‘Mutual interests’ will ensure US threats to sanction South Africa will come to nought

SA and US flags around the Union Buildings. File Photo: GCIS

SA and US flags around the Union Buildings. File Photo: GCIS

Published Feb 17, 2024


Cape Town - The South African government says threats by two US congressmen to table legislation in the US House of Representatives, which seeks to punish South Africa over its foreign relations, will come to nought.

Democratic Party representative Jared Moskowitz and representative John James, his Republican counterpart on the House Foreign Relations Committee, have threatened a bill that would “require a full review of the bilateral relationship between the United States and South Africa”.

But Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesperson Clayson Monyela was defiant yesterday, saying: “We don't think that bill will go anywhere. The USA government values the mutually beneficial relations with South Africa and they don't share the views of the drafters of that proposed bill.”

The bill needs to be adopted by the Foreign Relations Committee and then sent to the desk of Speaker Mike Johnson who will bring it up for a vote in the House of Representatives, where the Republicans have a razor-thin majority. It then has to pass in the Senate, and eventually be signed into law by US President Joe Biden.

The text of the bill states that the South African government has, despite its claims of non-alignment, “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 bill further cites South Africa's recent case against Israel at the International Court of Justice in the The Hague, which found in favour of South Africa last month.

The court ruled South Africa had a legal standing in its case. The court directed Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent acts of genocide. This ruling highlights the gravity of the situation and underscores the importance of preventing such atrocities.

The bill also cites the fact that South African authorities allowed a sanctioned Russian vessel, the Lady R, to transfer weapons at Simons Town naval base in December 2022.

A list of questions was sent to senior officials in the congressional offices of both congressmen. A staffer at Moskowitz's office refused to comment, saying only that a response would be given in due course.

The bill calls on the US president to, “in consultation with the Secretary of State, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, the Secretary of Defense, the United States Ambassador to South Africa, and the heads of other departments and agencies that play a substantial role in United States relations with South Africa ... conduct a comprehensive review of the bilateral relationship between the United States and South Africa.

“Not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the President shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report that includes the findings of the review.”

But International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor, through her office, said: “The USA is a significant trade partner for South Africa and I value our relationship. I believe South Africa offers quality products to the US market and I wish that relationship to grow.

“We have different views on a number of foreign policy matters but as a democracy we affirm the sovereign right of states to frame their own foreign policy.

“I am concerned at the bill drafters' attempt to associate our country with terrorism and the atrocious attack against civilians in Israel.

“It is well known that South Africa condemned the killing of civilians and hostage-taking.

“Our government would encourage a more informed and balanced perspective and will continue to work at strengthening our relationship.”

Pandor said there were several issues with which the South African government disagreed with its American counterpart, including calls for fair trade rules and the Russian-Ukraine war, in which South Africa had “argued for peace, not war”.

South Africa also supported Palestine, “which asserts our belief that all human beings must enjoy justice, freedom and human dignity”, said Pandor.

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