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South Africa - Foreign Relations

South African forces fought on the Allied side in World Wars I and II and participated in the postwar UN force in Korea. South Africa was a founding member of the League of Nations and in 1927 established a Department of External Affairs with diplomatic missions in the main west European countries and in the United States. At the founding of the League of Nations, South Africa was given the mandate to govern Southwest Africa, now Namibia, which had been a German colony before World War I. In 1990, Namibia attained independence, with the exception of the enclave of Walvis Bay, which was reintegrated into Namibia in March 1994. After South Africa held its first nonracial election in April 1994, most sanctions imposed by the international community in opposition to the system of apartheid were lifted. On June 1, 1994, South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth, and on June 23, 1994, the UN General Assembly accepted its credentials. South Africa served as the African Union's (AU) first president from July 2003 to July 2004.

In 2011, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation released the White Paper on Building a Better World: The Diplomacy of Ubuntu. South Africa is a multifaceted, multicultural and multiracial country that embraces the concept of Ubuntu to define who the people are and how they relate to others. The philosophy of Ubuntu means “humanity” and is reflected in the idea that South Africans affirm their humanity when they affirm the humanity of others. It has played a major role in forging a South African national consciousness and in the process of its democratic transformation and nationbuilding.

Having emerged from the international isolation of the apartheid era, South Africa has become a leading international actor. Its principal foreign policy objective is to promote the economic, political, and cultural regeneration of Africa, through the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD); to promote the peaceful resolution of conflict in Africa; and to use multilateral bodies to insure that developing countries' voices are heard on international issues. South Africa has played a key role in seeking an end to various conflicts and political crises on the African continent, including in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Sudan, Comoros, and Zimbabwe.

South Africa rapidly reintegrated into the international community after the isolation of the apartheid years. It was readmitted to the Commonwealth in 1994 and hosted the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Durban in November 1999. South Africa was Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) from August 1998 to March 2003. It hosted the inaugural meeting of the African Union (AU) in July 2002 and was the first Chair, and is a key member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

South Africa joined other African and Asian countries in signing the New Africa Asia Strategic Partnership in Jakarta on 24 April 2005, and held the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China during 2006. South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup from 11 June to 11 July. South Africa is currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (from 2011-2012). South Africa hosted COP17 in Durban in December 2011, the UNFCCC negotiations, which secured agreement towards a legally binding outcome on climate change. South Africa continues to Chair the negotiations until the eve of COP18 at the end of 2012.

South Africa under Mbeki took a high-profile role promoting Africa's interests and he was successful in getting African issues on a host of multilateral agendas, including the G-20. South Africa served as the first chair of the African Union until July 2003 and helped establish continental institutions such as the Pan-African Parliament (which sits in South Africa) and the AU Peace and Security Council. South Africa under Mbeki believed it had a responsibility to lead African conflict resolution efforts and participate in peace support operations by virtue of its history and regional political, economic, and military clout. South Africa plays a lead role in conflict resolution in Burundi and contributes troops to UN Peace Keeping missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Sudan.

South Africa's new Zuma administration was increasingly focused on a foreign policy that helps it deliver its domestic priorities. Key to this is a secure and integrated continent that is able to take its rightful place in the international community. Its foreign policy therefore is focussed on conflict resolution and development in Africa and on developing partnerships with other like-minded nations to present the South's case in multinational fora. It has backed its political activities by providing peacekeepers and development support in Burundi, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and mediated on behalf of the AU in the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire.

South Africa’s commitment to the advancement of the African Agenda remained strong. In this regard, the development and strengthening of the AU as a continental body and its structures, as well as adherence to a rules-based system of work, is of great importance to the country. South Africa places high value on the AU’s mandate and work. In this regard, South Africa continues to support the AU at multiple levels, key among which is South Africa’s annual assessed contribution as one of the five largest member-state contributors to the AU. In addition, South Africa continued to host and support the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), the South African Chapter of the AU Economic, Social and Cultural Council and the Pan-African Women’s Organisation. South Africa played an instrumental role in establishing the AU and its organs.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been in existence since 1980. It was formed as a loose alliance of nine majority-ruled states in southern Africa known as the Southern African Development Coordination Conference. The main aim was to coordinate development projects to lessen economic dependence on the then apartheid South Africa. The founding member states were: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. As a community of nations, the SADC has had to work together in confronting various challenges of a political and socio-economic nature.

The AU has endorsed SADC’s regional lead on Zimbabwe. South Africa has been directly impacted by a flood of Zimbabweans south which has put pressure on its own services (and resulted in incidents of xenophobic violence); there are currently three million Zimbabweans living in South Africa. President Zuma was the SADC appointed Facilitator of the Global Political Agreement between the political parties in Harare to help bolster the fragile power-sharing agreement there.

Relations between the people of South Africa and Angola were cemented during the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles, which saw South Africa and Angola’s liberation movements, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Movement for the Liberation of Angola, forging an alliance leading to the independence of their respective countries. These relations were transformed into state-to-state relations following the dawn of peace, democracy and justice in South Africa in 1994. Many South Africans regard Angola as their second home. South Africa committed itself to assisting Angola with its post-conflict reconstruction projects and programs.

South Africa and Botswana signed the Joint Permanent Commission for Cooperation (JPCC) Agreement in 2003. The JPCC provides a legal and institutional framework for further cooperation in identified strategic areas.

Over the past few years, the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] has evolved as one of South Africa’s growing and leading trading partners in the region. The two countries cooperate on several projects, including security sector reform, capacity- and institution-building and infrastructure development. South Africa is involved in the reconstruction of the DRC, helping to rebuild its public service. The country also re-affirmed its continued support to the Congolese Government to build durable state institutions that inspire confidence in the people. South Africa will continue supporting efforts aimed at the consolidation of democracy in that country.

The economies of South Africa and Lesotho are interdependent, with Lesotho providing a strategic resource to South Africa in the form of labor and skills. South Africa is Lesotho’s only neighbor. In 1967, South Africa established its first formal diplomatic relations with an independent African country, namely Malawi. Relations with Malawi have been conducted at the level of high commission. The Kingdom of Swaziland and South Africa share common cultural links that date back to pre-colonial times. The South African Government has urged all the relevant parties in Swaziland to begin a political dialogue with a view to speedily and peacefully resolve the challenges it faces.

Zambia is South Africa’s biggest trading partner in Africa, with a total trade volume of US$2 billion. The countries have signed MoUs to enhance their ties in sectors such as agriculture, health, mining and energy. South Africa and Mozambique share good historic and neighborly relations that have over the years been solidified through the South Africa- Mozambique Heads of State Economic Bilateral Commission, the JPCC, promoting the SADC and AU policies and the effective implementation of Nepad programs. South Africa and Namibia enjoy close cooperation in a number of areas, which is further enhanced by high-level engagements such as the Heads of State Economic Bilateral Meeting. The meetings focus on joint economic cooperation projects such as spatial development initiatives, tourism, energy matters and matters related to Sacu and SADC.

Japan is South Africa’s third-largest trading partner and Japanese companies, for example Toyota and the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation invested R28 billion in South Africa in 2010 alone.

December 2011 marked 14 years since the official establishment of diplomatic relations between South Africa and China. China is South Africa’s largest trading partner. Mutual relations between the two nations have been elevated to a strategic partnership. China and South Africa have signed multiple bilateral economic cooperation agreements on investment, trade, technology and taxation. Bilateral trade has surged from US$1,6 billion to US$25,7 billion.

In April 2011, President Zuma led a South African delegation to the third Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) Leaders Meeting held in the Hainan Province of the People’s Republic of China. The theme of the summit was Broad Vision, Shared Prosperity. South Africa attended the meeting as the newest member of BRICS, with objectives to consolidate South Africa’s Brics membership and commit to its processes and related mechanisms. The Brics Action Plan was also adopted. Among other things, it identified the need to enhance existing cooperation programs on security issues, central banks and agriculture expertise and establish a network of research centres, cooperatives, supreme courts and development banks.

South Africa's relationship with Cuba remains close, based largely on Cuba's support for the ruling African National Congress during the anti-apartheid struggle. Despite South Africa's rhetorical support for principles of democracy and human rights, the South Africa Government is highly unlikely to criticize or even question the Cuban government's repressive policies. Two binational commissions meet regularly at the Deputy ForMin and ForMin levels, and 18 SAG departments have official cooperation agreements with their Cuban counterparts (although many joint projects are on paper only). The elaborate system of formal consultations consumes enormous bureaucratic energy, although SAG working level officials appear to realize that the diplomatic activity is accomplishing very little on the ground.

Israel had great relations with South Africa before the democratic transition in 1994, and consequently ties have weakened since the early days of Nelson Mandela's presidency as many in the current government view the Israeli Government as having supported the apartheid regime. The South African Jewish community is shrinking -- from 140,000 at its peak to 70,000 by 2010. Many Jewish South Africans have strong struggle credentials, but Jewish South Africans are facing anti-Semitism in this country for the first time. This was one reason many have left the country. He noted that many Jews leaving South Africa end up in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2020 18:57:06 ZULU