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A Bill in US Congress calls for re-evaluation of ties with South Africa

Azra Hoosen |
23 February 2024 | 17:00 CAT
4 min read

A bill has been tabled in the US Congress, aiming to reassess the country’s relationship with South Africa. The move comes amid growing concerns expressed by Congressmen John James and Jared Moskowitz, who accused Pretoria of forging ties with entities that jeopardise national security and undermine the American way of life.

One particular point of contention raised by James and Moskowitz is South Africa’s support for urging the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to examine Israel’s proposed annexation of Rafah. This stance has sparked criticism from the US Congressmen, who view it as contradictory to the interests of the United States.

Professor Hennie Strydom, an expert in International Law, provides an analysis of the situation in an interview with Radio Islam.

Speaking on the legislation, Professor Strydom highlighted that the US has expressed concerns regarding South Africa’s ties with Iran, China, Russia and also Hamas. The argument posited is that South Africa’s current engagements, including its case against Israel in the ICJ, could potentially impact broader US interests, particularly regarding security. “However, given that the bill is still in draft form, it remains uncertain whether it will progress into law. The outcome of the legislative process is awaited with anticipation,” he said.

Speaking on the Policy of non-alignment and neutrality, he explained that South Africa’s policy of non-alignment and neutrality has faced scrutiny, particularly in handling international conflicts such as the situation in Ukraine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“South Africa made it clear on a number of occasions that it would remain neutral in the Ukraine issue when it ended up at the UN General Assembly. At the time, SA made a shortsighted decision to remain unaligned. South Africa, after that, addressed the general meeting of the assembly, complained about Israeli activities in the occupied territories, and put forward a strong case for the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people. So, there was no neutrality in that instance. It singled out Israel as a problem in that region, and it was a bit of a double standard applied. Subsequently, after the military campaign by Israel, following the Hamas 7 October attack, South Africa came out strong against Israel, so SA abandoned its neutral position once again, and this is what the US is putting forward as one of the reasons that SA is not sticking to its guns when it makes claims of that kind. Looking at it objectively, it seems the claim to neutrality and non-alignment only applies to certain cases, in this case, when Russia is at the receiving end of condemnatory resolutions. Thus, there is a sense of untrustworthiness concerning SA’s claim to neutrality,” he explained.

Professor Strydom emphasized that according to the principle of sovereignty, each state has the authority to determine its allies, adversaries, and foreign relations strategies.

“But there is a flip side to that coin. Other states who may not be happy with how things are developing on SA’s side may equally claim the sovereign right to reconsider their relations with SA, and that is what is happening now with the US and the issue it has with SA,” he said.

He believes that South Africa will engage in diplomatic discussions with counterparts in the US government regarding the concerns raised in the proposed legislation. Through diplomatic channels, both countries are likely to exchange views and information to address any issues and seek mutual understanding.

According to Prof Strydom, if the bill were to pass and become law, one of the most concerning consequences could potentially be its impact on trade ties.

“The investment community will be watching this closely because, via AGOA, we might be in trouble if the congress decides to rescind, reduce or suspend the preferential treatment SA is enjoying on the AGOA,” he said.

Prof Strydom believes the incident with the US may indeed reinforce the determination to accelerate development efforts, and there is a sense among major partners that they may need to establish alternative arrangements on the international stage. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) could serve as one of the instruments utilised for this purpose.

He highlighted that African countries have remained notably quiet on the matter, with no strong reactions observed from any of the other African nations. “It appears that the issue may not have garnered significant interest among them at this point, as they seem to be refraining from making statements or taking decisive actions,” said Professor Strydom.

LISTEN to the full interview with Muallimah Annisa Essack and Prof Hennie Strydom, here.



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