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The House of Representatives in the United States is reviewing a law that seeks to review the country’s relationship with South Africa where there are conflicts between the countries.

South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Naledi Pandor, visited Washington, DC recently on a visit that he believes was aimed at getting the US military to understand Pretoria’s position on major issues that differ from Washington.

Here’s more about the US bill, the latest controversy and the importance of cooperation between the two countries.

What is the South African Bill in the US Congress?

The US-South Africa Bilateral Relations Review Act was introduced in the US House on 6 February.

The order reads: “Contrary to the South African government’s claims of non-cooperation, the South African government has a history of cooperating with violent extremists, including Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization and proxy for the Iranian government, and continues to cooperate closely with the People’s Republic of China (‘PRC’) and the Russian Federation”.

It is said that the African National Congress (ANC) has had relations with Hamas since 1994, when the ANC came to power.

The order accuses members of the South African government and ANC leaders of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. This was referring to a statement by the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the attack saying it came from Israel “continues in Palestine”.

The order also describes South African leaders, including Pandor, criticizing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and communicating with leaders from Hamas and Iran.

The law also highlights South Africa’s “sustainable relationship with Russia” which “runs in the military and political arenas” and the country’s cooperation with the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). China and the US are South Africa’s two largest trading partners. In fact, South Africa is Africa’s largest trading partner to the US and China.

US President Joe Biden is expected to submit a report containing the findings of the review of relations to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Finance Committee within 120 days after – and if – the bill is enacted. The bill has yet to be voted on, but it passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a voice vote last week.

“It seems unlikely to me that this bill will pass both Houses of Congress and be signed by the President,” said Joel Samoff, professor emeritus at Stanford University’s Center for African Studies. Samoff’s recent research has focused on education and politics in Africa, particularly in South Africa.

Samoff said South Africa and the US see their relationship as important, and hopes that they will work to maintain it. He also said that he believed that Pandor’s visit to the US was intended to calm the tensions between his country and the US.

Samoff described the US law as a “symbol rather than a law” that was introduced to show that lawmakers in Washington “are not happy that South Africa has brought a case to the international court. [of Justice]”.

He explained that this is because “politics is politics” and both countries are facing political problems to go in different directions, but on a large scale, “relationship is very important to protect”.

How is South Africa responding?

Pandor went to Washington last week to discuss the current relationship with members of the US Congress.

In an interview with Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, Pandor said, “There is almost a sense that when America takes a certain position, South Africa must follow,” adding that other countries with similar positions to South Africa will not be treated the same way. way. “I don’t know if we are Africans or something”.

He also said that the introduction of the bill could be due to South Africa’s actions in Israel’s war on Gaza and that South Africa brought a crime against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on December 29, 2023.

He also said that Washington’s “aggression” on South Africa to take Israel to the ICJ has been mentioned in “several judgments”, citing a letter to Biden signed by 200 parliamentarians in January “condemning the brutal cases presented by South Africa against Israel” at the ICJ.

Pandor added that claims in the latest bill that the ANC “has an alliance with Hamas” are “totally false”.

He added that the law is also related to South Africa’s disagreement with Russia and Ukraine. “Our most important idea in foreign policy is that we always seek peace, we always want to negotiate. We are ordered by the Freedom Charter of South Africa to always pursue peace and international friendship,” said Pandor.

What other pain points have South Africa and the US had recently?

Asked by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last Tuesday how he rates the relationship between South Africa and the US on a scale of zero to 10, Pandor was rated “above six by officials and below six by parliamentarians”.

Recent events have focused attention on the relationship between the two countries. In May 2023, the US ambassador to South Africa accused Russia of supplying weapons to Russia in its war against Ukraine through a cargo ship linked to an official company that was secretly docked at a naval base near Cape Town.

This led to a independent research and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who he finished in September 2023 that “no evidence” had been found to suggest that South Africa had supplied weapons to Russia. Ramaphosa said that these allegations “had a serious impact on our finances, our wealth, and our reputation in the world; in fact, it tarnished our reputation”.

In August 2023, a South African official said that the country would not give in to pressure from the US to stop using equipment from the Chinese company Huawei on its network.

How important is cooperation between South Africa and the US?

Africa-Dzonga is the US’s biggest aid to Africa, and it has $9.3bn worth of US aid to South Africa by 2022. In 2022, 600 US diplomats will serve on the ground. South Africa and the US have signed several bilateral trade agreements.

The US Congress approved the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in 2000. AGOA provides access to sub-Saharan African countries to the US for more than 1,800 products. The US has withdrawn several countries from AGOA due to human rights violations such as Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea in January 2022. In October 2023, the US announced that it intends to withdraw Uganda, Gabon, Niger and the Central African Republic. These plans will come into effect in January 2024. The unspoken threat of the cancellation of AGOA is also on US-South Africa relations.

But, said Samoff, “it seems unlikely, especially in the current administration, that the US will do anything to put AGOA at risk”. While the AGOA talks emphasize how it gives African countries access to the US, it also makes the US a more attractive market for African goods.

Apart from their economic relationship, the two countries have cooperated closely in other areas – for example, through their response to COVID-19, which included the implementation of the Global Action Plan to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The US and South Africa also cooperate on climate-related issues such as carbon reduction missions, according to the US State Department website.

In addition, “the US sees South Africa as an important mediator”, said Samoff. “The whole time the US was not happy about it Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe, the US relied heavily on South Africa as a mediator rather than engaging directly with Mugabe.”

It is this sentiment of trust that Pandor reiterated in an interview with Al Jazeera’s Hanna.

“We are important partners to the United States of America, as they are to us,” said the South African foreign minister. “And that’s why I believe we can improve this relationship and continue on the foundation we’ve been building over the years.”


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