Foreign relations of South Africa

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
South Africa

The foreign relations of South Africa have spanned from the country's time as Dominion 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. Considered a possible permanent addition to the United Nations Security Council, South Africa was elected in 2006 and again in 2010 by the UN General Assembly to serve on the Security Council, which it did until 31 December 2012.[1]



South Africa, as a key member of the British Empire and Commonwealth, fought alongside the United Kingdom and the Allies in both World War I and World War II, and it participated in the postwar UN force in the Korean War. South Africa was a founding member of the League of Nations and in 1927 established a Department of External Affairs with diplomatic missions in the main Western European countries and in the United States.


South Africa introduced apartheid in 1948, as a systematic extension of pre-existing racial discrimination in the country. As a result, the country became increasingly isolated internationally until apartheid was ended and racial equality introduced in 1990–3.


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 neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (*-see note below) 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.

Swaziland has asked South Africa to open negotiations on reincorporating some nearby South African territories that are populated by ethnic Swazis or that were long ago part of the Swazi kingdom.

United Nations Security Council

South Africa was a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from October 2006 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.[2]

South Africa also attempted to vote against economic sanctions for Iran; however, this was changed after South Africa realised that the 'no' vote would be defeated.

South Africa was once again a non-permanent member of the Security Council between 2010 & 2012.


Country Formal Relations Began Notes
 AngolaSee Angola–South Africa relations

South Africa relations are quite strong, as the ruling parties in both nations – the African National Congress in South Africa and the MPLA in Angola – fought together during the Angolan Civil War and South African Border War. They fought against UNITA rebels, based in Angola, and the apartheid-era government in South Africa who supported them. Nelson Mandela mediated between the MPLA and UNITA factions during the last years of Angola's civil war.

 BotswanaSee Botswana–South Africa relations
 EgyptSee Foreign relations of Egypt
  • Lesotho has a high commission in South Africa.
  • South Africa has a high commission in Lesotho.
 MadagascarSee Foreign relations of Madagascar
 MalawiSee Malawi – South Africa relations

Since South Africa and Malawi had their first democratic elections in 1994, Malawi and South Africa have enhanced relations. In 2008, the two governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding designed to enhance the relationship between the two countries through enhanced security cooperation.[3]

 MozambiqueSee Foreign relations of Mozambique
 NamibiaSee Namibia – South Africa relations

Upon independence in 1990, Namibia's economy was still tied to South Africa's.[4] To this day, the economy of Namibia is still closely contacted to South Africa through both institutional relationships (Southern African Customs Union, for example) and privately owned mining concessions.[5] The South African rand is still legal currency within Namibia (while the Namibian dollar is not so in South Africa), and the currencies are traded on par locally.

 SwazilandSee South Africa–Swaziland relations
 ZimbabweSee South Africa–Zimbabwe relations

South Africa has a mission in Harare. Zimbabwe has an embassy in Pretoria and a consulate general in Johannesburg. The Government of Zimbabwe took a particular interest in the search for independence for Namibia (South-West Africa) from South Africa. In addition, as chairman of the front-line states in southern Africa, Zimbabwe spoke out vigorously against the policies of apartheid in South Africa and frequently called for the imposition of economic sanctions against the government. However, whilst supporting democratic change in South Africa, Mugabe did not support the idea of Zimbabwe being used as a base for anti-South African guerillas.[6]

In recent years, following the political crisis in the country, the ex-president Thabo Mbeki mediated with the MDC and Zanu PF to form a unity government, and often remained silent on the issues in Zimbabwe, which drew criticism.[7] Following a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, the ruling ANC in South Africa became impatient and has urged the parties to form a unity government.[8]


Country Formal Relations Began Notes

Armenia-South Africa relations

  • Diplomatic relations between Armenia and South Africa were established on 23 June 1993.[9]
  • Armenia is represented in South Africa through its embassy in Cairo, Egypt.[10]
  • South Africa is represented in Armenia through its embassy in Kiev, Ukraine.[10]
 Belarus March 1993[11] See Belarus-South Africa relations
  • Belarus has an embassy in Pretoria[12]
  • South Africa is represented in Belarus through its embassy in Moscow, Russia[12]
 BulgariaSee Bulgaria – South Africa relations

Interest Offices between South Africa and Bulgaria were opened initially in November 1990 and full diplomatic relations was established on 2 February 1992. Bulgaria has an embassy in Pretoria and South Africa is represented in Bulgaria through its embassy in Athens (Greece).

 CroatiaSee Foreign relations of Croatia
 Cyprus 10 December 1993

Cyprus-South Africa relations

  • Both countries established diplomatic relations on 10 December 1993.[13][14]
  • Cyprus has a High Commission in Pretoria.[15]
  • South Africa is represented in Cyoprus through its embassy in Athens, Greece.[13]
 DenmarkSee Denmark-South Africa relations
 European UnionSee South Africa–European Union relations
  • South Africa has strong cultural and historical links to the European Union (EU) (particularly through immigration from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Greece) and the EU is South Africa's biggest investor.[16]
  • Since the end of South Africa's apartheid, EU – South African relations have flourished and they began a "Strategic Partnership" in 2007. In 1999 the two sides signed a Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA) which entered into force in 2004, with some provisions being applied from 2000. The TDCA covered a wide range of issues from political cooperation, development and the establishment of a free trade area (FTA).[16]
  • South Africa is the EU's largest trading partner in Southern Africa and has a FTA with the EU. South Africa's main exports to the EU are fuels and mining products (27%), machinery and transport equipment (18%) and other semi-manufactured goods (16%). However they are growing and becoming more diverse. European exports to South Africa are primarily machinery & transport equipment (50%), chemicals (15%) and other semi-machinery (10%).[17]
 Finland1949-05-15See Finland – South Africa relations
  • A South African legation was established in 1967 and relations were then upgraded to ambassadorial level in March 1991. Finland has an embassy in Pretoria, a general consulate in Johannesburg and a consulate in Cape Town. South Africa has an embassy in Helsinki. During World War II South Africa declared war on Finland.
 GreeceSee Foreign relations of Greece
 IrelandSee Foreign relations of the Republic of Ireland
 ItalySee Foreign relations of Italy
 RomaniaSee Foreign relations of Romania
 Russia1992-02-28See Russia–South Africa relations
 SerbiaSee Foreign relations of Serbia
  SwitzerlandSee South Africa – Switzerland relations
 Turkey1991See South African – Turkish relations
 UkraineSee South Africa – Ukraine relations
 United Kingdom1927See South Africa – United Kingdom relations
  • South Africa and the United Kingdom have a shared history, cultural links and similar systems of law and finance.
  • South Africa is the UK's largest trade partner in Africa and an important partner for the UK in a number of areas. The two countries also have a bilateral forum where representatives meet on a bi-annual basis so as to enhance economic and political relations.[23]
  • There are large numbers of South Africans living in the UK. There is also a large number of UK citizens and people of UK descent living in South Africa.
  • As of 2013 the UK is the top direct foreign investor in the South African economy and is also one of the largest export markets for South Africa.[24]


Country Formal Relations Began Notes
 ArgentinaSee Foreign relations of Argentina
 BrazilSee Brazil – South Africa relations

Brazil has provided military assistance to South Africa in the form of warfare training and logistics. Bilateral relations between the countries have recently increased, as a result of Brazil's new South-South foreign policy aimed to strengthen integration between the major powers of the developing world.

 CanadaSee Canada – South Africa relations

Canada established its diplomatic relations with South Africa in 1939, along with other nations, due to the outbreak of World War II. Canada actively encouraged the end of Apartheid in South Africa and the countries have had normal relations since then. The Constitution of South Africa was, in part, inspired by the Constitution of Canada, particularly the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Former South African President Nelson Mandela made an official state visit to Canada in September 1998. Mandela was made an honorary Canadian citizen, during his second visit to Canada. A 2003 visit by President Thabo Mbeki in November 2003, the Joint Declaration of Intent was signed to strengthen relations between the two countries. Canada has assisted South Africa in the areas of development (over $200 million) and the fight against AIDS in South Africa and to strengthen services provided by the Government of South Africa. Trade between the two countries totalled $1.8 billion in 2008.[27]

Canada and South Africa are both member states of the Commonwealth of Nations.


Both countries are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Diplomatic relations were established on 29 April 1998.[28]

 GuyanaNovember 4, 1994
 Mexico26-10-1993See Mexico-South Africa relations

There were no official relations between Mexico and South Africa before 1993. After the birth of democracy in South Africa, the countries established relations.

 United StatesSee South Africa–United States relations

The United States has maintained an official presence in South Africa since 1799, when an American consulate was opened in Cape Town. The U.S. Embassy is located in Pretoria, and Consulates General are in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Americans and South Africans also have many non-governmental ties: American missionaries, for example, have a long history of activity in South Africa. South Africans (particularly the ANC leadership) also acknowledge support from and ties to the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S.

Rest of the world

Country Formal Relations Began Notes
 AustraliaSee Australia – South Africa relations
  • Date started: 1947
  • Australia has a High Commission in Pretoria.
  • South Africa has a High Commission in Canberra.
 ChinaSee People's Republic of China – South Africa relations
  • Date started: January 1998
  • The PRC has an embassy in Pretoria.
  • South Africa has an embassy in Beijing and a Consulate-General in both Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Despite Pretoria's long relationship with the government in Taiwan and late recognition of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1998 the two countries currently enjoy an increasingly close relationship. Increasingly numerous official visits to each other's countries by their respective officials and rapidly increasing trade between the two countries has drawn them ever increasingly together.

 Republic of ChinaSee Republic of China – South Africa relations
  • Period of recognition: 1949 – January 1998
  • Taiwan has a Taipei Liaison Office in Pretoria.
  • South Africa has a Taiwan Liaison Office in Taipei.

Relations were established between the two countries in 1949 and grew considerably after 1971 until South Africa announced that it would switch recognition from the government in Taipei to the People's Republic of China in December 1996.

 IndiaSee India – South Africa relations

There is a major resident Indian community in South Africa that made a significant contribution to the struggle for civil rights; Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi pioneered the non-violent civil disobedience in the struggle of Indian people for civil rights in the 1890s and 1900s.[32] Indians also contributed to the African National Congress's struggle against the Apartheid regime. The Indian government was an outspoken critic of the apartheid-era South African government, refusing to maintain diplomatic relations.[33] India's support evoked goodwill in South Africa and other African countries.[33]

 IranSee Iran – South Africa relations

South Africa and Iran share historical bilateral relations and the latter supported the South African liberation movements. It severed official relations with South Africa in 1979 and imposed a trade boycott in protest against the country's Apartheid policies. However, in January 1994, Iran lifted all trade and economic sanctions against South Africa and diplomatic relations were reestablished on 10 May 1994.[34]

 IsraelSee Israel–South Africa relations

Former ANC leader Nelson Mandela first visited Israel in 1999. Mandela said: "To the many people who have questioned why I came, I say: Israel worked very closely with the apartheid regime. I say: I've made peace with many men who slaughtered our people like animals. Israel cooperated with the apartheid regime, but it did not participate in any atrocities".[35] Then Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited South Africa in 2004,[36] meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki, the first visit by an Israeli leader since the end of apartheid.

 New ZealandSee New Zealand–South Africa relations
  • New Zealand has a high commission in Pretoria.[37]
  • South Africa has a high commission in Wellington.[38]
 PakistanSee Pakistan–South Africa relations
 South Korea1 December 1992[39]See Foreign relations of South Korea
  • Establishment of Diplomatic Relations : 1 December 1992.[39]
 Sri LankaSee Sri Lanka – South Africa relations
  • Date started: 12 September 1999(Newly Formed)
  • Sri Lanka has a High Commission in Pretoria
  • South Africa has a High Commission in Colombo

South Africa and the Commonwealth of Nations

South Africa was a Dominion of the British Empire and the Commonwealth from 1910 until 1961.

South Africa was a republic outside the Commonwealth from 1961 to 1994, then it became a Commonwealth republic on 1 June 1994.

See also


  1. "SA steps down from UN Security Council". Brand South Africa. 3 January 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  2. Bogert, Carroll (7 September 2008). "SA's human rights reputation tarnished". Sunday Independent.
  3. Country, Malawi to Enhance Defence Co-Operation by Bathandwa Mbola, BuaNews, 25 February 2008
  4. In Namibia, South African Is Center of Attention, New York Times, 23 March 1990
  5. "Namibia – Economy". Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  6. US Department of State – Background Note: Zimbabwe. Retrieved 29 November 2008.
  7. "Mbeki urges patience in Zimbabwe", The National Post, 8 April 2008.
  8. "Zuma says summit must "force" Zimbabwe deal", Reuters, 7 November 2008.
  9. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia
  10. 1 2 Department of International Relation and Cooperation of South Africa
  12. 1 2
  13. 1 2 Department of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa
  14. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus
  15. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus
  16. 1 2 "South Africa". European External Action Service. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  17. Bilateral relations South Africa, European Commission
  18. "Russian embassy in Pretoria". Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  19. South African embassy in Moscow Archived 1 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Serbian embassy in Pretoria
  21. "South African embassy in Ankara". Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  22. "Ukrainian embassy in Pretoria". Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  23. Markus Weimer and Alex Vines (June 2011). "UK–South Africa Relations and the Bilateral Forum" (PDF). Chatham House. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  24. "SA-UK business council launched". 11 September 2013. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  25. Alvaro Vera Carolina Del Prete. "Argentine embassy in Pretoria". Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  26. "South African embassy in Buenos Aires". Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  27. "Canada-South Africa Relations". 18 February 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  28. 1 2 "Department of International Cooperation of South Africa".
  29. 1 2 South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation
  30. Mexican embassy in South Africa
  31. South African embassy in Mexico City
  32. "South Africa embraces "cousin" India". BBC News. 14 September 2006. Retrieved 20 June 2008.
  33. 1 2 "India pushes people power in Africa". Asia Times. 13 July 2007. Retrieved 20 June 2008.
  34. Archived 13 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  35. Belling, Susan (2 October 1999). "Mandela bears message of peace in first visit to Israel". The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California.
  36. "South African President Mbeki meets with Deputy PM Olmert". Haaretz. 22 October 2004.
  37. High Commission of New Zealand in Pretoria
  38. High Commission of South Africa in Wellington
  39. 1 2


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