South Africa-US Relations at a Crossroads

South Africa-US Relations at a Crossroads
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in the White House in 2022. (Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images)

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The recent decision by South Africa, a longtime ally of Palestine, to take Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on accusations of genocide sent shock waves through the global community.

The unprecedented move served as a wake-up call to Israel’s Western allies, who might not have predicted the drive of a seemingly less powerful nation to take such an action on the world stage.

“The U.S. is not used to having international court judicial proceedings used either against it or against any of its allies,” Stephen Chan, author and professor of world politics at SOAS, University of London tells New Lines’ Kwangu Liwewe. “The whole idea of international tribunals, international courts, international commissions seems very alien to the American sense of how international relations should work. So, in other words, the only actors should be states, preferably powerful states.”

Following South Africa’s case at the ICJ, U.S. lawmakers John James and Jared Moskowitz introduced a bill on Feb. 6 that seeks to reevaluate the bilateral relationship between the U.S and South Africa. The bill alleges that South Africa has forged alliances with malign actors such as Hamas and Russia and specifically accuses South Africa of pursuing a politically motivated lawsuit against Israel.

The legislation stipulates that within 30 days of its enactment, provided it is approved by both the House and Senate, the president must submit to Congress and publicly disclose “an unclassified assessment clearly stating whether South Africa has undertaken actions that undermine the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”

The South African government has dismissed the bill stating that it has no future.

South Africa’s response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict has also made some doubt its assertion of being nonaligned. Western diplomats and local experts point to a series of actions that they say contradict this claim and raise questions about South Africa’s foreign policy and its national interests.

These actions include abstaining from U.N. resolutions condemning Russia, engaging in a joint military exercise with the Russian navy, publicly criticizing the U.S. and allegedly aiding a sanctioned Russian cargo ship.

“It is a confused foreign policy,” Phumlani Majozi, a South African author and political analyst says. “We are taking a direction that is breaking our relations with the West.”

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