US congressmen propose Bill to review relations with South Africa in wake of ICJ case

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola speaks to the press before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Picture: EPA-EFE/REMKO DE WAAL

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola speaks to the press before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Picture: EPA-EFE/REMKO DE WAAL

Published Feb 10, 2024


A US Congress Bill tabled at the House of Representatives has called for a full review of relations between Washington and Pretoria, accusing South Africa of being in bed with Hamas, Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran.

The Bill, which could spell trouble ahead for South Africa in various facets of business, aid, and geopolitics, has been proposed by Congressmen John James and Jared Moskowitz, who are from the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively.

The Bill calls on US President Joe Biden to make an unclassified determination within 30 days of the act being enacted, if Pretoria has engaged in activities that undermine US national security or foreign policy interests.

This comes after deepening tensions between South Africa and the US, who have been at odds with one another regarding the Russia-Ukraine war and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. The Bill also expressed discomfort with Pretoria increasingly cozying up with Russia, China, and Iran, the congressman alleged.

The Bill slates Pretoria for apparently acting at odds with its publicly stated stance of non-alignment, accusing it of strengthening ties with Iran through Hamad, Russia, and China.

It calls on Biden, the United States Agency for International Development, the Secretary of Defence, the United States Ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, and the heads of other departments and agencies that play a substantial role in United States relations with South Africa to conduct a comprehensive review of the bilateral relationship between Washington and Pretoria.

It states that within 120 days or four months after the date of enactment of this Act, Biden "shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report that includes the findings of the review".

Tensions between Pretoria and Washington have especially heightened since the International Court of Justice recently ruled in South Africa’s favour when it took Israel to the world court, ordering it to, among other measures, that Israel must take all measures to prevent the commission of all acts of Article 2 of the (Genocide) Convention."

The court also ordered Israel to take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip.

The US is one of South Africa’s biggest trade partners, with the US government through its African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) providing SA with duty-free access to the US market for over 1,800 products. A repeal of AGOA could lead to a higher cost of business for businesses who trade with the US, while also much needed aid in HIV/AIDS programmes - through the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), could also come under jeopardy.

The proposed bill, which is titled the US-South Africa Bilateral Relations Review Act, says that the actions of the governing African National Congress (ANC), were "inconsistent with its publicly stated policy of non-alignment in international affairs".

"In contrast to its stated stance of non-alignment, the SA Government has a history of siding with malign actors, including Hamas, a US designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and a proxy of the Iranian regime, and continues to pursue closer ties with the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation," said the proposed Bill.

The bill accused Pretoria of supporting Hamas since 1994 and of "taking a hardline stance of consistently accusing Israel of practising apartheid".

They accused SA government and ANC leaders of "blaming Israel for provoking the attack" on October 7th and said they had made "a variety of antisemitic and anti-Israel-related statements".

In the proposed Bill, ANC spokesperson, Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri, was accused of defending Hamas by saying the attacks were "unsurprising", while President Cyril Ramaphosa was slammed for accusing Israel of "genocide" and International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor was slated for taking a phone call with Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh just days after the attack.

The Bill also said Pandor met with government leaders from Iran.

"The South African Government has pursued increasingly close relations with the Russian Federation, which has been accused of perpetrating war crimes in Ukraine and indiscriminately undermining human rights. South Africa’s robust relationship with Russia spans the military and political space, including — allowing a United States-sanctioned Russian cargo ship, the Lady R, to dock and transfer arms at a South African naval base in December 2022," said the Bill.

A probe conducted by Pretoria found that there was no evidence any arms had been loaded onto Lady R, despite the damaging claims made by US Ambassador to Pretoria, Brigety. The Bill also expressed discomfort with the ANC strengthening ties with the Chinese Communist Party and also that SA was home to six Chinese Confucius Institutes.

"It is the sense of Congress that— it is in the national security interest of the United States to deter strategic political and security cooperation and information sharing with the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation, particularly any form of cooperation that may aid or abet Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine or its international standing or influence. The ANC’s foreign policy actions have long ceased to reflect its stated stance of non-alignment, and now directly favour the PRC, the Russian Federation, and Hamas, a known proxy of Iran, and thereby undermine United States national security and foreign policy interests".

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