South Africa: Current Issues and U.S. Relations
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Over a decade after the South African majority gained its independence from white minority rule
under apartheid, a system of racial segregation, the Republic of South Africa is firmly established
as a regional superpower. With Africa’s largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a diverse
economy, and a government that has played an active role in the promotion of regional peace and
stability, South Africa is poised to have a substantial impact on the economic and political future
of Africa. The country is twice the size of Texas and has a population of almost 50 million, of
which about 80% is African and 10% white. Its political system is regarded as stable, but South
Africa faces serious long-term challenges arising from poverty, unemployment, and AIDS. The
September 2008 resignation of President Thabo Mbeki, replaced by interim President Kgalema
Motlanthe, is not expected to result in major policy changes prior to the spring 2009 elections.
The African National Congress (ANC), which led the struggle against apartheid, has dominated
the political scene since the end of apartheid, controlling the presidency, over two-thirds of the
National Assembly, all nine provinces, and five of the nation’s six largest cities. Jacob Zuma,
elected as head of the ANC in December 2007, is expected to be the party’s choice for president
after the 2009 national elections, although outstanding corruption charges could still affect his
eligibility. While the ANC continues to enjoy widespread support in South Africa, the party’s
dominance may be challenged in the upcoming elections by the emergence of a breakaway party,
the Congress of the People (COPE), which was created in response to the ANC’s inter-party
divisions that led to Mbeki’s resignation.
South Africa has the largest HIV/AIDS population in the world, with almost six million South
Africans reportedly HIV positive. The former Mbeki Administration’s policy on HIV/AIDS was
controversial. The country has weathered a series of corruption scandals, and continues to
struggle with high crime and unemployment rates. Mounting social tensions related to the
competition for jobs, resources, and social services led to an eruption of xenophobic violence
against immigrants in mid-2008. South Africa has benefitted from steady economic growth in
recent years, although economists predict weaker growth prospects for the near future.
South Africa is considered to be one of the United States’ two strategic partners on the continent,
along with Nigeria. Bilateral relations are cordial, however, the U.S. and South African
administrations have expressed differences with respect to the situations in Zimbabwe, Iran, and
Iraq, and U.S. officials have articulated frustration with the South African government on
positions it has taken while serving on the United Nations Security Council. This report will be
updated as events warrant. Related CRS reports include CRS Report RL33584, AIDS in Africa,
by Nicolas Cook; CRS Report RL34509, Zimbabwe: 2008 Elections and Implications for U.S.
Policy, by Lauren Ploch; CRS Report RL31772, U.S. Trade and Investment Relationship with
Sub-Saharan Africa: The African Growth and Opportunity Act and Beyond, by Danielle Langton;
and CRS Report RS21387, United States-Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Free Trade
Agreement Negotiations: Background and Potential Issues, by Danielle Langton.
Backgr ound ..................................................................................................................................... 1
Rise and Decline of the Democratic Alliance...........................................................................3
Strains in the ANC Alliance......................................................................................................4
The Succession Debate and Mbeki’s Resignation.....................................................................5
A New Party Emerges: The Congress of the People.................................................................6
The Arms Deal and Other Corruption Scandals........................................................................7
H IV / AIDS ....................................................................................................................... .......... 8
Crime ........................................................................................................................................ 11
Cooperation in Fighting Terrorism..........................................................................................16
The United Nations...........................................................................................................17
Tr ade .......................................................................................................................... ............. 21
Prospects for the Future.................................................................................................................22
Figure 1. Map of South Africa’s Provinces...................................................................................23
Table 1. U.S. Merchandise Trade with South Africa.....................................................................21
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................23
The people of South Africa are highly diverse. Black Africans make up more than three-quarters
of the population, but come from several different ethnic backgrounds. Most whites are Afrikaans
speakers of Dutch, German, and French Huguenot ancestry, but there is a substantial English-
speaking white minority. The remainder of the population are Asians, largely of Indian descent,
and people of mixed race, widely referred to as “Coloureds.”
South Africa’s economy, the largest on the South Africa in Brief
continent, is diverse as well. South Africa Population: 49 million
produces wine, wool, maize and other African, 79%; whites, 9.6%; mixed race, 9%;
agricultural products for export, although only
about 12% of the country’s land is suitable for Asian, 2.5%
agriculture. Moreover, South Africa is the Population Growth Rate: 0.828%
world’s leading producer of gold, platinum, Approximate size: twice the size of Texas
and chromium. Major industrial sectors GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $282.6 billion
include automobile assembly, chemicals,
textiles, foodstuffs, and iron and steel GNI per capita (Atlas Method): $5,390
production. South African cell phone Unemployment: 24.3%
companies and other firms are active Life Expectancy: 48.89 years
throughout Africa, and SABMiller, formerly
South African Breweries, operates on a global Prevalence of HIV/AIDS: 16.2%
scale. The service sector recently surpassed Literacy: 86.4%
mineral and energy resources as South Religion: 80% Christian, 2% Muslim, 4% Other, 15%
Africa’s primary income earner, according to None
the World Bank. The country’s stock exchange Language most often spoken at home:
is among the 20 largest in the world, and
South Africa is one of the few countries on the Zulu, 24%; Xhosa, 18%; Afrikaans, 13%; Sepedi 9.4%, English 8.2%, Setswana 8.2%, Sesotho 7.9%, Xitsonga
continent to rank as an upper middle income 4.4%
country. Despite its many economic strengths,
however, the country ranks as one of the most Sources: World Bank, CIA World Factbook , UNAIDS.
unequal societies in the world in terms of
income distribution. The majority of black South Africans live in poverty, and South Africa’s
cities are surrounded by vast informal housing settlements known as “townships.” Shortages of
water, electricity, and other social services in the townships have contributed to growing tensions,
as evidenced by a rise in township protests in recent years.
South Africa is an influential actor in the international relations of Africa. In October 2006, South
Africa was elected as one of the 10 non-permanent members of the United Nations (U.N.)
Security Council for a two-year term that recently expired, and it is a member of the U.N. Human
Rights Council. Its voting record on both bodies has been considered by some to be controversial.
South Africa was a founding member of the African Union (AU), successor to the Organization of
African Unity (OAU), and then-President Thabo Mbeki served as the AU’s first chairperson.
President Mbeki also took a lead role in the development of the New Partnership for Africa’s
Development (NEPAD), an African-designed plan for improved governance within Africa and
increased western aid, trade, and investment that was adopted by the AU as its economic
framework. South Africa has repeatedly put itself forward as a venue for major international
conferences, such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which met in Johannesburg
in August and September 2002, and the World Conference on Racism in 2001. In 2010, it will
host the soccer World Cup, which is expected by some to have a significant impact on the
country’s overall economic growth and job creation.
Civil war, weak regimes, and general instability in the region have historically had a negative
impact on South Africa, and the country continues to face a large influx of illegal immigrants. By
some estimates, more than two million Zimbabweans currently reside illegally in South Africa.
Some South Africans blame these immigrants for the country’s high crime and unemployment
rates and rising food prices, and in May 2008 tensions erupted in the townships, sparking a wave
of xenophobic attacks that displaced over 25,000 and left over 60 dead. The attacks could have
long term consequences for attendance of the World Cup and for tourism in general.
In order to promote greater stability, former President Mbeki and South African officials have
played prominent mediator roles in African conflicts, and South African troops actively support
peacekeeping missions throughout the continent. In 2002, they helped to persuade the parties to
the prolonged conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to sign a peace agreement
following negotiations in South Africa. Mbeki was less successful in mediating the conflict in
Cote d’Ivoire. Over 1,200 South African troops are currently participating as peacekeepers in the
U.N. Mission in the DRC (MONUC), and the country contributed almost 900 soldiers to the U.N.
Operation in Burundi (ONUB), where former President Nelson Mandela played a leading role in
brokering a peace agreement. South African forces also played a key role in the African Union
Mission in Darfur (known by the acronym of AMIS), and now contribute to the U.N.-African 1
Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). In a move believed by many to protest the Sudanese
government’s policies toward Darfur, the Mbeki government was instrumental in preventing
Sudan from attaining the chairmanship of the African Union in 2006. It has, however, protested 2
the imposition of tougher U.N. sanctions against Sudan as counterproductive. The country has
supported democratic advances elsewhere on the continent, providing millions of ballots in 2006
for elections in the DRC. In March 2007, the heads of state of the Southern African Development
Community (SADC) nominated then-President Mbeki to serve as a mediator between the
Zimbabwean government and the opposition in an effort to resolve that country’s political and
economic crises. Mbeki’s role has been controversial.
The Republic of South Africa held its first universal suffrage elections in April 1994. The African
National Congress (ANC), which had led the struggle against white minority rule and the
apartheid system of state-enforced racial segregation, won control of the National Assembly. The
Assembly chose as President Nelson Mandela, the ANC leader who had been released from
prison in 1990, after serving 27 years. His release followed years of secret contacts between the
ANC and key white business and political figures. These contacts had led both sides to conclude
that a settlement could be negotiated that would protect the interests of all South Africans. The
negotiations themselves encountered many difficulties, including several outbreaks of violence
that threatened to destroy the peace process. Finally, however, in November 1993, all-party
1 South Africa’s involvement in AMIS was not without controversy. Some opposition leaders criticized Mbeki for not
taking a more assertive role in the crisis, and some South African troops threatened to pull out of AMIS in late 2006
over a pay dispute.
2 “Sanctions Threat on Sudan Counterproductive: South Africa,” Agence France Presse, June 21, 2007.
negotiations resulted in a final agreement on a new constitution and free elections, held in 1994.
South Africa’s second universal suffrage elections were held in June 1999, and the ANC retained
control of the National Assembly. Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, who had served in key ANC
posts overseas during the anti-apartheid struggle, was chosen by the Assembly to succeed
Mandela. Mbeki retained his position as President following the April 2004 parliamentary
elections, in which the ANC won almost 70% of the votes.
South Africa’s politics continue to be dominated by the ANC, which has enjoyed support among
many black South Africans because of its role in spearheading the long struggle against white
minority rule. Until December 2007, when he lost the party presidency to a rival, Thabo Mbeki 3
served as president both of the party and the country. He was expected to remain President of
South Africa until the next elections in 2009 but resigned from the position in September 2008.
He has been replaced by an interim president, former Deputy ANC leader Kgalema Motlanthe.
Following Mbeki’s resignation, several prominent members of the party led a breakaway faction,
now known as the Congress of the People (COPE). Some observers suggest COPE may provide
the greatest challenge to the ANC’s power since the end of apartheid rule.
The ANC holds a 72% majority of the seats in the 400-member National Assembly, where the
country’s legislative power principally resides, far ahead of its nearest rival, the Democratic
Alliance (DA), which has 12% of the seats. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), headed by
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, has about 6% of Assembly seats. Buthelezi, who has been active in South
African politics for decades, holds a Zulu chieftainship, and the party is largely Zulu in
membership. The IFP has experienced a steady decline in parliamentary seats since the 1994
election, while the ANC and the DA have gained electoral support. Other parties represented in
parliament include the New National Party (NNP, see below), the United Democratic Movement
(UDM), the Independent Democrats (ID), and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP).
The ANC also holds majorities in all of South Africa’s nine provincial assemblies. In addition to
the National Assembly, there is a higher legislative body, the National Council of Provinces
(NCOP), with limited powers. The members of NCOP are chosen by the governments of the nine
provinces, all controlled by the ANC.
The second largest party in the National Assembly, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was created in
2000 through a merger of the Democratic Party (DP) and the New National Party (NNP), to
challenge ANC dominance of the political system. The merger surprised many analysts, since the
NNP was directly descended from the National Party, which had created apartheid and
established the white minority regime that ruled South Africa for more than 40 years. In contrast,
the DP, though also largely white, advocated a classical liberal platform and was heir to the
Progressive Party, which had strongly opposed apartheid and campaigned on human rights issues.
However, by allying, the two parties were able to ensure their control of the legislature of Western
Cape Province and of many local governments in the province, including the government of Cape 4
Town, in the 2000 local elections.
3 Under the South African constitution, the President is elected by the National Assembly, and consequently, the next
President is likely to be chosen from the majority ANC party.
4 Tom Lodge, “The Future of South Africa’s Party System,” Journal of Democracy, Vol 17, No. 3, July 2006, p. 154.
DP leader Tony Leon, an articulate critic of the ANC with respect to the slow pace of
privatization, transparency, and other issues, became DA leader, with NNP head Marthinus van
Schalkwyk as his deputy. The alliance soon fragmented in a way that has further enhanced the
power of the ANC in South African politics. In October 2001, van Schalkwyk announced that the
NNP would leave the DA and enter into a cooperative agreement with the ANC. The NNP leader
explained that the move would promote national unity and progress, while critics suggested that 5
he was primarily interested in securing government appointments for NNP leaders.
Van Schalkwyk’s break with the DA precipitated a prolonged national debate over “floor
crossing”—that is, over whether elected NNP representatives in assemblies at the local,
provincial, and national levels should be permitted to cross over from the DA to the new
ANC/NNP alliance. Representatives at all levels in South Africa are elected not as individuals but
because their names appear on lists selected by each party. The proportion of the vote received by
a party in an election determines how many of those on its list will be given seats. Many argue
that floor crossing in such a system thwarts the will of the voters, and it had not been permitted in
South Africa. However, in 2002 the Constitutional Court allowed floor crossing at the local level,
throwing control of Cape Town and a number of other towns to the ANC and its NNP allies. The
National Assembly passed legislation in 2003 allowing MPs to change their party affiliation
during two week “window periods.” As a result of a September 2005 “window period,” the ANC
gained 14 seats, including all seven NNP parliamentarians and four DA MPs who complained of
racism within the party.
Although the ANC controls the provincial government of Western Cape, the city of Cape Town
remains the last major urban opposition bastion. Following a close win by the DA candidate
Helen Zille in 2006, the ANC began a controversial bid to change the city’s government from a
mayorally-dominated system to one run by a 10-member committee, which would have left the
current mayor a de facto figurehead. Subsequent criticism by the other parties appears to have
persuaded the ANC to drop its proposed restructuring plan. Zille replaced Tony Leon as head of 6
the DA party when he stepped down in May 2007.
The ANC has long worked in an interlocking tripartite alliance with the Congress of South
African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Leaders of
COSATU and the SACP sit on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC, which is
the party’s principal decision-making body. However, there has been considerable disagreement
among the ANC and its allies over the government’s economic reform programs. The
government’s first major economic strategy, known as Growth, Employment, and Redistribution
(GEAR), sought to spur economic growth by attracting foreign investment, strengthening the
private sector, and privatizing state-owned enterprises. COSATU and the SACP have argued that
this approach has failed to benefit South Africa’s poor. They favor the creation of programs that
would use state resources to create jobs and a moratorium on privatization. In 2005 the general
secretary of COSATU announced in a union meeting,
5 In November 2002, Mbeki named two NNP figures to positions as deputy ministers in his government. “Mbeki Gives
Van Schalkwyk Space with New Positions,” Business Day, November 5, 2002.
6 ”South Africa: Balanced Opposition,” Business Day, April 26, 2007.
We want the ANC to be maintained as an organization primarily of the workers and the poor.
We will never hand over this weapon, built up with our blood, sweat, and tears, to the other
side on a silver platter. We will never let the ANC be privatized by the rich. It is a working 7
class formation and a left-wing liberation movement—it must remain ours.
Former President Mbeki, on the other hand, has argued that the ANC is a “broad church” capable
of representing socialists and nationalists and bridging class divisions.
COSATU was highly critical of Mbeki’s stance on the AIDS epidemic and his approach toward
the Zimbabwe situation (see below). In June 2007, the country’s trade unions launched what is
reported to have been the biggest strike since the end of apartheid, costing the economy an 8
estimated $418 million. The unions, who were demanding a 12% pay raise for public servants,
accepted the government’s offer of a 7.5% raise after four weeks of protest. In 2006, COSATU
had launched a smaller general strike to protest the loss of 100,000 jobs over the past three years,
primarily from the textile and mining industries. That strike followed a series of others held in
2005, and they have been considered significant acts of defiance against the policies of the Mbeki
government. As the rift between COSATU, its populist allies, and Mbeki supporters within the 9
ANC widened, some analysts predicted that a split was imminent. Speculation regarding a
splintering of the ANC grew in the wake of the resignations of Mbeki and several of his allies.
As President Mbeki neared the end of his second term as president of the ANC, there was
considerable speculation on whom the party might choose for the position at the ANC’s national
congress in December 2007. Mbeki had suggested that he would not run for a third term. His
successor would be widely expected to succeed him as President of the country following the
national elections in 2009. Although the ANC’s party constitution allows for a competitive
leadership race, no party presidential candidacy had ever been contested. Mbeki’s dismissal of
Jacob Zuma as the country’s Deputy President in 2005 (see below) exposed divisions in the party
(Zuma remained deputy president of the party). He had been widely considered to be the likely
successor to Mbeki prior to these scandals. Zuma, a populist who has elicited strong support from
both youth and labor groups, as well as from his Zulu ethnic base, has been linked with a number
of controversies, including a 2006 rape allegation for which he was acquitted, and a high profile
corruption case (see “The Arms Deal and Other Corruption Scandals” below). Zuma made his
intention to vie for the party leadership post clear, and he was vocally supported by leaders from
COSATU and SACP, who claim he has been a victim of political conspiracy. After months of
speculation, Mbeki, rather than put his support behind a chosen successor, chose to run for a third
term as ANC president. Zuma won a decisive victory over Mbeki in a secret ballot vote at the
party congress, suggesting that Mbeki had alienated many party members.
Although he prevailed in the rape and initial corruption trials, Zuma continues to face legal
challenges. In November 2007, the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision
that had made documents seized from Zuma and his lawyer inadmissable in future proceedings.
Zuma was expected to go on trial again in August 2008 for racketeering, money laundering,
fraud, and corruption, but the date of his trial was postponed. In September, a High Court judge
7 “Mbeki, Nzimande Clash Over Splits in Alliance,” Business Day, October 9, 2006.
8 “S Africa Unions Call Off Strike,” BBC, June 28, 2007.
9 “ANC in Turmoil Over Issue of Mbeki’s Successor,” Irish Times, October 12, 2006.
ruled that the case should be thrown out on procedural grounds and suggested in his findings that
Mbeki and members of his administration had interfered in the case.
On September 20, 2008, after nine years in office, Thabo Mbeki announced that he had accepted
a request by the ANC’s National Executive Council to resign as President of South Africa in the
wake of the High Court decision. One-third of Mbeki’s cabinet resigned with their leader. Among
them was Finance Minister Trevor Manuel who, along with Reserve Bank Governor Tito
Mboweni, has been widely credited with guiding the country’s economic progress since the end
of white rule. Inflation rose above 13.7%, the highest level since the end of apartheid, amid
speculation of Manuel’s resignation; he was later reappointed. Other resignations have followed,
including that of the Gauteng province premier, who said that he would not be able to “publicly 10
explain or defend the national executive committee’s decision on comrade Thabo Mbeki.” The
parliament elected Kgalema Motlanthe, deputy leader of the ANC, as interim President.
Motlanthe, a former mine union leader who was imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela, had
recently been appointed by the party as a Member of Parliament, which made him eligible to 11
assume the presidency. Zuma, who does not hold a parliamentary seat, was ineligible to assume
The judge issuing the High Court verdict on which the request for Mbeki’s resignation was based
made no findings on Zuma’s guilt or innocence. Prosecutors filed an appeal, and on January 12,
2009, the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the High Court ruling. Zuma is now appealing the
Constitutional Court to have the charges, which he claims are politically motivated, dropped.
President Motlanthe has yet to set the date for the upcoming 2009 elections, expected between
April and June, but if Zuma’s trial were to proceed and if he were to be found guilty prior to the 12
elections, he would be ineligible to become President of South Africa.
In the wake of Mbeki’s resignation in December 2008, several high-profile ANC figures,
including the former Gauteng premier, Mbhazima Shilowa, joined former Defense Minister
Mosiuoa Lekota to formally launch a new, centrist political party, the Congress of the People 13
(COPE). The party, which had held its first convention in early November, has reached out to
other opposition parties, and some speculate that some of them may join forces prior to the 2009
elections to challenge the ANC. Some observers believe COPE’s prospects in the next election
may be tied to Jacob Zuma’s ongoing legal challenges. The new party fared well in its first
electoral contest, winning a third of the 27 seats in Western Cape municipal by-elections in 14
10 “Manuel Plays Down Chance of ANC Split,” Mail and Guardian, September 30, 2008.
11 In South Africa, parties make appointments to fill vacant parliamentary seats, rather than holding by-elections.
Motlanthe was appointed as a member of parliament in May 2008 and was appointed to Mbeki’s cabinet in July 2008
as a Minister without Portfolio.
12 South Africa’s constitution requires elections to be held within 90 days of the expiration of the National Assembly’s
five year term, on April 13, 2009. The new Assembly will choose the president after they are seated.
13 The ANC has challenged the party’s name in court.
14 The ANC is challenging a ruling by the Electoral Commission that barred party candidates from standing in 12 of the
The $5.5 billion arms purchase announced by South Africa in 1999 continues to pose political
problems for senior members of the ANC, including Jacob Zuma. Questions remain over the
country’s need for aircraft, submarines, and surface vessels which were to be acquired under the
deal with five European firms. More pressing are allegations of corruption associated with the
purchase. Tony Yengeni, the ANC’s former chief whip in the National Assembly, was arrested in
2001 on charges of corruption, forgery, and perjury in connection with a large discount he
received for the purchase of a luxury car, allegedly in return for assuring that the deal went ahead.
He pled guilty to fraud in exchange for acquittal on corruption charges. President Mbeki later
fired Deputy President Jacob Zuma, after a judge declared Zuma had a “generally corrupt”
relationship with his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, who was convicted of fraud and
corruption in connection with the arms deal. Zuma was indicted but acquitted in September 2006,
after prosecutors failed to build a case against him. Shaik lost an appeal of his conviction in
November 2006, when judges ruled that evidence overwhelmingly supported the charge that
payments totaling about $165,000 made by Shaik to Zuma were bribes. Critics maintain that
several questions related to the arms deal remain unresolved, and some are concerned that
promised “offsets”—that is, investments by the arms suppliers in South African industry—have 15
not materialized. Former Archbishop Demond Tutu and former South African President F.W. de
Klerk recently called for a new commission of inquiry to be appointed to investigate the matter.
The South African media has also focused attention on the “Travelgate” scandal, in which over
thirty current and former members of parliament, most from the ruling ANC party, have appeared
in court since 2005 on charges of corruption. Accused of abuse of official travel privileges, the
MPs reportedly stole some $3 million in government funds. According to Transparency
International, the prosecutions have shown that “the anti-corruption bodies and judiciary have a
fair degree of independence and are able to carry out their functions without hindrance, even 16
when high ranking members of the ANC were involved.” More recently, though, civic activists
have raised concerns with comments toward the judiciary by senior ANC official in relation to the 17
“Travelgate” has been followed by another reported scandal popularly referred to as “Oilgate,” an
allegedly corrupt oil deal between a state-owned oil company and a black economic
empowerment company (see below), in which public funds were reportedly illegally diverted into
an ANC party campaign fund. To add to the controversy, one of the country’s leading newspapers,
the Mail & Guardian, was banned by the courts from publishing a report on the scandal.
According to media reports, the court ruling found that publishing the report would damage the 18
oil company’s right to privacy and was potentially defamatory. The gag order was reportedly the
first placed on the paper since apartheid, and was denounced as “an extraordinarily dangerous
precedent” to press freedom by the press watchdog group, the Media Institute for Southern
15 “The Arms Deal—The Shadows Lengthen,” Business Day, September 20, 2006; “SA Laureates Demand Arms
Inquiry,” BBC, December 4, 2008.
16 Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) describes itself as a non-governmental organization devoted to
combating corruption. TI, Global Corruption Report 2006.
17 “Judiciary Should be Protected from Scandalous Commentary,” Pretoria News, July 11, 2008.
18 The Media Institute of Southern Africa, “Media Freedom Has ‘Suffered Major Blow,’” May 28, 2005.
South Africans are now avidly following another scandal. South Africa’s chief prosecutor, Vusi
Pikoli, was suspended in September 2007 on charges of prosecutorial excess by then-President
Mbeki. Many suggest that the subsequent arrest of national police commissioner Jackie Selebi
amid allegations that he might have ties to organized crime was directly linked to Pikoli’s 19
suspension. Pikoli had been preparing warrants for Selebi’s arrest when he was suspended.
Selebi, a senior ANC member, is widely considered to be a Mbeki supporter within the party, and
some South Africans accused Mbeki of trying to prevent Selebi’s arrest. Pikoli was later cleared
of wrongdoing, but was not reappointed to his post. Selebi has also been replaced as police
The Pikoli and Selebi cases suggest rising political tensions between the country’s law
enforcement agencies. As chief prosecutor, Pikoli oversaw the Scorpions (the Directorate of
Special Operations), South Africa’s financial crimes investigative unit. Several leading ANC
officials led efforts to have the Scorpions, who have prosecuted several high profile corruption
cases, including that of Zuma, disbanded. Zuma and his allies criticized the Scorpions’
prosecution of him as politically motivated and suggested in mid-2008 that the Scorpions’ duties
should be subsumed by the national police. Others, including DA and COPE leaders, argue that
the unit’s “special status” under the National Prosecuting Authority is needed to tackle corruption
at the highest levels. Despite strong opposition from the opposition and civil society, the unit was
officially moved by parliament under the authority of the police service in October 2008.
With an estimated 5.7 million South Africans living with HIV in 2007, the country is believed to
have the largest AIDS epidemic in the world. According to the Joint United Nations Program on
HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), an estimated 18.1% of South African adults, aged 15-49, were HIV 20
positive that year. UNAIDS also reports that as many as 280,000 children under the age of 15
were HIV positive. AIDS is the leading cause of premature death in South Africa, and the number
of AIDS-related deaths there in 2007, some 350,000, was more than double that reported for
Nigeria, which has the second highest global mortality figure at 170,000 deaths but almost three
times South Africa’s population. Approximately 1.4 million children currently living in the
country have been orphaned by the disease. As these figures show, the situation is grave.
Thabo Mbeki’s stance on HIV/AIDS was a major political issue in South Africa during his tenure.
Critics maintain that the former President’s ambiguous statements about the disease and lack of
leadership on the issue diverted attention and funding from the pandemic at a critical time. In
2000, President Mbeki wrote to then-President Clinton and other heads of state defending
dissident scientists who maintain that AIDS is not caused by the HIV virus. In 2001, he rejected
appeals that the National Assembly declare the AIDS pandemic a national emergency. In 2002,
President Mbeki drew criticism from the media and others for reportedly insisting that
tuberculosis rather than AIDS was the leading cause of death in South Africa, even though the
country’s Medical Research Council had reported that AIDS was the leading cause, accounting 21
for 40% of mortality among adults aged 15-49. The reasons for Mbeki’s stance on AIDS have
19 See, for example, “Lets All Arrest One Another,” The Economist, January 17, 2008 and “Party Power Struggle
Enthralls South Africa,” New York Times, October 12, 2007.
20 UNAIDS, 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, August 2008.
21 “South Africa President Mbeki Criticizes U.N. AIDS Fund Grant,” Associated Press, July 25, 2002, and “Research
Affirms Disease Is Nation’s Leading Cause of Death,” The Washington Post, October 19, 2001.
been difficult to discern, particularly given that he might have reaped great political advantage
from becoming a leader in fighting the epidemic. Some speculate that he feared that AIDS could
undermine his vision of South Africa as a leader in an African renaissance sparked by NEPAD
and the African Union and thus tended to minimize the importance of the epidemic.
The Mbeki government gradually modified its stance on HIV/AIDS under mounting domestic
and international pressure. In 2002, the government announced that it would triple the national
AIDS budget, end official opposition to the provision of antiretrovirals for rape victims, and
launch a program for universal access to drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission (MTCT)
of HIV. In July 2002, a South African court ordered the government to begin providing the
antiretroviral (ARV) drug Nevirapine nationwide to reduce MTCT. The South African Treatment
Action Campaign (TAC) had launched the suit in 2001, maintaining that MTCT prevention trials 22
were inadequate and that 20,000 babies could be saved yearly by a nationwide program. At its
December 2002 party conference the ANC announced that it was “putting AIDS at the top of our 23
agenda.” The Department of Health in 2003 declared that the government would provide free
antiretroviral drugs, but after what observers considered a very slow implementation of the
policy, TAC threatened another lawsuit. Under pressure, the government began providing
treatment at five hospitals in 2004 and has gradually expanded access to the program. Reports
suggest that access to treatment for those with advanced HIV has since increased significantly,
from only 4 percent of those in need receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2004 to 21 percent 24
Despite this commitment by the government to providing ART, many critics still did not consider
the Mbeki administration to be serious about the epidemic. In August 2006, then-Health Minister
Manto Tshabalala-Msimang drew international criticism for a controversial display of traditional
remedies such as garlic, lemons, and beetroot, which she reportedly claimed provided an
alternative defense to AIDS, at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. Stephen Lewis, the
U.N. Special Envoy to Africa on AIDS, proclaimed South Africa’s AIDS policies as “wrong,
immoral, and indefensible” and “worthy of a lunatic fringe” during the conference, and 81 25
international scientists delivered a petition to Mbeki urging the health minister’s dismissal.
Many observers consider the Toronto Conference to have prompted a key shift in the
government’s position. Weeks after the conference, Mbeki appointed his Deputy President,
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, as head of a new national AIDS commission charged with halving the
country’s infection rate by 2011. She emphasized that the government did believe that HIV causes
AIDS and acknowledged “shortcomings” in the government’s response to the epidemic. The
government also reached out to the AIDS advocacy community, which responded with cautious
optimism. TAC, the most vocal critic of the Mbeki Administration’s efforts, was cited in late 2006
saying that there was now “a growing enthusiasm, across the board, around the possibility of 26
what we can do as a country in a united fashion” to combat the disease. However, TAC more
22 “AIDS Activists Sue South Africa,” Associated Press, August 21, 2001.
23 Reuters. President Mbeki was criticized by some, however, for not giving the AIDS epidemic greater prominence in
his address to the conference.
24 UNAIDS, 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, August 2008.
25 The letter, titled “Expression of Concern by HIV Scientists,” can be found at http://www.aidstruth.org/letter-to-
mbeki.php. See also “Under Fire, South Africa Shakes Up Its Strategy Against AIDS,” The New York Times,
September 3, 2006, and “In South Africa, a Dramatic Shift on AIDS; Treatment, Prevention Get New Emphasis as
Deputy President Takes Key Role,” The Washington Post, October 27, 2006.
26 “Under Fire, South Africa Shakes Up Its Strategy Against AIDS,” The New York Times, September 3, 2006.
recently questioned Mbeki’s commitment to fighting the epidemic after the August 2007 firing of
Tshabalala-Msimang’s deputy, who was outspoken about problems with the nation’s health
services and critical of the Health Minister’s controversial views on AIDS.
Although experts believe the country’s prevalence rates have begun to stabilize, the South African 27
government still faces many challenges in its response to HIV/AIDS. The emergence of
extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), high rates of HIV/TB co-infection, and
significant HIV prevalence rates among health care workers place major strains on the health care
system. AIDS activists have responded positively to President Motlanthe’s appointment of a new
health minister, Barbara Hogan.
In order to address historic injustices, the South African government began a land reform program
in the late 1990s to restore land rights to those forcibly dispossessed of their land under racially
discriminatory apartheid legislation. The government set a number of targets, including the 28
settlement of all land claims by the end of 2008 and the more ambitious transfer of 30% of
agricultural lands owned by whites in 1994 to African owners by 2014. While the government’s
“willing buyer, willing seller” land reform policies have reportedly met with little resistance from
white landowners, and the Land Affairs Department reports that almost all land claims have been
settled, critics charge that the transfers are going too slowly. According to media reports, the
government announced in August 2006 that negotiations with white farmers over the price of land
marked for restitution would be limited to six months, after which expropriation could take place 29
if no settlement was reached. Two months later, two white-owned farms claimed by black South
Africans were marked for expropriation, a process through which the government would seize the 30
land and pay the owners a price set by independent assessors. This ruling has been seen by some
analysts as signaling a sense of urgency on the part of the government to speed up reforms.
In a 2005 speech on the perceived slow pace of land transfers, then-Deputy President Mlambo-
Ngcuka said that South Africa might learn from Zimbabwe’s land reform process, igniting
considerable controversy. President Mbeki dismissed critics of the speech, saying the Deputy
President’s words were misinterpreted and that Zimbabwe’s policies were only one among many
the government had studied. The media reported a similarly controversial discussion document
circulated by the Land Affairs Department suggesting replacing the “willing buyer, willing seller”
approach with a “Zimbabwean model,” or forced-sale principle (Zimbabwe’s policy that preceded
the country’s land invasions). Under this proposed model, farmers who want to sell their land
must offer the government the right of first refusal. If they refused a government offer, they could
not sell the land on the open market. The discussion paper was said to propose the expropriation
of commercial agricultural land to meet the government’s target of 30% redistribution. At that
time, government officials stressed that the document was for internal discussion only and did not 31
reflect official policy.
27 The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, “HIV/AIDS Policy Fact Sheet,” October 2008.
28 Black citizens have filed 79,700 land claims since January 1999, according to a report by Michael Wines, “South
Africa to Seize Two White-Owned Farms,” New York Times, October 10, 2006.
29 “ANC Gives Ultimatum to White Farmers,” The Daily Telegraph, August 14, 2006.
30 “South Africa to Seize Two White-Owned Farms, New York Times, October 10, 2006.
31 “‘Zimbabwe’ Land Option Mooted by Officials,” Business Day, October 16, 2006.
In 2008, the Mbeki Administration appeared determined to speed up the transfer of commercial
agricultural lands. Official figures suggest that the government has met only 5% of its 30% target
for state-funded transfers, and the Land Affairs Department suggests that sellers are demanding
excessively high prices. The government tabled legislation before parliament in July that would
accelerate the process by adding a constitutional provision for expropriation of a property “for a
public purpose.” Critics, including the Democratic Alliance, argued that the proposed law, which
would restrict property owners’ rights to judicial appeal and force sales at below market prices, 32
would undermine confidence in property rights and deter investment. They also suggest that
while the rate of state-funded transfers has been slow, substantial transfers have been made
privately through the property market. The legislation was shelved, but some speculate that it will
In a 2004 survey of South Africans of all races, 72% of black respondents agreed with the 33
statement: “All the land whites own, they stole from blacks.” According to an independent
South African think tank,
The most universal and immediate land need in South Africa is for ‘a place to stay’ rather
than ‘a place to farm’.... Even among employed agricultural workers, land demand is modest.
Among people living on the land without alternative sources of income, however, aspirations
for land or more land can reach high levels, and become very intense. Although this is a
minority group, it is large in numerical terms, and hence constitutes a significant policy 34
The targets for reform set by the ANC government have set public expectations high, and some
analysts suggest that the perceived pace of land reform could become a major issue in the 2009
As South Africa prepares to host hundreds of thousands of tourists during the soccer World Cup
in 2010, the government continues to battle perceptions that the country is not safe for tourists
because of its high crime rate. According to one survey, one-third of potential tourists have been 35
deterred from visiting South Africa out of fear of becoming victim to a criminal act. Some
analysts attribute the high rate of crime to the country’s high level of wealth disparity, but also to
shortcomings within the police force and in the lack of a comprehensive government approach.
South African officials have acknowledged the problem. In February 2007, then-President Mbeki
admitted crime had created a high level of fear around the country, and the South African Safety
and Security Minister called the high number of cases of violent crime “disconcerting and
32 “Expropriation Must Be a Land Resort,” Business Day, May 30, 2008.
33 In a survey of 3500 respondents 2004, South Africans were asked to respond to the statement: “All the land whites
own, they stole from the blacks.” and were asked to present their responses in a range, from “strongly agree” to
“strongly disagree.” Over 72% responded “strongly agree” or “agree.” Cited in “Land Issue Illustrates Social Rift,”
Business Day, 5 May 2004.
34 The Centre for Development and Enterprise, Land Reform in South Africa: a 21st Century Perspective, Johannesburg:
June 2005, p. 30.
35 “Crime ‘Deters’ SA 2010 Tourists,” BBC, July 23, 2007.
unacceptable.”36 The government has announced plans to recruit 30,000 new police officers
before the games.
South Africa won praise from international economists for its reform-oriented macro-economic
policy in the late 1990s, which, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, “demonstrated
its commitment to open markets, privatization, and a favorable investment climate, moving away
from the former government’s strategy of import substitution and industrial development that 37
protected local industries with high tariff barriers.” The policy, known as the Growth,
Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy, delivered mixed results—it engendered
macroeconomic stability, fiscal discipline, and trade liberalization. However, unemployment
continued to rise, and income distribution did not show signs of significant improvement.
Nevertheless, the income of the average black household almost doubled in the first decade after 38
the end of apartheid.
The rate of growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) averaged 3% per year in the first decade
after apartheid and rose to an average of 5% from 2004 to 2007. The growth rate fell to an
estimated 3.2% in 2008, due in part to the global economic downturn, and is expected to decrease 39
to 1.2% in 2009 before rising above 3% again in 2010. Much higher growth rates will be needed
if South Africa is to substantially increase employment among the black majority and reduce the
sharp inequalities in income distribution among the races. Unemployment estimates range from
25% to 40%, far above the government’s target of 15%. The vast, poverty-stricken townships
surrounding South Africa’s cities remain a potential source of political instability. In recent years
periodic riots have erupted in several poor municipalities to protest local government corruption
and inadequate service delivery. Although turnout and support for the ANC remained high
nationally in the country’s last nationwide municipal elections, voters boycotted the polls in a
number of townships in which the ANC had formerly enjoyed strong support, and several
hundred former ANC supporters stood as independent candidates. Conditions in the townships
have improved marginally with the expanded availability of electricity and the provision of clean
water taps. However, popular resentment is reportedly deepening with respect to the widening
gap between the rich and poor.
Some economists attribute South Africa’s economic difficulties, in part, to the slow pace of
privatization. Despite its commitment to privatization, the government remains heavily involved
in transportation, communications, energy production, and the defense sector, and after the 2004
elections expressed a desire to restructure most remaining state-owned enterprises rather than
expand privatization. Delays are due partly to government concerns that privatization will boost
unemployment temporarily, fueling criticism from COSATU and the SACP. Moreover, the
government is trying to find ways to promote “black empowerment” by assuring that a significant
portion of the shares in privatized companies will be acquired by black South Africans rather than
“SA Violent Crime ‘Unacceptable,’” BBC, July 3, 2007.
37 U.S. Department of Commerce, South Africa Country Commercial Guide, Fiscal Year 2003, July 2002.
38 The average household income for blacks increased by 71% from 1996 to 2004, according to the South African
Institute for Race Relations’ South Africa Survey 2004/2005.
39 The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Country Report: South Africa, December 2008.
by wealthy whites or foreign investors. Another point of view, championed by COSATU and the
SACP, is that job cutbacks that often follow privatization are contributing to unemployment and
the growing income gap in South Africa. Some argue that the government should be intervening
in the economy to save jobs, and to create new jobs, perhaps through a major public works
In 2005, the government unveiled its new Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South
Africa (ASGISA), which is designed to raise the average economic growth rate to 4.5% from
2004-2009 and to at least 6% from 2010-1014 through targeted interventions, including public
investment in infrastructure. The ASGISA plan also aims, through these economic growth
policies, to cut unemployment rates in half by 2014; some experts consider these targets 40
impossible for the country to meet. Another economic program, the government’s Black
Economic Empowerment (BEE) program, was initiated in 1994 and is designed to address racial
inequalities in the business sector. In 1994, blacks owned less than 5% of the country’s private
enterprises. As of mid-2008 there were over 15 black-owned and 29 black-empowered companies
listed on the South African stock exchange. The rise in black ownership has been echoed by a
significant increase in the black middle class. Nevertheless, the lack of skilled labor may be
hampering the success of the program, as may complicated or unclear regulations. According to a
most foreign investors acknowledge that the lack of clarity surrounding the application of Black
Economic Empowerment has had a dampening effect on their plans to further invest in South 41
Africa.” In February 2007, the government instituted the BEE Codes of Good Practice, which
make both listed and unlisted companies subject to empowerment requirements and targets, but 42
offers concessions to small businesses and foreign investors. In September 2007, Sasol, the
country’s oil and coal company, announced its intention to transfer 10% of the company to black
owners to qualify under BEE rules.
In the first decade of post-apartheid rule, analysts expressed concern over the government’s
ability to attract foreign investment at the levels needed to spur growth. Sound macroeconomic
policies, including reduced tariffs and export subsidies, the loosening of exchange controls,
improved enforcement of intellectual property laws, and legislation designed to improve
competition have been cited by observers as responsible for the country’s economic growth. A
World Bank study found that South Africa is one of the top 35 easiest countries in which to do 43
business. Investors are, however, reportedly worried by labor relations, high crime rates, and
corruption. Transparency International ranks South Africa 54 out of 158 in its 2008 Corruption
Perceptions Index, indicating that it is perceived as less corrupt than other Sub-Saharan African
countries (only three African countries ranked less corrupt than South Africa), but more corrupt 44
than many competitors for investment in other parts of the world. Its ranking fell from 43 in
2007. Political risks arising from regional instability, particularly in Zimbabwe, are regarded as
40 EIU, December 2008.
41 United States Department of Commerce, “Doing Business in South Africa: A Country Commercial Guide for U.S.
42 Multinational corporations can maintain 100% ownership provided they meet other BEE criteria, including
employment and procurement targets.
43 The country rose from a ranking of 35 in 2008 to 32 in 2009. See the Doing Business section of the World Bank’s
website at http://www.worldbank.org.
44 The Transparency International index is based on the reported perceptions of business people and country analysts. A
country with the rank of 1 has the least corruption.
another deterrent to investors, and South Africa’s own racial, class, and political divisions are
seen as sources of concern. The resignation of President Mbeki has also shaken investor
confidence. Some studies suggest that business confidence is at it lowest level in five years, due
in part to instability in the global financial markets but also because of concerns regarding in-45
fighting within the ANC.
Some analysts have highlighted the country’s executive “brain drain” as one of greatest threats to
South Africa’s economic progress. They suggest that the outcome of the debate over the role of
state assistance may have the greatest effect on the country’s capability to meet ASGISA goals.
The country’s continued economic growth may also be threatened by an overstretched electricity
network. In January 2008, South Africans experienced severe electrical power cuts throughout the 46
country. Estimates indicate that the cuts may have cost the economy millions. The crucial
mining sector was hit particularly hard, causing global gold and platinum prices to rise. Many
mines closed for several days as the power cuts threatened worker safety. Electricity from South
Africa was also temporarily cut to neighboring countries. State-owned Eskom, the world’s fourth
largest power company, and the Mbeki Administration blamed one another for the crisis. The
government has begun rationing electricity and is accelerating plans to build new power plants
and rehabilitate old ones. Experts suggest the shortages may nevertheless continue for several 47
years, and consumers now face steep increases in their power bills.
U.S. policies toward South Africa and the anti-apartheid struggle were a contentious issue from
the 1960s through the 1980s, with many arguing that the United States was doing too little to
promote human rights and democratic rule. Congress enacted the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid
Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-440) over President Reagan’s veto in order to affirm U.S. support for
democratic change. The legislation imposed a number of sanctions against South Africa. The
Reagan Administration, by contrast, had been pursuing a policy of “constructive engagement”
(i.e., dialogue) with the white South African regime, regarding this approach as the most effective
way of promoting change.
In the early 1990s, the United States assumed a lead role in supporting South Africa’s transition to
democracy. Policy makers at that time saw the South African democratization process as a model
for other African countries, and expected that the country would soon become a stabilizing force
as well as an engine for economic growth throughout the sub-Saharan region. South Africa’s need
to focus on domestic economic and social problems meant that U.S. expectations for the country’s
regional role were perhaps not met in full in the first post-apartheid years. But South Africa’s
leadership in the launching of NEPAD; the deployment of South African peacekeepers to
Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sudan; and intensive South African involvement in the peace process
in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have highlighted South Africa’s capabilities as a
45 The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Country Report: South Africa, September 2008.
46 EIU, “South Africa: Power Down,” January 31, 2008.
47 “South African Power Cuts Threaten Economic Growth; Jobs,” VOA News, January 31, 2008.
regional actor. South Africa also assisted U.S. efforts to resolve the Haiti crisis by providing an
exile location for former President Bertrand Aristide. Given South Africa’s role in conflict
mediation and resolution throughout the continent, the United States has worked to expand the
country’s peacekeeping abilities through the African Contingency Operations Training Assistance 48
Since 1992, South Africa has been among the leading African recipients of U.S. aid. U.S.
assistance to South Africa has increased in recent years, rising from an estimated $224 million in
FY2006, to $398 million in FY2007. The Bush Administration obligated an estimated $574 49
million for FY2008, and requested almost $576 million for FY2009. In its FY2008
congressional budget justification, the State Department reported that “the U.S. Government’s
(USG) relationship with South Africa is transforming from that of donor to one of strategic
partnership,” and accordingly, “activities in Peace and Security will continue to increase in
importance while development programs will be phased out in the next couple of years.” U.S.
assistance will continue to focus on fighting HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and assisting the South
African government to implement economic reforms and to improve its regional peacekeeping
capacity. USAID programs have supported efforts to promote sound governance, reduce
unemployment and poverty, increase access to shelter and basic municipal services, and improve
the quality of education and the country’s health system. U.S. assistance includes $850,000 in
International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs in South Africa.
The United States provides significant assistance to South Africa’s fight against HIV/AIDS
through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), having contributed over
$855 million since the program’s inception in FY2004. The Bush Administration requested $557
million for FY2009 through the Global HIV/AIDS Initiative. By the end of FY2007, the PEPFAR
program had provided ARV therapy to an estimated 329,000 patients, transmission prevention
treatment to over 333,000 pregnant HIV-infected women, and palliative and/or tuberculosis care
for 984,500 South Africans. PEPFAR’s South Africa program also funds public education efforts
to promote abstinence, faithfulness, and healthy behavior to reduce the risk of transmission
among high-risk groups.
The 110th Congress has taken steps to address lingering restrictions on U.S. visas for members of
the ANC, including former Presidents Mbeki and Mandela, who were convicted under the
previous apartheid government of crimes against that regime. In May 2008, the House of
Representatives passed H.R. 5690, sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman
Howard Berman. The legislation removes the ANC from treatment as a terrorist organization,
instructs U.S. government agencies to remove any terrorist designations regarding the ANC and
its leaders from their databases, and gives discretion to the State and Homeland Security
Departments in determining admissibility of visa applicants based upon specified criminal
convictions or terrorist activities undertaken in opposition to apartheid rule. Secretary of State 50
Condoleeza Rice called the restrictions “embarassing.” Senator John Kerry introduced
48 For more information see CRS Report RL32773, The Global Peace Operations Initiative: Background and Issues for
Congress, by Nina M. Serafino.
49 On December 26, the President signed into law the FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 2764/P.L. 110-
161), which included State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations for FY2008. Country-specific
allocations have not yet been released.
50 “Congressman Wants to End U.S. Travel Restrictions against Mandela and the ANC,” Voice of America, April 10,
companion legislation, S. 2979. Members of the 110th Congress also introduced legislation
honoring Mandela, H.Res. 1090, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, H.Res. 34.
U.S. and South African law enforcement authorities have cooperated for several years on
terrorism investigations, including investigations into the possibility that South Africa has been 51
used as a haven for Islamic militants from outside the region. In 1999, South African authorities
arrested Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a Tanzanian later convicted in the bombing of the U.S.
embassy in Dar es Salaam, and deported him to the United States. Khalfan had reportedly sought
to hide among Cape Town’s Muslims after he fled Tanzania. More recently, one of the suspects of
the 2005 London bombings, Haroon Rashid Aswat, who was arrested in Zambia, was thought to
have spent time in South Africa. There is continuing concern that other terrorists may seek to hide
in South Africa, or make use of its modern transportation and communications systems for transit, 52
smuggling, and money-laundering.
The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) includes several
South African nationals in its Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN), which sanctions
individuals and groups believed to have links to terrorism. In a controversial move, the South
African government used its position in 2007 as a member of the U.N. Security Council’s Al-
Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, also known as the 1276 Committee, to block United
Nations travel and financial sanctions on two of these individuals, Farhad Ahmed Dockrat and Dr.
Junaid Ismail Dockrat. The South African government argued that it required more time to
examine the evidence against the Dockrats before applying sanctions.
There is concern over the potential use of South African travel documents by would-be terrorists.
At the time of his arrest, Haroon Rashid Aswat was carrying a South African passport, and
according to media reports, others with suspected ties to terrorism have been apprehended at U.S. 53
and British borders, as well as in Pakistan, with South African travel documents. The U.S. State
Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism has noted concern regarding
fraudulent travel documents, saying, “efforts to limit the accessibility of passports and identity
documents to potential terrorists are limited by resources and corruption in the Department of 54
Home Affairs.” South African passports were found during raids by British police on suspected
terror groups in London in 2004 and 2005. South Africa’s intelligence minister reported in August
2005 that groups allegedly linked to al-Qaeda had been discovered in southern Africa and that
maritime targets could be threatened. U.S. law enforcement agencies provide training to their
South African counterparts, supply needed equipment to the South Africa Police Service, and 55
The South African government has expressed differences with the United States in the latter’s
designation of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. In May 2007, prior to the Hamas
51 “SA, US Work in Tandem to Find Terrorist Cells,” Business Day, December 11, 2002.
52 “Spreading Influence: In South Africa, Mounting Evidence of al Qaeda Links,” Wall Street Journal, December 10,
53 “Arrests and Plots Give South Africans a New Program,” New York Times, August 9, 2004.
54 U.S. Department of State, 2005 Country Reports on Terrorism http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2005/.
55 “Law Enforcement,” available at the website of the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria http://usembassy.state.gov/pretoria.
military seizure of the Gaza Strip, the South African Minister of Intelligence met with Hamas
leader and then-Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Ismail Haniyeh. According to some
media reports, he publically praised Hamas and invited Haniyeh to visit South Africa.
Despite the cordial relations that officially exist between South Africa and the United States,
some analysts suggest that diplomatic differences highlight what former U.S. Assistant Secretary
of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer referred to as a “rough patch” in U.S.-South African 56
relations. As one U.S. official pointed out, the country has had close ties with the Non-Aligned
Movement countries, and has exhibited “marked sympathy toward countries that exert their 57
independence from the West.” Some South African officials expressed opposition to the Bush
Administration’s initial proposal to locate the new U.S. combatant command, Africa Command or 58
AFRICOM, on the continent. In addition, South Africa has taken a critical stance toward the
war in Iraq, and former President Nelson Mandela has been vocal in his opposition to what he
views as U.S. unilateralism on Iraq. South Africa also differs significantly with the United States
on Iran. During an 2006 visit by the Iranian Foreign Minister to Pretoria, South Africa affirmed
its support for Iran’s “inalienable right to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes,” at the
same time that the Mbeki government announced its intention to consider renewing its uranium 59
enrichment program. South Africa, which dismantled its own nuclear weapons program after the
fall of apartheid, insists that any enrichment program would be strictly peaceful in nature.
South Africa’s recent role as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council was
controversial, and the South African government has been criticized by the United States as well
as by many human rights activists for its lack of support for human rights issues raised before the 60
Council. In January 2007, South Africa voted against a resolution on political prisoners in
Burma, arguing that alleged human rights abuses in sovereign countries are not covered by the
mandate of the Security Council as defined by the U.N. Charter. It argued that because the abuses
do not pose a direct threat to international peace and security, they would be more appropriately 61
addressed by the U.N. Human Rights Council. In March 2007, while serving a one-month term
as President of the Security Council, South Africa reportedly blocked discussion of human rights 62
abuses in Zimbabwe. Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of the Burma vote, in
which China and Russia cast a double veto, “I am deeply disappointed by our vote. It is a betrayal
56 Janine Zacharia, “U.S. Finds an Antagonist in a Country on the Rise,” International Herald Tribune, June 27, 2007.
57 Remarks by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield, “U.S.-South Africa Relations: The View
from Washington,” Washington, D.C., September 14, 2006.
58 According to South African media reports, in July 2007, the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Eric Bost, publicly
expressed frustration that the country’s defense minister would not respond to requests for a meeting with General Kip
Ward, commander of AFRICOM. For more information, see CRS Report RL34003, Africa Command: U.S. Strategic
Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa, by Lauren Ploch.
59 “South Africa’s Support for Iran’s Nuclear Program ‘Holds Firm’,” BBC Monitoring Africa, September 1, 2006.
60 See, for example, Colum Lynch, “South Africa’s U.N. Votes Disappoint Some,” Washington Post, April 16, 2007;
James Kirchick, “Why, the Beloved Country?,” Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2007.
61 U.N. document, S/2007/14, January 12, 2007.
62 “Britain Wants U.N. Security Council Attention on Zimbabwe,” Voice of America, March 16, 2007.
of our own noble past...The tyrannical military regime is gloating, and we sided with them. If
others had used the arguments we are using today when we asked them for their support against 63
apartheid, we might still have been unfree,” Former DA leader Tony Leon expressed similar
sentiments on his government’s alleged refusal to address the Zimbabwe situation, calling it
“extraordinary irony” that the ANC government would use the same argument used to block 64
debate on the abuses of the former apartheid regime in South Africa.
In July 2008, South Africa voted with Russia, China, Vietnam, and Libya in opposition to a U.S.-
sponsored resolution on Zimbabwe (S/2008/447) that called for targeted sanctions on select
members of the Mugabe regime, an international arms embargo, the appointment of a U.N.
Special Representative on Zimbabwe, and the creation of a Panel of Experts to monitor and
evaluate the situation and the effects of the sanctions.
South Africa and the United States also differed on Middle East issues addressed by the Security
Council. In May 2007, South Africa abstained from a U.S.-sponsored resolution to establish an
international tribunal to investigate political killings in Lebanon, arguing that although it
supported a tribunal with “Lebanese ownership,” it was not appropriate for the Security Council 65
to impose a tribunal upon the country and “politicize international criminal law.” The country
was vocal in its opposition to Security Council sanctions on both Sudan and Iran, arguing that
such sanctions would ultimately harden the target governments’ positions rather than reduce
tensions. However, after efforts to modify resolution language, South Africa ultimately did vote
for sanctions against Iran in March 2007, “to remind Iran of its responsibility towards the IAEA 66
and the Nonproliferation Treaty.”
Political and economic turmoil in neighboring Zimbabwe has led to a massive exodus of
Zimbabweans in search of work. A recent nationwide outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe has
exacerbated the flight. Some sources estimate that as many as four million Zimbabweans (30% of
the total population) are now living outside the country. South African government sources
reported a sharp increase in border crossings after the Zimbabwean government implemented
price controls on basic commodities in June 2007. Zimbabwe’s other neighbors, Zambia,
Botswana, and Mozambique, also have seen a significant rise in immigration in the last year.
While many stay in these countries to look for work or stay with relatives, others commute across
the border daily to buy basic staples that are now unavailable in their own country. Those who are
caught by South African police are sent back to Zimbabwe; the International Organization for
Migration (IOM) reported that the number of Zimbabweans repatriated from its facility in
Beitbridge, South Africa increased from 40,000 in the last six months of 2006 to almost 118,000
in the first six months of 2007. As mentioned above, tensions over perceived competition for
resources led in May 2008 to xenophobic attacks on Zimbabweans and other immigrants in
63 “Desmond Tutu ‘deeply disappointed with South Africa’s vote against U.N Security Council resolution on
Myanmar,”International Herald Tribune, January 21, 2007.
64 “South Africa Reportedly Blocking U.N. Debate on Zimbabwe Crisis,” Business Day, March 20, 2007.
65 China, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, and Qatar also abstained. U.N. document, S/2007/315, May 30, 2007.
66 U.N. Document S/Res/1747, March 24, 2007. For South African government statements on the vote, see “Iran Keeps
Up Nuclear Consultation with SA,” Business Day, July 9, 2007.
67 For more information on South Africa’s policies on Zimbabwe, see CRS Report RL34509, Zimbabwe: 2008
Elections and Implications for U.S. Policy, by Lauren Ploch.
townships throughout South Africa. Many were rendered homeless and forced to seek shelter in
temporary camps established by the South African government, while others chose to return to
their country of origin. Cases of cholera have been reported in South Africa and other neighboring
During his 2003 visit to Africa, President George W. Bush called then-President Mbeki his “point 68
man” on Zimbabwe. The United States has been outspoken in its criticism of the policies of
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe with respect to human rights, democracy, and land reform,
and has imposed “targeted sanctions” prohibiting travel to the United States by Zimbabwe
leaders. President Mbeki, by contrast, chose to deal with President Mugabe through “quiet
diplomacy,” or diplomatic engagement, and South African officials have called for western
countries to reconsider the penalties they have imposed on Zimbabwe.
As Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner, many observers consider South Africa to be in a position
to exert substantial leverage on its neighbor. At the same time, South Africa must weigh the
unintended effects of such leverage—state collapse across its northern border could produce a
sharp increase in illegal migration and have a substantial impact on South Africa. In 2005, as the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) threatened to expel Zimbabwe from the Fund for debt
payment arrears, the country requested a loan of up to $1 billion from South Africa for fuel, food,
and electricity, as well as to address the IMF payments. Amid rumors that the South African
government would make any potential loan conditional on economic and political reforms, the 69
loan negotiations stalled and Mugabe found another source from which to repay the IMF dues.
In March 2007, Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders appointed President
Mbeki to mediate between the Zimbabwean government and the opposition. In June 2007, South
Africa initiated talks between the Mugabe Administration, represented by the country’s Ministers
of Labor and Justice, and the two MDC factions, represented by their respective Secretary-
Generals, in Pretoria. President Mugabe’s proclamation in January 2008 that national elections
would be held on March 29, 2008, while opposition rallies in the country continued to be
suppressed by police, angered the opposition and led to the dialogue’s collapse.
Following Zimbabwe’s 2005 parliamentary elections, which the British and American
governments termed “fundamentally flawed” and “seriously tainted,” the head of South Africa’s
parliamentary observer mission, Mbulelo Goniwe, chief whip of the ruling African National
Congress (ANC), was quoted saying that the delegation had “unanimously agreed that the 70
elections were credible, legitimate, free and fair.” Leading the Southern African Development
Community (SADC) observer delegation, then-South African Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka
congratulated Zimbabwe on “the holding of a peaceful, credible, well-managed and transparent
election. The people of Zimbabwe have expressed their will in an impressively instructive manner
that will go a long way in contributing to the consolidation of democracy and political stability 71
not only in Zimbabwe, but also in the region as a whole.” Both statements received substantial
criticism in the international press.
68 Comments made by President Bush during press conference on July 9, 2003 in Pretoria http://www.whitehouse.gov/
69 “Zimbabwe Pays Part of IMF Debt,” The Washington Post, September 2, 2005.
70 “The Real Fraud in Zimbabwe,” The Washington Times, April 6, 2005.
71 “Zimbabwe’s Enabler; South Africa Falls Short as Monitor of Democracy, The Washington Post, April 4, 2005.
Mbeki’s Zimbabwe policies drew criticism from within his country; former President Mandela,
Archbishop Tutu, former opposition leader Tony Leon, and even the ANC’s ally, the Congress of
South African Trade Unions (COSATU), have been vocal detractors. COSATU delegations have
been forcibly expelled from Zimbabwe twice, first in 2004 and later in 2006, when COSATU
members traveled to Harare to express their support for Zimbabwean human rights activists after
incidents of alleged police violence. One COSATU leader remarked, “we are not quiet
diplomats,” and “we will not keep mum when freedom does not lead to respect for workers and 72
human rights.” When the Mbeki government issued a terse initial statement following the
March 11, 2007, arrest of opposition and civil society activists, COSATU criticized the
government for a “disgraceful” response, “in the face of such massive attacks on democracy and
human rights, especially coming from those who owed so much to international solidarity when 73
South Africans were fighting for democracy and human rights against the apartheid regime.”
ANC leader Jacob Zuma has referred to the Zimbabwean president as “a monster,” but has 74
defended Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy. Other ANC heavyweights like Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo
Sexwale have criticized Mbeki’s policy. Sexwale has said, “When a freedom fighter takes a
wrong step, it is time for other freedom fighters to stand up and say ‘we know you are a great 75
man, but we cannot support what you are doing.’” In 2007, he suggested that the Zimbabwean 76
government may be ignoring Mbeki’s efforts, and that it may be time to “turn up the volume.
Ramaphosa has expressed similar sentiments.
President Mbeki’s reluctance to take a more critical stance toward the Mugabe Administration led
to increasing calls for the South African leader to be replaced as the SADC mediator on
Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai criticized Mbeki for his “quiet support for the dictatorship,” and has called 77
for him to step down as mediator. According to reports, President Mbeki recently wrote 78
President Bush a letter warning the United States not to interfere in the Zimbabwe situation. But
as the violence increased after the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe, public and internal ANC pressure
may have forced Mbeki to take a stronger position with President Mugabe. Mbeki visited
Zimbabwe on several occasions after the elections, and he dispatched six retired generals to
investigate reports of attacks on the opposition. The generals reportedly expressed shock at the 79
level of violence. Under Mbeki’s mediation, the Zimbabwe parties reconvened for talks in South
Africa, and on September 15, 2008, after several weeks of negotiations, Mugabe and MDC leader
Morgan Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing arrangement aimed at resolving the political standoff.
As part of the deal, Tsvangirai would become Prime Minister, and cabinet positions would be
divided among the parties. Months later, the agreement has yet to be implemented.
72 “We Are Not Quiet Diplomats,” Daily Mail and Guardian (Johannesburg), November 5, 2004.
73 “South Africa Ends ‘s ‘Silence’ on Zimbabwe, Urges Harare ‘to Respect Rule of Law,’” BBC Monitoring Africa,
March 14, 2007.
74 “I’m No Mugabe, but I Have Sympathy for What He Has Done,” The Sunday Telegraph (London), November 26,
75 “Chorus of Disapproval Grows As Sexwale Speaks Out on Mugabe,” Zimbabwe Independent, October 6, 2006.
76 “Zimbabwe ‘Ignoring’ SA Diplomacy,” BBC, May 15, 2007.
77 Barry Bearak, “Zimbabwe Opponent Criticizes Mbeki,” New York Times, February 14, 2008.
78 Michael Gerson, “The Despots’ Democracy,” Washington Post, May 28, 2008.
79 “Anxiety Grows for Kidnaped Zimbabwe Activist,” Voice of America, May 18, 2008.
The United States and South Africa enjoy a strong trade relationship. The United States leads the
world in direct foreign investment in South Africa, with over 600 American companies active in 80
the country. As Table 1 indicates, the United States runs a deficit in its merchandise trade with
South Africa. Nevertheless, South Africa is the largest market for U.S. goods on the continent,
with imports totaling over $5.5 billion in 2007. Leading U.S. exports include transportation
equipment, chemicals, and electronic products, while leading imports include minerals and 81
metals, and transportation equipment. U.S. officials point out that South Africa continues to
enjoy major benefits from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA, P.L. 106-200),
enacted by Congress in May 2000, with nearly all of the country’s exports qualifying for duty-
free entry into the United States. Through AGOA, South Africa exported $2.3 billion in such
products as vehicles, chemicals, minerals, metals, and agricultural, textile, and apparel products in
2007, making the country the largest and most diversified supplier of non-fuel products under
Table 1. U.S. Merchandise Trade with South Africa
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Exports to South Africa 2.819 3.178 3.907 4.462 5.518
Imports from South Africa 4.624 5.945 5.886 7.501 9.075
Balance -1.805 -2.766 -1.979 -3.039 -3.557
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Division
During a 2002 visit to South Africa, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick proposed the
creation of the United States’ first free trade agreement (FTA) with sub-Saharan Africa, linking
the United States with South Africa and the other members of the Southern Africa Customs Union
(SACU): Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Namibia. SACU is the United States’ second largest
trading partner in Africa behind petroleum-rich Nigeria. Reaction to the FTA proposal in the
region was reportedly positive, but there were concerns about the scope of the negotiations. Some
observers felt that U.S. proposals to include intellectual property, government procurement, and
services in the negotiations could have a negative impact on the SACU countries, and that the
United States was not sensitive to the differing levels of development within SACU. Negotiations
began in 2003 but were suspended in 2006, when U.S. and SACU officials agreed on a new work
program that will aim to address a broad range of trade and investment issues, and may contribute
in the long term toward a possible FTA. Analysts suggest that the momentum for SACU
negotiators to complete the FTA may have been lost, given that AGOA benefits were extended 82
through the AGOA Acceleration Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-274) until 2015.
80 Europa Regional Surveys of the World, Africa South of the Sahara 2006, 35th ed. Routledge, London: 2005, p. 1098.
81 U.S. International Trade Commission.
82 For further information, se eCRS Report RS21387, United States-Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Free
Trade Agreement Negotiations: Background and Potential Issues, by Danielle Langton.
Analysts seem generally confident that South Africa will remain politically stable for some time
to come, although some have expressed concerns regarding the upcoming elections. There are
tensions in rural areas over land, but South Africa seems far from a rural upheaval over the issue,
as has been the case in Zimbabwe. Social tensions over perceived inequalities in the distribution
of wealth and inadequate service delivery, which resulted in violent attacks on African
immigrants in mid-2008, are likely to continue in the near term as the government struggles to
address the needs of its poorest citizens. South Africa’s longer term stability is linked to the
success of the South African government and its partners in fighting poverty and reducing the toll
of the AIDS pandemic.
The principal worry for some analysts has been that South Africa would become a de facto one-
party state under the ANC, weakening checks and balances in the political system. Should this
happen, some fear that the regime could become increasingly authoritarian and unresponsive to
the needs of its citizens. ANC leaders reject this view, arguing that their party is a national
liberation movement committed to transforming South Africa and fulfilling the aspirations of the 83
poor. Others have argued that the power of the ruling party is limited by the country’s free and
very active press, independent judiciary, and a bill of rights enshrined in the constitution. The
emergence of the new Congress of the People may provide the best challenge to the ANC’s
political dominance to date, although its success in drawing support from the ruling party will
remain unknown until the 2009 elections. In any event, ANC leaders want their country to be seen
as a leader in Africa, and as a spokesman for Africa and developing countries generally in world
affairs. To play such roles, South Africa must continue to be recognized as a successful
83 See, for example, President Mbeki’s December 16, 2002 address to the ANC national conference
Figure 1. Map of South Africa’s Provinces
Note: South Africa highlighted; all shaded areas are independent countries.
Analyst in African Affairs