Pandor ‘horrified’ by US call to review relations with South Africa

 ·26 Mar 2024

South Africa’s government moved to reaffirm ties with the United States 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. 

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.

John James, a Republican from Michigan, introduced the legislation 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 organisation 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. 

Pandor reacted to the US bill with shock and incredulity.

“I can assure you that if we have a difference of opinion from the United States of America in South Africa, 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 19 March.

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.”

Ramaphosa said that the bill provides an opportunity for discussions to take place, through which South Africa can 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.

“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,” 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.

Reported with Bloomberg

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