The U.S. and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU: South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland) suspended free trade agreement negotiations after three years and six rounds of negotiations in April 2006. Negotiators agreed to pursue a Trade, Investment and Development Cooperative Agreement (TIDCA) in an effort to preserve some of the progress made in the FTA talks. A framework agreement for the TIDCA was signed at the AGOA Forum in Washington on July 14, 2008.

The USG has contributed approximately $1.9 billion toward South Africa's development, including $250 million in credit guarantees, between 1994 and 2009, and $100 million in education, $120 million in economic growth, and $88 million in democracy and governance since 1998. Current development assistance program focuses on: supporting South Africa's response to HIV/AIDS and TB through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); addressing unemployment through financing and business development services for SMEs, job-skills training and education; reducing gender-based violence as part of the President's Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative (WJEI); enhancing the quality of education through teacher training; and partnering with the SAG in third countries engaged in post-conflict rebuilding. South African NGOs have also received Trafficking in Persons (TIP) grants over the past few years to assist in the global fight against trafficking in persons. A wide range of U.S. private foundations and NGOs are also at work in South Africa. Among them are the Gates Foundation (HIV/AIDS), the Ford Foundation (higher education), the Rockefeller Foundation (adult education), and the Clinton Foundation (HIV/AIDS and Climate Change).

Twenty-eight U.S. government entities are represented at the U.S. Mission in South Africa (Embassy Pretoria and the three Consulates in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban). The Mission had about 300 Direct Hire (USDH) positions and about 600 local employees. More than 40 percent of Mission staff provides regional services to other U.S. embassies in Africa. The Mission has embarked on an ambitious program to build safe office facilities. The Mission completed the new consulate compound in Cape Town in 2005 and a new consulate building in Johannesburg in April 2009. Future projects include construction of a new annex for USAID and CDC. The construction of a much-needed, 155-desk office annex on the Embassy compound in Pretoria was deferred by the Office of Buildings Operations (OBO) from 2009 to 2022.

As of 2009 South Africa had approximately 3,000 personnel deployed in peace support operations in Africa (DRC and Sudan) and the U.S. has a strong interest in helping South Africa expand and enhance its peacekeeping and disaster assistance capabilities. South Africa participates in the U.S. African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program (ACOTA) to enhance the South African National Defense Force's (SANDF) capacity Qthe South African National Defense Force's (SANDF) capacity to participate in multilateral peace support operations. Motivated, in part, by lingering suspicions of the U.S. dating to the cold war, South African defense officials have been openly critical of U.S. Africa Command in the past, but the Embassy has made progress in engaging with the SAG on this issue and continued to engage in a wide range of military-to-military activities. In 2008 the U.S. completed the first visit by a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to South Africa since 1967. This marked a turning point in military-to-military relations although occasional hiccups are still happening.

Overall U.S.-South African relations are positive, but South Africa sometimes takes positions on global issues that run counter to U.S. interests. South Africa advocates for a greater voice for the "South" relative to the "North" in an expanded and reformed UN Security Council, in the governance of international financial institutions, increased development assistance, and lower trade barriers.

In February 2016, the secretary-general of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, also accused the U.S. government of pushing regime change, saying: “We are aware of the meetings taking place regularly in the American embassy. These meetings in the embassy are about nothing else other than mobilization for regime change.”

African National Congress spokesman Zizi Kodwa said 15 May 2016 the CIA is operating in South Africa. "We have recently observed that there are efforts to undermine the democratically elected ANC government," he said in local media. "They never stopped operating here.… It is still happening now - the CIA is still collaborating with those who want regime change."

“South Africa is a strategic partner and friend of the United States,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Cindy Harvey said in a statement sent to VOA 15 May 2016. “The United States does not regard the democratically elected government of South Africa, and its strong democratic institutions, as a ‘regime.’ Claims that we seek to undermine South African democracy run contrary to the spirit of the proud and longstanding relationship we have with South Africa.”

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Page last modified: 07-07-2016 20:18:09 ZULU