The foreign relations of South Africa have spanned from the country's time as Dominion and later Realm of the British Empire to its isolationist policies under Apartheid to its position as a responsible international actor taking a key role in Africa.
South Africa is active in the United Nations, the African Union and the Commonwealth of Nations. South Africa is now a respected international citizen. Considered a possible permanent addition to the United Nations Security Council, South Africa has been elected by the UN General Assembly to serve on the Security Council in 2007 for the first time ever.
The UN attempted to compel South Africa to let go of the mandate, and, in 1960, Liberia and Ethiopia requested that the International Court of Justice announce that South Africa's management of South West Africa was illegitimate. They argued that South Africa was bringing apartheid to South-West Africa, too. South Africa was formally accused of maladministration, and the lawsuit, commencing in November 1960, lasted almost six years. The International Court's verdict astonished the UN: it ruled that Liberia and Ethiopia had no right to take issue with South Africa's deeds in South-West Africa. The Court did not, however, pass judgement on whether or not South Africa still had a mandate over the region. The UN declared that the mandate was indeed concluded, and a council of the UN was to run the state until its independence in 1968. South Africa rebuffed the resolution, but declared its ostensible intention to ready South-West Africa for independence.
Anxiety increased when the UN Council for South-West Africa was declined admission, and steepened still further when South Africa indicted 35 South-West Africans and then found them guilty of terror campaigns. The UN reproached South Africa and declared that South-West Africa would thenceforth be known as Namibia. At the New York Accords in 1988, South Africa finally signed the agreement that granted the country its independence.
As a consequence of this change of status, South Africa needed to reapply for continued membership of the Commonwealth, with which it had privileged trade links. Even though India became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1947 it became clear that African and Asian member states would oppose South Africa due to its apartheid policies. As a result, South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth on 31 May 1961, the day that the Republic came into existence.
In 1960, the UN's conservative stance on apartheid changed. The Sharpeville massacre had jolted the global neighbourhood, with the apartheid regime showing that it would use violent behaviour to repress opposition to racial inequity. Many Western states began to see apartheid as a possible danger to global harmony, as the policy caused much intercontinental abrasion over human-rights violation.
In April 1960, the Security Council of the UN settled for the first time on concerted action against the apartheid regime, demanding that the NP bring an end to racial separation and discrimination; but, instead, the South African administration merely employed further suppressive instruments. The ANC and PAC were forbidden from continued existence, and political assemblies were prohibited. From then on, the UN placed the South African issue high on its list of priorities.
In 1961, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld stopped over in South Africa and subsequently stated that he had been powerless to effect a concurrence Prime Minister Verwoerd. That same year, Verwoerd proclaimed South Africa's extraction from the Commonwealth as a result of its censure of his government.
In 1966, the United Nations held the first (of many) colloquiums on apartheid. The General Assembly announced 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in memory of the Sharpeville bloodbath. In 1971, the UN General Assembly formally denounced the institution of homelands, and a motion was passed in 1974 to eject South Africa from the UN, but this was discarded by France, Britain and the United States of America, all of them key trade associates of South Africa.
One probable type of action against South Africa was economic sanction. If UN affiliates broke fiscal and trading links with the country, it would make it all the trickier for the apartheid government to uphold itself and its policies. Such sanctions were argued frequently within the UN, and many recognised and backed it as an effectual and non-violent way of applying force, but South Africa's major trading partners once more voted against mandatory sanctions. In 1962, the UN General Assembly requested that its members split political, fiscal and transportation connections with South Africa. In 1968, it suggested the deferral of all cultural, didactic and sporting commerce as well. From 1964, the US and Britain discontinued their dealings of armaments to South Africa. In spite of the many cries for sanctions, however, none were made obligatory, because South Africa's main trading partners were again primarily concerned for their own financial security.
In 1977, the voluntary UN arms embargo became mandatory with the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 418.
The Lusaka Manifesto summarised the political situations of self-governing African countries, snubbing racism and inequity, and calling for black majority rule in all African nations. It did not rebuff South Africa entirely, though, adopting an appeasing manner towards the apartheid government, and even recognising its autonomy. Although African principals desired the emancipation of black South Africans, they trusted in their abilities to attain this in peaceable ways, intercession instead of militancy. The manifesto's signatories did not want to engage in a military war by supporting the liberation pugilists, because, for one thing, they could ill afford it and, for another, they dreaded retaliation.
Disinclined to destroy the support that they did have, however, the ANC and PAC did not explicitly condemn the Manifesto. In 1969, though, the ANC held the inaugural National Consultative Conference in Morogoro, Tanzania, where it ironed out its troubles and anxieties. The result was a decision not to end the armed struggle but, rather, to advance it. Oliver Tambo summed up thus: "Close Ranks! This is the order to our people, our youth, the army, to each Umkhonto we Sizwe militant, to all our many supporters the world over. This is the order to our leaders, to all of us. The order that comes from this conference is 'Close Ranks and Intensify the Armed Struggle!'"
Unlike the independence factions, the South African administration hailed the Lusaka Manifesto's plans for arbitration and détente. This tied in nicely with Prime Minister Vorster's own plan for the reduction of South Africa's seclusion from the rest of the world. He called his "Outward looking" policy. The state also maintained that the preservation of separate development through homelands carried out the Manifesto's insistence on human equality and dignity. The homelands, it argued, were meant eventually to be self-governing, decolonised nations where black people could take part in ballots and be free to live how they wished.
That is not to say that the NP government agreed to the Lusaka Manifesto, however. It rejected the manifesto's backing of liberation movements, in spite of the fact that the movements themselves felt the Manifesto was showing a lack of support.
In 1967, Vorster proffered technological and fiscal counsel gratis to any African state prepared to receive it, asserting that absolutely no political strings were attached. He gave great attention to financial facets, aware of the fact that many African states were very run-down and would require financial aid in spite of their rebuffing of South Africa's racial principles. Malawi and Lesotho were the first countries to enter discussions with the NP government. Angola and Mozambique soon followed.
One of the first steps to take in initiating dealings was to convene with the heads of these African countries. Here Vorster worked decidedly contrary to Verwoerd's policies. Where Verwoerd had declined to get together and engage in dialogue with such leaders as Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria in 1962 and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia in 1964, Vorster, in 1966, met with the heads of the states of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana. There was still mutual suspiciousness, however, particularly after Vorster's denunciation of the Lusaka Manifesto in 1969. Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland stayed candid critics of apartheid, but they hinged on South Africa's economic aid. This was inclusive of pecuniary credit and the fact that many natives from these states worked the South African mines.
Malawi was the first country not on South African borders to accept South African aid. She identified the monetary benefits of such a deal, for there were also many Malawians working in South African mines. In 1967, the two states delineated their political and economic relations, and, in 1969, Malawi became the only country at the assembly which did not sign the Lusaka Manifesto. In 1970, Malawian President Hastings Banda made his first and most successful official stopover in South Africa.
Associations with Mozambique followed suit and were sustained after that country won its sovereignty in 1975. Angola was also granted South African loans. Other countries which formed relationships with South Africa were Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mauritius, Gabon, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Ghana and the Central African Republic. These African states slammed apartheid (more than ever after South Africa's denunciation of the Lusaka Manifesto), but fiscal reliance on South Africa, together with fear of her armed potency, resulted in their forming the aforementioned ties.
There were also tactical motives for not severing all ties with the apartheid government. As the southernmost nation in Africa, and the juncture at which the Indian and Atlantic Oceans collided, South Africa was still a vital point in sea-trade routes. In 1969, the Commandant General of the South African Defence Force (SADF) confirmed that, "[i]n the entire ocean expanse from Australia to South America, South Africa is the only fixed point offering modern naval bases, harbours and airfield facilities, a modern developed industry and stable government." South Africa was also a pivotal partner to the West in the years of the Cold War. If the West ever required martial, maritime or air-force services on the African continent, it would have to rely on South Africa's assistance.
From 1960 to 1961, the relationship between South Africa and Britain started to change. In his "Winds of Change" speech in Cape Town, Harold Macmillan spoke of the changes in Africa and how South Africa's racist policies were swimming upstream. Even as more countries added to the call for sanctions, Britain remained unwilling to sever her ties with the apartheid administration. Possible reasons were her copious assets in the state, an unwillingness to hazard turbulence brought on by intercontinental meddling, and the fact that many British people had kith and kin living in South Africa or, indeed, were living there themselves. Along with America, Britain would persistently vote against certain sanctions against South Africa.
South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth in 1994.
As fiscal ties between South Africa, America and Britain were reinforced, however, sporting and cultural boycotts became important gadgets in South Africa's isolation from international society. The arms prohibition obliged South Africa to look elsewhere (particularly France) for its artillery, build up its own technology and manufacture weapons itself. At first, the Cold War had little influence on the connection between the West and South Africa: America believed that the armament embargo would not put up a barrier between them. If a major quarrel broke out in Africa, South Africa would be forced to work with America anyway.
Sporting seclusion commenced in the mid-1950s and increased through the 1960s. Apartheid forbade multiracial sport, which meant that overseas teams, by virtue of their having players of diverse races, could not play in South Africa. In 1956, the International Table Tennis Federation severed its ties with the all-white South African Table Tennis Union, preferring the non-racial South African Table Tennis Board in its stead. The apartheid government came back by confiscating the passports of the Board's players so that they were unable to attend international games. Other global sports unions followed the example, but they were sluggish in doing so.
In 1959, the non-racial South African Sports Association (SASA) was shaped to secure the rights of all players on the global field. After meeting with no success in its endeavours to attain credit by collaborating with white establishments, SASA went to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1962, calling for South Africa's eviction form the Olympic Games. The IOC sent South Africa a caution to the effect that, if there were no changes, she would be barred from the 1964. The changes were initiated, and in January 1963, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) was set up. The Anti-Apartheid Movement persisted in its campaign for South Africa's exclusion, and the IOC acceded in barring the country from the 1964 Games in Tokyo. South Africa selected a multi-racial side for the next Games, and the IOC opted to incorporate her in the 1968 Games in Mexico. Because of protests from AAMs and African nations, however, the IOC was forced to retract the invitation.
Foreign complaints about South Africa's bigoted sports brought more isolation. In 1960, Verwoerd barred a Maori rugby player from touring South Africa with the All Blacks, and the tour was cancelled. New Zealand made a decision not to convey an authorised rugby team to South Africa again.
B. J. Vorster took Verwoerd's place as PM in 1966 and declared that South Africa would no longer dictate to other countries what their teams should look like. Although this reopened the gate for sporting meets, it did not signal the end of South Africa's racist sporting policies. In 1968, Vorster went against his policy by refusing to permit Basil D'Oliveira, a Coloured South African-born cricketer, to join the English cricket team on its tour to South Africa. Vorster said that the side had been chosen only to prove a point, and not on merit. After protests, however, "Dolly" was eventually included in the team. Protests against certain tours brought about the cancellation of a number of other visits, like that of an England rugby team in 1969/70.
As sporting segregation persisted, it became obvious that that South Africa would have to make further changes to its sporting policies if it was to be recognised on the international stage. More and more careers were impinged upon by segregation, and they began to stand up against apartheid. In 1971, Vorster altered his policies even further by distinguishing multiracial from multinational sport. Multiracial sport, between teams with players of different races, remained outlawed; multinational sport, however, was now acceptable: international sides would not be subject to South Africa's racial stipulations.
International censure of segregated sport and calls for sporting sanctions persisted. The UN would continue to hold them against South Africa until the end of apartheid. These measures did not bring an end to international sport for South African teams, but they add very much to the country's seclusion. The bans were revoked in 1993, when conciliations for a democratic South Africa were well under way.
In the 1960s, the Anti-Apartheid Movements began to campaign for cultural boycotts of apartheid South Africa. Artists were requested not to present or let their works be hosted in South Africa. In 1963, 45 British writers put their signatures to an affirmation approving of the boycott, and, in 1964, American actor Marlon Brando called for a similar affirmation for films. In 1965, the Writers' Guild of Great Britain called for a proscription on the sending of films to South Africa. Over sixty American artists signed a statement against apartheid and against professional links with the state. The presentation of some South African plays in Britain and America was also vetoed. After the arrival of television in South Africa in 1975, the British Actors Union, Equity, boycotted the service, and no British programme concerning its associates could be sold to South Africa. Sporting and cultural boycotts did not have the same impact as economic sanctions, but they did much to lift consciousness amongst normal South Africans of the global condemnation of apartheid.
These facets of social remoteness from the worldwide hamlet made apartheid a discomfiture and were most trying for sports and culture fans. These boycotts effectively egged on little changes to apartheid policy, and corroded white South Africans' dedication to it.
Numerous conferences were held and the United Nations passed resolutions condemning South Africa, including the World Conference Against Racism in 1978 and 1983. A significant divestment movement started, pressuring investors to refuse to invest in South African companies or companies that did business with South Africa. South African sports teams were barred from participation in international events, and South African culture and tourism were boycotted.
Countries such as Zambia, Tanzania and the Soviet Union provided military support for the ANC and PAC. It was more difficult, though, for neighbouring states such as Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, because they were economically dependent on South Africa. Still, they did feed the struggle underground.
Ordinary people in foreign countries did much in protest against the apartheid government, too. The British Anti-Apartheid Movement was one of these, organising boycotts against South African sports teams, South African products such as wine and fruit, and British companies that dared trade with or in South Africa. Other organisations were formed to prevent musicians and the like from coming into the country, and others raised funds for the ANC and PAC.
After much debate, by the late 1980s the United States, the United Kingdom, and 23 other nations had passed laws placing various trade sanctions on South Africa. A divestment movement in many countries was similarly widespread, with individual cities and provinces around the world implementing various laws and local regulations forbidding registered corporations under their jurisdiction from doing business with South African firms, factories, or banks.
In an analysis of the effect of sanctions on South Africa by the FW de Klerk Foundation, it was argued that they were not a leading contributor to the political reforms leading to the end of Apartheid. The analysis concluded that in many instances sanctions undermined effective reform forces, such as the changing economic and social order within South Africa. Furthermore, it was argued that forces encouraging economic growth and development resulted in a more international and liberal outlook amongst South Africans, and were far more powerful agents of reform than sanctions.
Other Western countries adopted a more ambivalent position. In the 1980s, both the Reagan and Thatcher administrations in the USA and UK followed a 'constructive engagement' policy with the apartheid government, vetoing the imposition of UN economic sanctions on South Africa, as they both fiercely believed in free trade, saw South Africa as a bastion against Marxist forces in Southern Africa, and approved of the apartheid policy anyway. Thatcher declared the ANC a terrorist organisation,, and in 1987 her spokesman, Bernard Ingham, famously said that anyone who believed that the ANC would ever form the government of South Africa was "living in cloud cuckoo land".
By the late 1980s, however, with the tide of the Cold War turning and no sign of a political resolution in South Africa, Western patience with the apartheid government began to run out. By 1989, a bipartisan Republican/Democratic initiative in the US favoured economic sanctions (realized as the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act), the release of Nelson Mandela and a negotiated settlement involving the ANC. Thatcher too began to take a similar line, but insisted on the suspension of the ANC's armed struggle.
Some might argue that Britain's significant economic involvement in South Africa provided some leverage with the South Africa government, with both the UK and the US applying pressure on the government, and pushing for negotiations. However, neither Britain nor the US were willing to apply economic pressure upon their multinational interests in South Africa, such as the mining company Anglo American. A high-profile case claiming compensation from these companies was thrown out of court in 2004.
Negotiating majority rule with the ANC was not considered an option (at least publicly), and it left the government to defend the country against external and internal threats through sheer military might. A siege mentality developed among whites, and, although many believed that a civil war against the black majority could not possibly be won, they preferred this to "giving in" to political reform. Brutal police and military actions seemed entirely justifiable. Paradoxically, the international sanctions that cut whites off from the rest of the world enabled black leaders to develop sophisticated political skills as those in exile forged ties with both regional and world leaders.
P. W. Botha initiated a policy of "Total Onslaught, Total Strategy", whereby reform was mixed with repression. With big businesses (affected by apartheid policies) ardently desirous of change, the government established two important commissions of enquiry. The Riekert Commission concluded that blacks ought to be allowed to buy their own homes in urban areas, while the Wiehahn Commission dictated that black trade unions be given more freedom, more money be spent on black education and some apartheid legislation be abolished. The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act most certainly was, while the pass laws and employment colour bar were relaxed. Fewer people were arrested for offences pertaining to the latter as segregation in everyday life was gradually lessened. The government also gave so-called "independence" to a number of the homelands, but this seems to have been in part due to the fact that, as foreign citizens, their people could no longer expect anything from the South African government. Indeed, none of these reforms lessened the power of the white minority.
The term "front-line states" referred to countries in Southern Africa geographically near South Africa. Although these front-line states were all opposed to apartheid, many were economically dependent on South Africa. In 1980, they formed the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), the aim of which was to promote economic development in the region and hence reduce dependence on South Africa. Furthermore, many SADCC members also allowed the exiled ANC and PAC to establish bases in their countries.
Other African countries also contributed to the fall of apartheid. In 1978, Nigeria boycotted the Commonwealth Games because New Zealand's sporting contacts with the South African government were not considered to be in accordance with the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement. Nigeria also led the 32-nation boycott of the 1986 Commonwealth Games because of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's ambivalent attitude towards sporting links with South Africa, significantly affecting the quality and profitability of the Games and thus thrusting apartheid into the international spotlight.
A number of African countries contributed to the ANC's guerilla-insurgency campaign within South Africa.
In 1984, Mozambican president Samora Machel signed the Nkomati Accord with South Africa's president P.W. Botha, in an attempt to rebuild Mozambique's economy. South Africa agreed to cease supporting anti-government forces, while the MK was prohibited from operating in Mozambique. This was an awful setback for the ANC.
In 1986 President Machel himself was killed in an air crash in mountainous terrain near the South African border after returning from a meeting in Zambia. South Africa was accused of continuing its aid to RENAMO and having caused the crash using a new advanced electronic beacon capable of luring aircraft into crashing. This was never proven and is still a subject of great controversy. The South African Margo Commission found that the crash was an accident while a Soviet delegation issued a minority report implicating South Africa.
In 1990, as part of the reformist policies undertaken by president F.W. de Klerk in South Africa, Namibia was granted independence, with the exception of the enclave of Walvis Bay, which was reintegrated into Namibia in March 1994. After South Africa held its first multiracial election in April 1994, most sanctions imposed by the international community in opposition to the system of apartheid were lifted. On June 1, 1994, South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations, and on June 23, 1994, it was readmitted to the UN General Assembly. South Africa also joined the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now known as the African Union; the change from the OAU to the Union was initiated by South African President Thabo Mbeki in 2002.
Having emerged from the international isolation of the apartheid era, South Africa has become a leading international actor. Its principal foreign policy objective is to develop good relations with all countries, especially its neighbors in the Southern African Development Community and the other members of the African Union. South Africa has played a key role in seeking an end to various conflicts and political crises on the African continent, including in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Comoros, and Zimbabwe. In August 1998, South Africa assumed the chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, which it relinquished in July 2002.
The South African government has been criticised by Human Rights Watch for deporting hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean refugees and treating victims of political violence as economic migrants. By sending refugees back to persecution, Human Rights Watch has asserted that South Africa is violating the refugee convention and international law.
South Africa has been a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since October 2006. Its tenure lasts until 2008. South African votes in the UNSC have not been without controversy. In particular, a 'no' vote on a resolution criticising the Burmese government attracted widespread criticism.
South Africa also attempted to vote against economic sanctions for Iran however, this was changed after South African realised that the 'no' vote would be defeated.
South Africa's status as a transshipment center for heroin and cocaine has been controversial. Domestic drug abuse has helped fuel a drug trade; cocaine consumption is on the rise, and South Africa is the world's largest market for illicit methaqualone, which is known locally as Mandrax and usually imported illegally from India through various East African countries. Illicit cultivation of marijuana (locally known as "dagga") is also widespread.