Ramaphosa responds to latest tensions between South Africa and the United States

 ·25 Mar 2024

President Cyril Ramaphosa says that South Africa’s relationship with the United States is not in jeopardy and that misinformation around the recent genocide case against Israel won’t stop the countries from working together.

Writing in his weekly letter to the public, Ramaphosa noted reports in the last week that a committee of the US House of Representatives discussed a proposed bill that would require a full review of the bilateral relationship between the United States and South Africa.

The bill – titled the US-South Africa Bilateral Relations Review Act – was tabled by Republicans and Democrats and calls into question South Africa’s foreign policy positions and posits that the country is ‘siding’ with the United States’ enemies and acting as a proxy for terrorist organisations.

Broadly, it calls for a full review of the United States’ relationship with South Africa – and an amendment to the bill even proposed that the US cease all foreign aid to South Africa (which was ultimately rejected).

Ramaphosa said that the bill provides an opportunity for discussions to take place, through which South Africa is able to clarify its positions and correct misperceptions about its foreign policy.

Contrary to what the bill posits, Ramaphosa maintained that South Africa is a neutral state that promotes peace, security and development on the African continent and across the world.

“Consistent with our history, South Africa has taken a non-aligned position in our international relations,” he said.

“We have deliberately avoided aligning our country with any of the major powers or blocs. Rather we have sought to forge cordial relations with all countries. While we have taken a non-aligned position, we continue to pursue positions that are in keeping with the UN Charter.”

The president said that the country has worked to build relations with countries around the world – including the US – and that there is room for even deeper relationships to be forged.

Working with the US

Ramaphosa acknowledged that South Africa has strong economic, political and social ties with the US – and that the country has deep roots in South Africa’s economy.

“South Africa and the US have firm and expanding trade and investment ties. South Africa is home to more than 600 US companies, and the US is the second largest destination for South African exports.

“Some of our large companies, such as Sasol, have made significant investments in key economic sectors in the United States,” he said.

He said that SA-US relations have been characterised by mutual respect and willingness to engage in dialogue, even on difficult topics such as Russia and the conflict in Gaza.

However, he noted that the latter has led to a lot of misinformation and mischaracterizations of South Africa’s stance.

“There has been a particular focus on the case that South Africa brought to the International Court of Justice, where we argued that the actions of the Israeli military in Gaza violate international law and includes actions that are prohibited under the Genocide Convention, to which South Africa, Israel and many other countries are signatories.

“Our application to the court is consistent not only with our obligations as a signatory to the Genocide Convention, but also the call we have always made for an inclusive negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This position is consistent with UN resolutions.

“We have always supported the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians to self-determination and statehood and of the state of Israel to peace and security. We have consistently called for the application of international law, condemning the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli civilians on 7 October last year and calling for the release of hostages.

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

The president added that these are positions that are increasingly being taken up by more countries around the world – so “the suggestion that the position could lead to a deterioration of relations with the United States is therefore unfounded”.

Foreign friends

While Ramaphosa has maintained that South Africa is a neutral party that does not align itself with “major powers or blocs”, the country has not been able to shake perceptions that it is close friends with what is seen as ‘enemies of the West’.

On an official level, the country has worked to appear non-aligned in the ongoing war in Ukraine after Russia invaded, yet has openly hosted war games with the aggressor in the conflict, while the ANC – who is in government – has been more than happy to cozy up to the country on several occasions.

South Africa’s close ties to Russia have been an ongoing risk factor for the economy, with many business leaders and economic groups warning of potential fallout with the country’s Western trading partners.

South Africa is also rooted in the BRICS+ bloc of countries, which now includes Iran in the mix – a country that has been sanctioned by the US.

The latest genocide case against Israel has been interpreted by critics – including in the US – as South Africa pushing the case on behalf of Hamas, which has been designated by the US as a terrorist organisation and a known proxy of Iran.

Despite this, Ramaphosa insists that its relations with the US are fine. Not only fine but also primed for expansion.

“There is great potential to further develop our relationship with the United States and to find ways to work together for a more peaceful, stable and just world,” he said.

Read: ‘Strange’ NHI promises as Ramaphosa keeps looking for his pen

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