South Africa scrambles as US seeks to review relations

South Africa’s government moved to reaffirm ties with the US as lawmakers in Washington discuss a bill that seeks to review the bilateral relationship between the two nations amid geopolitical differences.

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor met with officials in the US capital last week as the bill cleared its first key hurdle when the House Foreign Relations Committee voted – 36 for and 13 against – to put the bill before the full 435-member House of Representatives for a vote. 

John James, a Republican from Michigan, introduced the legislation in February together with Florida Democrat Jared Moskowitz on 6 February after South Africa’s decision to take Israel to the International Court of Justice, accusing the nation of genocide amid its crackdown on Hamas.

The court said Israel must act to prevent Palestinians from being killed or injured but stopped short of demanding an immediate cease-fire.

Six other lawmakers have subsequently co-sponsored the bill, which states that the South African government “has a history of siding with malign actors, including Hamas, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization and a proxy of the Iranian regime, and continues to pursue closer ties with the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation.” 

The proposed bill adds to criticism by US lawmakers last year of South Africa’s refusal to back the Western stance on Russia’s war with Ukraine and its deepening relationship with the BRICS economic bloc, which includes China and Russia and expanded to add Iran at the start of the year. 

“I can assure you in South Africa – if we have a difference of opinion with the United States of America – we’ll never go to Parliament and pass a bill that says South Africa has malign relations. We’ll never do something like that,” Pandor said in a discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on March 19.

“I’m frankly horrified for a democracy to take such a step.”

In his weekly newsletter released Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa has “deliberately avoided aligning our country with any of the major powers or blocs.”

“We have consistently called for the application of international law, condemning the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians on Oct. 7 last year and calling for the release of hostages,” he said.

“We continue to call for an immediate cease-fire, the urgent provision of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and meaningful negotiations towards a lasting solution.”

“These are positions that are increasingly being taken up by more and more countries around the world,” he said. “The suggestion that the position we have taken on the conflict could lead to a deterioration of our relations with the US is therefore unfounded.”

Strengthening ties between the two nations featured prominently during talks with a delegation from the US Congress held in Cape Town last month, Ramaphosa said.

He also reiterated South Africa’s non-aligned stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and brought up an investigation that found no evidence in US claims that the country had provided arms to Russia when a cargo ship from the nation docked at a naval base in Cape Town.


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