South Africa’s Relations with the Middle East Since 1994

A Special SATAC Member Paper – Copyright Natasha Agrizzi


The key concern of this paper pertains to South Africa’s relations with the Middle East. In order for this paper to effectively analyse the above-mentioned concern, the paper will be divided up into two main sections. The first section introduces the topic of foreign policy. This will discuss the concept of foreign policy in terms of its definition as well as the stakeholders in South Africa’s foreign policy, where reference will be made to the fundamental driving factors of South Africa’s foreign policy namely; i) human rights considerations; ii) ideology; iii) defense considerations; iv) public considerations; v) economics and trade; as well as vi) diplomacy. The second section of the paper links the discussion of South Africa’s foreign policy to South Africa’s relations with states in the Middle East. Here, the primary focus will be the topic of South Africa’s relations with the greater Middle Eastern region since 1994, the engagement with the Middle East and what this engagement has been about. For this section to draw on this, it must first consider the relations with the Middle East prior to 1994 under the apartheid regime as this plays a notable role in shaping relations today. From this discussion, this paper will then evaluate these relations through a broad analysis of South Africa’s relations with the Middle East and then follow with a discussion on their relations with key states such as Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States such as Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Syria and Turkey. These evaluations of the relations between these states and South Africa, will include a discussion of the driving factors of the relations as well as the issues which have occurred in that state, followed by an analysis of South Africa’s position on the issue and how this position may have been influenced.

South Africa’s Foreign Policy

In understanding South Africa’s foreign policy, it is important to first discuss the theory of foreign policy with regards to the definition as well as those who make foreign policy. This is important to understand how foreign policy plays out in South Africa’s relations and engagement with the Middle East. Foreign policy has been defined by the South African Department of Foreign Affairs (2004, 17) as “a multidimensional set of policies, principles, strategies, objectives and plans… which serve to define [South Africa’s] national values”. In addition, academics argue that foreign policy is made up of the values of the country, in which they contain the initiatives taken by the state in guiding their relations with the international community in promoting the national image of the state (Nel and Wyk 2003; Olivier 2006).

Therefore, we are able to explore who makes foreign policy in South Africa. Stakeholders in South Africa’s foreign policy include the Presidency, where Hughes (2004, 46) argues that “the Presidency gets ‘first pick’ of foreign policy issues and establishes foreign policy priorities in consultation with the officials within the presidential cluster responsible for foreign affairs, defense and trade and industry”. Parliament can also be included in this however, parliament is dependent on the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) for briefings on aspects of South Africa’s foreign policy as parliament is more concerned with the domestic rather than foreign affairs (Nel and Wyk 2003). Thus, DIRCO plays an important role in that the “Minister of International Relations and Cooperation is tasked to formulate, promote, and execute South Africa’s foreign policy. The Minister assumes overall responsibility for all aspects of South Africa’s international relations in consultation with the President. The Department is the principle advisor on foreign policy” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011b, 9). Finally, other stakeholders in South Africa’s foreign policy include government departments such as the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Defense as well as the Department of Environmental affairs as well as civil society think tanks.

The history of South Africa’s foreign policy becomes important in identifying the main principles that drive South Africa’s engagement with states. The new democratic South African government declared that it had a deep commitment to a democratized foreign policy where the state’s national identity and interest had been reconstructed, thus changing its relations with the international community (Van Wyk 2004). From this, the Department of Foreign Affairs (2004, 18) declared that South Africa’s foreign policy is guided by the following principles;

  • That issues of human rights are central to international relations and an understanding that they extend beyond the political, embracing the economic, social and environmental;
  • That just and lasting solutions to the problems of humankind can only come through the promotion of democracy worldwide;
  • That considerations of justice and respect for international law should guide the relations between nations;
  • That peace is the goal for which all nations should strive, and where this breaks down, internationally agreed and non-violent mechanisms, including effective arms-control regimes, must be employed;
  • That the concerns and interests of the continent of Africa should be reflected in our foreign policy choices;
  • That economic development depends on growing regional and international economic cooperation in an interdependent world (Mandela, 1993:87; African National Congress, 1994).

Included in these changes is that where the “name of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was changed to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). This is to reflect a greater emphasis on partnerships in South Africa’s international conduct” (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung 2014, 15). Moreover, these values are fundamentally entrenched in the Bill of Responsibilities as well as in South Africa’s foreign policy where these points highlight the idea of ethical cosmopolitanism as placing an emphasis on the equality of all citizens of the world in that what the South African state wants to achieve for its people, is what it wants to achieve for the world, where decisions made are fundamentally based on the democratic values and norms (Hengari 2014).

Factors Shaping Foreign Policy:

“Drivers and trends constitute the forces that significantly influence world affairs and will therefore play an important role in determining how South Africa conducts its international relations. Successful foreign policy implementation requires that countries take into account the ever-changing environment in which they operate” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011b, 12). From this, this paper argues that the most important drivers of South Africa’s relations with the Middle East are; i) human rights considerations; ii) ideology; iii) defense considerations; iv) public participation; v) economics and trade; as well as vi) diplomacy. Thus, the principles outlined in South Africa’s foreign policy explain how South Africa’s “values serve as the motivation and driving force behind the quest of the state to maximize the national security, welfare, prestige and power in the context of domestic and international politics” (Olivier 2006, 170).

Therefore, this paper is able to discuss how these fundamental values should be at the center of South Africa’s foreign policy, in these concerns being extended to populations outside of South Africa’s borders.

Human Rights Considerations:

The end of World War II marked the emergence of the importance of human rights in the international community. In line with this, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) in Article 2, declares that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without any distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

However, the concept of human rights has been a contested concept, in which the South African government broadly interprets it to include democracy. “Since 1994, human rights have emerged as a central pillar of South Africa’s international relations… [where] the role and status of human rights and democracy were pivotal” (Thipanyane 2011, 1). Thus, it can be argued that South Africa felt an obligation to promote human rights in the international community. Moreover, President Zuma claims that South Africa’s foreign policy is informed by the Freedom Charter, where South Africa has a commitment to building a better world (Allison 2015). The ANC argued that South Africa’s foreign relations should reflect the commitment to a democratic South Africa, while aspiring to create a more humane world for all.

However, since 1997 we see a shift in the emphasis placed on human rights, where former President Mandela refused to renounce relations with states which had violated human rights, but rather, this showed the transition of South Africa as a leader to that of a follower, where Mandela argued that those states had been accepted by the international community, therefore, South Africa should follow suit (Youla 2009). From this, under the new Presidency of Zuma, there were hopes that this would signal the shift back to human rights as emphasized in 1994, while Zuma argues that South Africa’s foreign policy remains inspired by Nelson Mandela (Allison 2015). Therefore, it can be argued that human rights do matter. However, it should not only include the human rights of the citizens of South Africa but rather, the human rights of all citizens of the world, as outlined by the idea of normative theory.


Ideology emerges as an important factor in driving South Africa’s foreign policy especially in its history. Here it has been argued that the historical legacies impact relations, where former President F.W. de Klerk explains that South Africa feels an obligation to those states which helped it (Jeppie 1998; Mansour 2012). Mandela supported this argument, where he declared that the past informed his foreign policy regarding the relations held with the states and the contributions they made to South Africa’s struggle (Bishku 2010). In addition to this, Mbeki made a similar statement regarding those states which supported the struggle against apartheid, where he stated that “we owe these countries and peoples a permanent debt of gratitude” (Mbeki 2001, 2). However, problems arise in theory where it has been argued that foreign policies should not have an ideological element as this undermines democracy. While South Africa’s foreign policy since Mandela has not been ideologically neutral the foreign policy of Mbeki had been more ideologically driven (Lipton 2009).

Defense Considerations:

Defense considerations play an important role in South Africa’s engagement and relations with states in the international community. Since 1994, the new democratic South Africa has emphasized negotiations as the solution to conflicts in promoting peace and security (Van Wyk 2004; Snyman 2011; Nqakula 2013). From this, the government has emphasized that dialogue should be promoted. States believe that their security is linked to the security of the international community, where states should be held accountable for their actions. Most important to this factor, which has been maintained since 1994, are Mandela’s policies of disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and arms control, where Mandela “came to be seen as a kind of embodiment of our noblest instincts for making peace” (Connolly 2013). Mbeki followed this approach in his attempts at being involved in negotiations and peace efforts despite their failures.

However, in analyzing defense considerations, it is important to consider the nature of the conflict, where the fight for resources has had a negative impact on the development of the state, which may lead to the resurgence of inter-state conflicts. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (2011b, 18) states in its foreign policy that “rapid industrialization and increasing resource demand by emerging economies are set to fuel potential conflict around access to natural resources”. Moreover, in defense, the principle of sovereignty emerges, where the League of Nations provides that states may not interfere in the domestic affairs of another state. However, when states do not adhere to international law, this sovereignty can be bypassed (Solomon 2001).

Public Participation:

Political considerations bring South Africa’s foreign policy into contestation with regards to its functionality. Here, this paper can consider the factor of public participation in foreign policy where foreign policy is seen as “the collective action taken by the citizens, either through the state or through other collective means, to respond to, and shape public policy beyond the borders of their state” (Nel and Wyk 2003, 51). However, Morgenthau (1973) disagrees with this on the basis that public participation is inherently harmful. Academics support this view where they believe that the public may not be able to make informed decisions. In contrast, since 1994, the government has been seen to be making attempts at providing an inclusive approach to foreign policy, where foreign policy should be communicated between the government and the public, although by 2002, this had not yet been achieved (Nel and Wyk 2003; Hughes 2004; Ogunnubi 2015). This is not to say that advancements have not been made, a South African foreign policy discussion document had been launched in 1996, which encouraged responses from the public. Furthermore, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (2011b, 36) stated in its foreign policy that it would “broaden the use of available technologies and platforms, especially social media networks to communicate with stakeholders on South Africa’s international relations… activities include outreach programs to bring foreign policy to the people”.

Moreover, public participation is essential to foreign policy in that it communicates South Africa’s values and interests to the international community, where citizens are seen as agents of public policy, where domestic policy is instrumental in informing foreign policy. Thus, this paper can argue that South Africa has an outdated approach to foreign policy, where the government believes global structures inform foreign policy. Nonetheless, civil society has played an important role, by providing access to resources such as information, knowledge, technology and international networks important to foreign policy discussions. Important groups in civil society include the ANC Subcommittee on foreign policy as well as COSATU and the PCAS, which “interacts with civil society on matters of policy formulation as well as with ‘international experts’ to ensure policy relevance and efficacy” (Hughes 2004, 7). Think tanks play an important role in this, the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA) (1996) stresses the need for the public to become involved in the foreign policy process. Hlela (2002) argued that during the Mbeki presidency, the business community played an important role in foreign policy. In contrast, businesses are not involved in this process and they acknowledge that this is done solely by the government, although businesses do in fact have an interest in this, where competing interests are seen to play a role in allowing them to promote their interests.

Economics and Trade:

Trade continues to play an increasingly important role in South Africa’s engagement with states in the international community. This relates to South Africa’s commitment to development. Here, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (2011b) has argued that the integration of South Africa’s economy into the world economy has allowed South Africa to benefit from diversification. The importance of trade relations can be understood as the achievement of goals which demands “the implementation of strategies geared to taking maximum advantage of South Africa’s strengths in the global and regional economies. In the global arena, this amounted to securing access to economic resources and arguing for preferential trade and investment/ aid terms” (Youla 2009, 55). In light of this argument, at the foreign affairs Portfolio Committee of Parliament in 1995, former Minister Nzo stated;

 “The promotion of economic development of the Southern African Region is of paramount importance as the economies of the countries in the region are intertwined to such an extent that, for South Africa to believe that it could enter a prosperous future in isolation without taking neighbouring countries with her, would be unrealistic and hazardous” (South African Government, 1995).

On average, South Africa’s total oil consumption since 1994 has increased by 2% per annum, this can be related to the increase in the transportation and mining sectors of the South African economy, leading to an increased dependence on external economies (Wabiri 2011). This dependence on external sources is significant to South Africa in that it imports the largest amount of its oil from the Middle East, which poses numerous risks to South Africa. In South Africa, the petrol price is linked to the price of crude oil in international markets, where stability in the Middle East is necessary to ensure a stable supply of oil at stable prices. Conflict in oil producing states increases the price of oil which becomes detrimental to the development of South Africa. This had been seen in the shock to the terms of trade since 1994, which were “estimated to be as much as -2.7% of GDP, with serious impacts on poverty reduction prospects” (Mbeki 2005). In addition to trade, economics should be included in this discussion where “economic diplomacy is a strategic priority in South Africa’s foreign policy. This sees the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) playing a key role in supporting South Africa’s international economic and commercial engagement” (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung 2014, 25). In addition, the SACOB has an international affairs office which establishes relations with other states on matters of imports, exports and trade policies. By 2009, 49 bilateral investment treaties had been signed but not all were entered into operation (Schlemmer 2016). Here we see the increasing need for South Africa to strengthen these relations through exports and investments. Former deputy Minister Ebrahim (2011, 4) argued that South Africa’s exports to the Middle East “comprises higher value added products, which in turn supports our industrial development and employment objectives”.


In the new democratic government’s reintegration into the international community it had established 124 new diplomatic missions by 1996 and gained membership to 45 international organisations. In line with South Africa’s defense considerations, emphasis has been placed on multilateralism as a means of addressing conflict in the international community. South Africa has been involved in international organisations such as the Commonwealth between 2000 and 2001, the Non-Aligned Movement between 1998 to 2001, the Organisation of the African Union in 2002, the United Nations and the UN Security Council, where it had been elected to a non-permanent seat between 2007 and 2008 as well as between 2011 and 2012. The importance of multilateralism to South Africa emerged with the realization that it could not act in isolation to achieve its goals, thus using these organisations to have an impact in the international community. South Africa therefore used the African Union as a means to do this, where Mbeki played a leading role in the AU. However, it should be noted that this has implications for foreign policy where its formulation should take into account the views of member countries, although most members of the AU share similar views (Fakude 2016a). Moreover, South Africa is argued to have placed a greater emphasis on multilateralism while neglecting bilateral relationships despite the attempts of DIRCO in promoting the national interests through bilateral and multilateral interactions. Thus, bilateral relations should be strengthened by engagements in pursuit of national interests. By 2003, South Africa had 139 foreign representatives in South Africa and there were 177 foreign representatives abroad. Moreover, South Africa has signed numerous treaties although not all have been entered into force, as these treaties are only binding on the South African state if parliament has agreed to the ratification or accession to these agreements. In addition, these treaties must be consistent with the constitution.

Shifts and Changes in Foreign Policy:

From the discussion of the main factors constituting the driving forces behind South Africa’s foreign policy, we are able to note the fundamental shifts and changes in which less emphasis was placed on certain factors. Most notably, Mandela’s foreign policy had been based on South Africa first, while Mbeki’s foreign policy had placed Africa first. With Zuma’s foreign policy however, it becomes difficult to find a pattern in his policies. This becomes evident by 2004 in analyzing South Africa’s identity. Here, this paper can discuss these changes. Mandela focused on re-establishing South Africa into the international community, “to influence world politics, to help ensure the world is more secure, peaceful, democratic, humane” (Youla 2009, 37). Mbeki had a commitment to establishing a new identity, reflecting and exploiting the leverage of South Africa’s new prestige in world politics, placing a greater emphasis on the national interest (Olivier 2006; Jordaan 2008). In more recent times, it can be argued that President Zuma does not have a focused foreign policy, which leads to perceptions that the “government is moving further from the position established by Mandela” (Thipanyane 2011, 5).

South Africa’s Relations with The Middle East

The primary focus of this research paper relates to the topic of South Africa’s relations with the greater Middle Eastern region since 1994, its engagement with the Middle East, and what this engagement has been about. For this section to draw on this, it first considers the relations with the Middle East prior to 1994, under the apartheid regime as this plays a notable role in shaping relations today. From this discussion, this paper is then able to evaluate these relations through a broad analysis of South Africa’s relations with the Middle East and then follow with a discussion on their relations with key states such as; Egypt; Iran; Iraq; Israel-Palestine; Saudi Arabia and Gulf states such as Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates; as well as Syria and Turkey. Included in these evaluations of the relations between these states and South Africa, each will discuss the driving factors of the relations as well as the issues which have occurred in that state, followed by an analysis of South Africa’s position on the issue and how this position may have been influenced.

In fully analyzing South Africa’s relations with the broader Middle Eastern region, this paper cannot neglect the history of these relations as they become imperative to understanding the relations after 1994. This is important because to a large extent these relations formed new ground to the new South African government as the apartheid Government did not have relations with the Middle East. Mills and Baynham (1994, 13) provide an analysis that prior to 1945, South Africa had significant status in both the British Commonwealth and in the League of Nations, where South Africa played an important role in the international community. However, this changed as a result of the policies of the apartheid government towards its citizens. Apartheid South Africa began to see itself faced with sanctions from the international community, where it had to fight destabilization and isolation (Olivier 2006; Youla 2009). With the first democratically elected government in 1994, we begin to see the shift away from a pro-western foreign policy towards the creation of a pragmatic and principled South African foreign policy, where South Africa reemerged into the international community. Therefore, this paper is able to consider South Africa’s relations with the Middle East since 1994.

The above discussion pointed out that prior to 1994, South Africa faced isolation from the international community, while the first democratic elections in 1994 with the African National Congress (ANC) effectively assuming power, saw this global isolation come to an end. South Africa’s foreign policy and position in the international community had been restructured, with states eager to enter into relations with South Africa. This lead to new relations being established between South Africa and the Middle East, where South Africa sought a breakthrough in the Middle East crisis. However, this region had been met with hostility, where it had not been a priority in the minds of some (Jeppie 1998). Former Democratic Alliance leader, Tony Leon, stated that there exists “the danger of importing the problems of the Middle East into South Africa and thereby bringing to the surface this simmering religious and ethnic tensions that emerge whenever the Middle Eastern question is discussed in our country” (Da Costa 2006). In contrast to this, South Africa’s foreign policy declares that’s it “foreign policy in the Middle East will have to take cognizance of changing and complex regional dynamics as well as competing interests of major powers. Political developments in the region continue to have a major impact on the global economy especially with reference to energy price stability and supplies” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011b, 30). Moreover, in support of this, there are groups such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) as well as the South African Communist Party (SACP), who advocate for a higher degree of engagement with the Middle East (Hughes 2004). Thus, the importance of the Middle East to South Africa cannot be underestimated.

As discussed elsewhere in this paper, South Africa places and emphasis on both North-South and South-South Cooperation, this emphasizing the importance of global partnerships (Nqakula 2013). The democratic government of South Africa shares an ideologically important relationship with the Middle East and the Arab world. This relationship had been established through Arab support in the anti-apartheid movement which grew out of shared struggles. A mutual relationship where “Arab State’s provided material and financial backing, as well as military training for ANC fighters… and on many occasions [former President Nelson Mandela visited] several Arab countries after his released from prison to personally give thanks” (Nashashibi 2014). This lead to post-apartheid South Africa establishing relations with the Middle East, in which it would share its experiences in order to move towards establishing peace and security in the Middle East. The most obvious importance that the Middle East has to South Africa is that of its dependence on oil. Although this is true, it cannot be said to be the sole factor on which these relations have been based. Rather, as summed up by former Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ebrahim (2011,5);

 “These regions remain critical to South Africa in terms of our historical connections; our commitment to advance international peace and security; for being a major source of our oil supply; and of course offering significant opportunities for tourism and Foreign Direct Investment attraction, in particular sovereign wealth funds. On top of what we have been doing, we nevertheless need to continue conducting an analysis of our trade and investment engagements in the Middle East and North Africa, and finally develop a more focused and strategic economic approach under the circumstances”

Relations with the Middle East are fundamental to South Africa’s aspirations of a better South Africa for its citizens, where South Africa plans to maintain its presence in the region but has taken an approach based on maintaining relations with states with which it wants to build, both economic and political strategic partnerships (Xolela 2009). This discussion should however consider a negative view of South Africa’s engagement with the Middle East where diplomacy and negotiation form an important aspect of South Africa’s foreign policy. In this, South Africa advocates for the importance of the United Nations (UN) as a body for conflict resolution in the Middle East (Jordaan 2008). However, scholars argue that this engagement has failed to show consistency (Snyman 2011).

This broad discussion of South Africa’s relations with the greater Middle Eastern region has provided an insight which can be used along with the discussion from the first part of this paper, in order to analyze South Africa’s relations with each state. It is in the following sections where this paper explores how a shift can be seen in South Africa’s foreign policy moving away from 1994, emphasizing and being committed to promoting human rights and democracy. While this hasn’t necessarily applied to the Middle East, where democracy has hardly been the dominant political system, we see the move towards economic and trade relations.

It is important to note South Africa’s role in the international community, where it had a middle power status driven by an “inordinate desire, firstly, for orderliness, security and predictability in international relations; and secondly, to perform certain morally inspired “good works” in the international system” (Jordaan 2008, 549). Furthermore, it can be argued that South Africa’s commitment to the Middle East had been driven by the importance of achieving “universal human rights and national self-determination” (Hughes 2004, 163).

South Africa’s Relations with Egypt:

South Africa’s relations with Egypt ended in 1960 and were reestablished in 1994 with the new democratic government of South Africa. Improvements in these relations have been underlined by numerous factors, namely the establishment of embassies in each country as well as the First Annual Joint Bilateral Commission meeting in 1996, where nine sessions had taken place by 2016 with the signing of several agreements. South Africa and Egypt share the commitment to strengthening bilateral relations. This had been seen in 2005 where Mbeki congratulated President Hosni Mubarak on his electoral victory and later in 2008 Mubarak paid his first state visit to South Africa to attend a meeting on strengthening bilateral political, economic and trade relations (Department of Foreign Affairs 2009). President Zuma then visited Egypt in 2010 and in 2015. Furthermore, these states plan to better trade relations with the removal of trade barriers, while Egypt in North Africa is South Africa’s third largest trading partner in the region (Department of Foreign Affairs 2009; Hughes 2004). Included in these trade relations, the South African Revenue Services (2017) provides trade data between South Africa and Egypt, which reflects trade in favour of South Africa. This data shows that exports to Egypt saw a decline between 2010 and 2011 but faced a steady increase from 2012, where exports to Egypt consist mainly of mineral products and machinery, and imports from Egypt in chemicals, mineral products and machinery. It is important to consider the significance of these relations between the two states, which is argued to be from the fact that these states have the largest economies on the continent, whereby it is of strategic importance for these states to cooperate (Mbeki and Mubarak 2008).

Arab Spring:

The Arab Spring began on the 18th of December 2010, as a movement by the citizens against the ruling regime, in demand for basic human rights. The youth played an important role in this where autocratic rule, deprivation, corruption, economic marginality and political exclusion left the youth wanting change (Snyman 2011; Mansour 2012). This conflict poses a threat to the stability of the international community, as was seen when the movement spread to other states in the region. Unfortunately, the Egyptian government retaliated to these protests by using military force. In addition, Egypt as a “close ally of the U.S. in the region, has come under no detailed international media scrutiny for its human rights record or its brand of democracy” (Jeppie 1998, 1).

South Africa’s Position:

In analyzing the relations between South Africa and Egypt, it is important to note the role that human rights have played in this engagement which can be seen through the Arab Spring. As discussed in the first section of this paper, South Africa emphasizes human rights and democracy, where democracy “favours the growth of the state’s internal resources; it extends comforts and develops public spirit [and] strengthens respect for law in the various classes of society” (Nel and Wyk 2003, 52). Moreover, both South Africa and Egypt are members of the African Union, where multilateralism plays an important role between the two states. However, with regards to the Arab Spring, South Africa made little attempts to reach out to Egypt. This can be seen as principles continued from Mandela and Mbeki. “Mandela favoured the promotion of peaceful change by negotiation, without involving the Armed Forces” (Barber 2005, 1085). While Mbeki’s policy saw “non-interference in the domestic affairs of other African states, even in cases of serious transgression of human rights [as] an important strategic and tactical dimension” (Olivier 2006, 179). Under President Zuma, we see a trend of following the international community, where he advocated for the resignation of Mubarak. Former Minister Ebrahim (2011, 8) acknowledged that the causes of the Arab Spring would not easily be resolved and would require efforts from the international community. Despite this, he stated that “we are encouraged by Egypt’s announcement that it will hold parliamentary elections in September 2011 followed by presidential elections in November 2011. South Africa will support the Egyptian people and the government as they continue to lead the country towards a fully-fledged democracy”. Therefore, it can be argued that the Arab Spring provided an opportunity for South Africa to react to its foreign policy goals, which it failed to do.

South Africa’s Relations with Iran:

Historically South Africa and Iran have maintained good relations with one another, with the Iranian government supporting the movement against apartheid in South Africa. Mandela visited Iran in 1992, where he stated that “we are here to thank the Iranian government and nation for their support in the black people’s struggle against apartheid” (Leverett and Leverett 2013). The support that Iran provided to South Africa has been argued by academics to be a driving factor in the relations (Bishku 2010; Ebrahim 2011; Seokolo 2015; Fakude 2016b).

With the new democratic government in 1994, hostile relations between two countries had ended with the removal of trade and economic sanctions. Fundamentally under Mandela, “Iran was desirous of establishing diplomatic relations with South Africa” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2016b). Relations between the two countries had been mutual where Mandela had been dismissive of efforts by states in the international community to persuade him to turn away from Iran. These relations included Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and in 1997, South Africa “discussed selling enrichment expertise from its own nuclear program to Iran” (Fakude 2016b, 4–5). A Joint Commission was established between the two states in 1995 in order to facilitate cooperation, review existing bilateral relations and find ways of improving these relations where South Africa and Iran agreed to meet biannually. This Joint Bilateral Commission with “Iran is the longest running structural bilateral mechanism that South Africa has with any country” (Seokolo 2015, 69).

Additionally, both South Africa and Iran are part of the Non-Aligned Movement. South Africa and Iran, since 1995, have signed 18 agreements between one another. Important to these relations are trade agreements. Relations with Iran can be attributed to Iran’s abundance in resources, namely gas and oil. These trade relations are in favor of Iran as a major exporter of oil to South Africa while South Africa exports sugar to Iran. It is important to note that since 2014, trade has been in favour of South Africa, where South African exports to Iran include iron and steel, machinery, mineral products as well as chemicals, while imports from Iran include mineral products, chemicals, machinery as well as vegetables. However, despite the increase in exports, they have not yet returned to their highest trade amount seen in 2010 of R960 million, where 2016 saw a total of R326 million (South African Revenue Services 2017).

Furthermore, “in 2003, Iran invested R75 Million in a housing project at Atlantis in the Western Cape” (Hughes 2004, 172). Following trade relations, South Africa and Iran share important economic relations where “South Africa has increased business investments across several sectors in Iran. SASOL… made significant investments in Iran and established a joint venture, Ayra SASOL, with the Iranian International Petrochemical company… South African telecommunications giant MTN has large interests in the Iranian market. MTN owns [49%] of Irancell (Fakude 2016b, 5).

Iranian Nuclear Deal:

Since 2003, there have been increasing concerns in the international community over Iran’s nuclear capabilities. This led to economic sanctions being imposed on Iran to pressure the government into abandoning its nuclear aspirations regarding uranium enrichment. These sanctions isolated Iran from the international community which included the ban on Iran’s imports of oil in the European Union. As a result of these sanctions, Iran was forced to enter into negotiations which led to the agreement of the nuclear deal. However, “the deal which the… (P5+1) concluded last year to lift sanctions against Iran in exchange for it disabling its nuclear weapons program has [created fear]… and that the deal has given [Iran] a freer hand not only to continue developing nuclear weapons more clandestinely but also to pursue its other hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East, including through sponsoring proxies in other countries” (Fabricius 2016). In contrast, Iran maintains its position that they have no intentions of developing nuclear weapons, that doing so would be un-Islamic. Furthermore, officials of the Atomic Energy Commission denied that Iran had been interested in purchasing materials and equipment necessary for making nuclear weapons (Jeppie 1998). This has led to the arguments by Iran that there exists ‘nuclear apartheid’ in the world, where some states are allowed nuclear weapons while others are not.

South Africa’s Position on the Nuclear Deal.

From the above, it is important to consider South Africa’s position on the concerns that the international community have about Iran’s nuclear intensions regarding the nuclear deal. Important to this is South Africa’s history in giving up its nuclear weapons with the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (UNIAEA) confirming its destruction of nuclear weapons and South Africa drafted a policy on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In addition to South Africa’s commitment to the NPT, Jordaan (2008, 552) provides an insight to South Africa’s relevance to this where;

 South Africa’s involvement in the crisis stemmed from its occupation of a number of important positions in multilateral institutions concerned with finding a solution to the conflict: non-permanent member of the UNSC (2007–08), member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors, and leader of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to which Iran also belongs.

 However, academics have argued that South Africa has an unnecessary involvement in this conflict which has no credible concerns to South Africa (Xolela 2009). Despite arguments that the region is not important to South Africa, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (2011b, 26) declares;

South Africa remains committed to disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control, as well as being a responsible producer, possessor and trader of advanced nuclear technologies. It supports the inalienable right of nations to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Based on the Pelindaba Treaty, South Africa continues to support Africa as a nuclear weapons free zone.

 It should be noted that South Africa’s involvement in this has not been without challenges. The international community has become increasingly frustrated by South Africa’s position regarding Iran, where this position contrasts with those of its allies. Important to this, is the African Union (AU) where, Fakude (2016a, 2) has argued;

 South Africa’s foreign policy tends to mirror the political positions of the African Union (AU). One key area of divergence, however, is South Africa’s strong relations with Iran. In recent years, South Africa has set itself apart from many other AU members by siding with Iran on key international votes at the United Nations Security Council and within the International Atomic Energy Agency.

 South Africa’s position on Iran has not followed its decades long strategy of neutrality. Rather, it showed its commitment to the global South. Notably, South Africa has maintained its position on Iran, where it defends Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy as outlined by the NPT, where this should apply to all nations rather than prohibiting a few (Mbeki 2008; Jordaan 2008; Nqakula 2013; Leverett and Leverett 2013). However, in this position South Africa has been clear in that it does not condone Iran developing nuclear weapons, and has emphasized the need for Iran to comply with the IAEA. South Africa voted for UN sanctions on Iran but claimed it had done so mistakenly where its intension was to vote against the sanctions (Gulliver 2011). This paper can argue that South Africa’s position on Iran is strategic to achieving its own national interests. Iran is important to South Africa because it provides it with cheap oil, which is essential to South Africa’s development. Moreover, South Africa has an economic interest in Iran through MTN, therefore, these investments would need to be protected. While the sanctions affect South Africa through disrupting Iran’s ability to supply it with oil.

South Africa’s Relations with Iraq:

Relations between South Africa and Iraq where established in August 1998. Later, South African visits to Iraq took place in 1999 and 2001, to discuss bilateral relations. Furthermore, in 2009, trade relations were significant where “South African exports to Iraq came to R1 billion with South Africa importing goods from [Iraq] totaling R1,55 billion” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011b, 321).

Moreover, the South African Revenue Services provides trade data where this paper can note that since 2011, trade has primarily been in favour of South Africa, excluding the periods of 2014 and 2015, which saw greater imports from Iraq. South Africa has been a major exporter of aircrafts and vessels as well as iron and steel to Iraq, while Iraq exports aircrafts, vessels and mineral products to South Africa. However, South African exports to Iraq saw a major decline between 2011 and 2012, while imports from Iraq decreased between 2011 and 2012 as well as in 2015 to 2016.

Iraq War:

The Iraq invasion of 2003 had been undertaken by states in the international community, primarily the United States, based on the argument that Saddam Hussein had been in the process of developing weapons of mass destruction. Thus, the U.S. wanted Hussein to leave Iraq and when he failed to do so by going into hiding, the U.S. began launching missiles on Iraq on 20 March 2003. The U.S. had captured Iraq’s major cities and toppled the regime. It is important to note that during the invasion, no weapons of mass destruction had been found. However, following the collapse of the regime, the state erupted into chaos with government institutions being attacked.

South Africa’s Position:

“Despite [Iraq’s] geographic distance and commercial insignificance to South Africa, the country’s high profile stance on the Iraq war underscored a number of key policy principles and challenges” (Hughes 2004, 177). South Africa placed importance on multilateralism regarding the Iraq war, namely the Non-Aligned Movement, in which Hughes (2004, 177-178) argues;

South Africa’s approach to the Iraqi crisis has been strongly informed by its chairing of the NAM from 1998 until February 2003… South Africa assumed the chair of the AU in July 2002, adding further responsibility to its multilateral commitments, particularly in relation to the strengthening of Afro–Arab relations.

In dealing with the case of Iraq, the NAM (of which Iraq is a member of the 116-strong movement), had adopted a position in strict conformity with UN Security Council resolutions and one that increasingly expressed concern over both the unmandated military activity in Iraq (such as the imposition of ‘no fly zones’) and the humanitarian consequences of comprehensive sanctions.

 Most notably, it was Mandela who spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, openly accusing them of committing a grave mistake (Leverett and Leverett 2013; Nashashibi 2014; Hughes 2004). It was argued that both the U.S. and South Africa wanted Iraqi self-government. Important in South Africa’s position on the Iraq war was its historical experience with weapons of mass destruction, which provided it with the opportunity of assisting Iraq in the destruction of these weapons where “South Africa had been involved in the clearing of 10 million square miles of landmines and unexploded ordnance from previous wars prior to the March 2003 invasion” (Hughes 2004, 177). Of further importance to South Africa’s position was the role of civil society who had been against the invasion.

South Africa’s Relations with Israel – Palestine:

Historically, Israel had close ties to the apartheid government where, “Israel was the most significant arms supplier to that regime throughout the 1980s and served as a lifeline for the apartheid government during a period when Pretoria faced growing international condemnation and heightened domestic unrest” (Leverett and Leverett 2013). Due to these historical ties to the apartheid government, relations with Israel have been complicated. Former Minister Nzo visited Israel in 1995, where a Joint Commission of Cooperation had been established and in 1996 five bilateral agreements had been negotiated. Although both countries maintained embassies, it is important to note that in 2004, the Israeli trade office was closed, showing that there had been no priority to trade with South Africa, while Israel had been South Africa’s largest trading partner in the region. By 1998, trade with Israel had been estimated at $550 million per annum (Jeppie 1998). Trade between the two countries has been in favour of South Africa, with more exports to Israel, in 2009, “South Africa’s exports to Israel totaled R4,804 billion… while imported goods from Israel amounted to R2,105 billion” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011a, 332). Here, South Africa’s exports to Israel consist of precious metals and mineral products, while its imports from Israel are mainly in chemicals and machinery.

In addition to this, Israel has contributed to South Africa’s development through farming projects estimated at R2.5 million (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2013). Despite these trade relations, tension remains between the two countries. In attempts to better these relations Israel “established educational programmes to assist black South Africans” (Hughes 2004, 152), but Mandela would only establish better relations with Israel if they changed their attitude towards Palestinians. However, Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk (2017) argues that relations between the two states have been good which has been reflected by the tourism rates between South Africa and Israel.

Formal relations between South Africa and Palestine had been established in 1995, although strong ties had existed prior to this. These ties emerged with support from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the struggle against the apartheid government. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Nzo visited Palestine in 1995, where a Joint Commission of Cooperation had been established regarding bilateral relations in diplomacy, education and health. Moreover, South Africa established a satellite office in Gaza, while Palestine has an embassy in Pretoria which is directly funded by South Africa. It is through this that South Africa is able to interact with Palestine. “By 2002 South Africa had donated R4 million via the Palestinian embassy to assist civil society and deliver medical aid” (Hughes 2004, 159). In addition, between 2010 and 2014, South Africa had been an exporter to Palestine, primarily in chemicals and prepared foodstuffs, while South Africa only imported vegetables in 2014 pushing trade in favour of Palestine for the 2014 period.

Included in the ties between South Africa and Palestine was the “warmth between Arafat and Mandela that underlie the political link between them” (Connolly 2013). In 2006, President Abbas paid a state visit to South Africa to “consolidate the excellent relations and deep friendship between the peoples of Palestine and South Africa” (Mbeki 2006). With regular contact between the two governments, Mbeki (2006) emphasized these relations by comparing the situation in Palestine to apartheid South Africa where he stated that “for many decades both our people have occupied the same trenches and shared similar experiences and anxieties in our quest for freedom and independence. Naturally the people of South Africa follow events in Palestine passionately because of this close bond of friendship and comradeship”.

Israeli – Palestinian Conflict:

Palestinian territories include the West bank and the Gaza Strip, while Israel controls the rest of the territory and declared itself an independent state in 1948. This has led to the conflict where both sides believe that they are entitled to the whole territory. This conflict has continued for decades despite attempts by the international community to find a solution. More recently in 2003, a roadmap was established which aimed to pave the way towards a viable Palestinian state, however, neither side has fulfilled its commitments laid out in the roadmap. Fundamentally, this aimed to end Israel’s occupation and settlements in Palestinian territories. This conflict has impacted Palestinian self-determination, which continues to fuel the conflict. Moreover, issues between Israel and Palestine have increased further with Egypt’s involvement in flooding tunnels in Gaza.

South Africa’s Position on Israeli – Palestinian Conflict:

From the above discussion of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, this section analyzes South Africa’s position, where the factor of ideology plays a major role in shaping this position which is guided by a principle of ‘even-handedness’ (Jordaan 2008), as well as the importance of public participation and multilateralism. We see the factor of ideology emerging where the Palestinians have enjoyed the support from South Africa through Mandela’s blessing although, it has not been one-sided. Mandela’s “heart lay with the Palestinians as a people but he remembered fondly the many individual members of South Africa’s Jewish community who helped him in is hard early years” (Connolly 2013). Together with ideology, human rights informed this position from South Africa’s foreign policy centered on human rights. In 2005, South Africa sent a mission to Palestine to observe the Presidential elections. Moreover, “peace and security for the Israelis and the Palestinians cannot be achieved without the fulfillment of the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination within their own sovereign state” (Department of Foreign Affairs 2006, 304).

Another factor important to this discussion is the role of public participation with regards to civil society and political parties. In civil society, this is made possible through South Africa’s diverse population including both Jewish and Muslim groups. Here, the Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD), along with the South African Zionist Federation, advocates the Israeli cause opposing anti-Israeli positions. In contrast, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) supports the Palestinian cause and actively speaks out against Israel and South Africa’s relations with Israel. Political parties continue to advocate for the Palestinian cause against Israel. Important groups in this include the ANC Youth League and COSATU, where the former president of COSATU, Madisha, led a march requesting the Israeli ambassador to return to Israel and for the South African government to impose sanctions on Israel and cut ties with the country (Da Costa 2006). In opposition to this, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has been seen to side with Israel, where former leader Leon criticized COSATU for these requests and accused South Africa’s media of being biased in favour of Palestine. This had been supported by Ambassador Lenk (2017), who argues that South Africa’s media towards Israel can be seen as biased in favour of Palestine, although different areas portray different views, in this, Pretoria’s newspapers generally support positive relations whilst other news sources publish primarily negative relations between the two states. However, “the degree to which [these positions]… informs government policy is impossible to measure” (Hughes 2004, 164).

Finally, this paper considers how diplomacy and multilateral systems impact South Africa’s position, where the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (2016a, 292) has declared;

 The South African Government continues to play a role on its own, through the AU and with other partners internationally to advance peaceful negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis aimed at encouraging both sides to partake in direct talks that will lead to a permanent resolution of that conflict.

 Furthermore, South Africa’s leading role in the NAM shows its commitment to multilateralism, where the NAM is critical of Israel, with South Africa using this to express its solidarity with Palestine. However, this emphasis is distinct from South Africa’s foreign policy on bilateral relations. While BRICS countries are generally more sympathetic towards Palestine, South Africa should be open to a foreign policy based on trade and the development of the state, where the foreign policy doesn’t necessarily need to be based on friendships with states (Lenk 2017)

From the above discussion, it is important to note that South Africa has remained committed to its continued position on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. “South Africa supports international efforts aimed at the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, existing side by side in peace with Israel within internationally recognized borders, based on those existing on 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2016a, 292–93). Thus, South Africa supports a two-state solution, where the Palestinian people are able to achieve freedom and independence, with the end to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. In line with its position on the conflict, South Africa has and aspires to play a greater role in finding a solution to the conflict.

South Africa’s Relations with Saudi Arabia and Gulf States:

Formal relations between South Africa and Saudi Arabia were established in November 1994. Later in 1999, a Joint Commission had been established regarding bilateral political and economic relations, specifically focused on trade and investment where seven meetings have taken place to date. In considering trade as the driver of relations between South Africa and Saudi Arabia, these relations date back to 1994 where “prior to this, trade with Saudi Arabia was conducted through third countries by the South African Muslim population” (Hughes 2004, 173). These trade relations have been based on crude oil, where Saudi Arabia is South Africa’s second largest trading partner in the region with crude oil imports constituting an average of 52% of its total imports. “Total trade with Saudi Arabia in 2009 amounted to R29,152 billion, of which imports from that county were R26,651 billion while South African exports were R2,502 billion” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011a, 320). Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is “useful for buying our arms… Apart from arms, it seems that South Africa is unable to supply its partners with much else of similar value” (Jeppie 1998). These arms included Denel’s G6s, which took eight years for Saudi Arabia to purchase. Furthermore, trade relations have fundamentally been in favour of Saudi Arabia, where South Africa has relied on importing mineral products while only exporting vegetables, iron and steel to Saudi Arabia.

State visits to Saudi Arabia are common in securing interests. South Africa saw Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner with common membership in the G20. Saudi Arabia in the past has had good relations with the ANC government and Mandela. More recently, under Zuma, relations saw an expansion in 2016 with a state visit resulting in trade and investment agreements between the two states. Included in these relations under Zuma, “the two countries have agreed to work to ensure closer bilateral intelligence cooperation, in particular in relation to the regional terrorism threat to domestic and regional security and stability” (SA News 2016).

South Africa’s foreign policy towards the gulf states is substantially orientated towards the projection, development and strengthening of the country’s commercial and economic interests. This section will consider the Gulf States of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, with regards to their relations with South Africa and the factors that drive these relations such as trade, development and multilateralism, where trade with the Gulf states has remained an important factor as argued by Hughes (2004, 168);

 Trade between South Africa and the region exceeds R35 billion, accounting for some 7.5% of the country’s total international trade. South Africa runs a vast trade deficit with the region, however, due to its petroleum imports. The South African arms manufacturer Denel (and previously Armscor) had successfully sold self-propelled howitzer guns to the Gulf states, even prior to 1994.

 South Africa’s foreign policy emphasizes the importance of relations which will create development, this is made possible through this region where South Africa’s foreign policy, as outlined by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (2011b, 31) advocates that;

 The growing population and oil wealth offer South Africa opportunities, particularly in agro-processing, construction and civil engineering, engineering technologies in gas to liquid energy production, and its advanced service sector. South Africa should continue to source investments from the Gulf region’s Sovereign Wealth Funds as well as private investors, including in support of continental initiatives such as NEPAD projects.

 Furthermore, relations with the Gulf are maintained through multilateral systems such as the Non-Aligned Movement, with Gulf states as members and South Africa playing a leading role.

South Africa and Kuwait established relations in 1995, later by 1998 both countries had established embassies followed by a Bilateral Consultation agreement in 2000. During a ceremony, Mbeki (2008) mentioned that relations between the two countries should be strengthened, but that no tensions exist between them. Important to their relations is trade, which favours Kuwait as a supplier of fuel to South Africa. However, in 2009, South Africa’s exports amounted to R839 million, while its imports were only R197 million (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011a, 320). Furthermore, relations between South Africa and Kuwait have remained relatively beneficial for both states, where trade had been in favour of Kuwait for the periods of 2010, 2014 and 2015, where as it had been in favour of South Africa for the periods of 2011, 2012, 2013 as well as 2016. South Africa exports mainly vegetables, iron and steel, while it imports mineral products and chemicals from Kuwait.

Moreover, Kuwait contributes significantly to the development of South Africa through a soft loan and its investments on the JSE as well as in investments in construction and development (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2010).

Relations between South Africa and Oman were established in 1995 with the signing of bilateral agreements, primarily in cooperation regarding defense. Trade relations remain important, where South Africa aims to expand trade and investment with Oman following trade in 2009 where South Africa’s imports totaled R1 billion while its exports were R246 million (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011a). In addition, trade relations have been in favour of Oman where South Africa has shown reliance on importing its mineral products.

Relations between South Africa and Qatar were established in 1994 where both countries later opened embassies in 2003 and bilateral relations exist between the two. South Africa has engaged in continuous attempts to improve relations with Qatar. This had been undertaken by Mbeki in 2008, while in 2009 bilateral consultations were held. Moreover, in 2016, “President Zuma… [visited] Qatar to strengthen and elevate bilateral relations… and critical aspects related to global and regional security and stability” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2016a, 291–92). Trade relations between the two countries are important in that the “natural gas and oil rich state of Qatar holds substantial economic significance for South Africa. Sasol Synfuels has concluded an US$800 million agreement with Qatar for the construction of gas-to-liquids plant in which Sasol holds a 49% share” (Hughes 2004, 176). Trade relations have favoured Qatar where in 2009, South Africa imported a total of R772 million while only exporting a total of R224 million (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011a). Trade relations between South Africa and Qatar consist of South African exports in machinery, vegetables, chemicals, aircrafts and vessels, iron and steel as well as mineral products, while imports to South Africa consist of chemicals and mineral products. In addition to these trade relations, Qatar supports South Africa’s development as seen through its relations with Sasol.

Formal relations between South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were established in 1995 along with bilateral agreements which provide the framework for cooperation. Trade relations between the two countries include those in which “South Africa remains an important source of goods for the [UAE]. We export Metals [and] Base Metals, Aluminum, Fresh Produce, Diamonds, Construction Related Materials, Machinery, Mechanical Appliances and Prepared Foodstuffs to the UAE. Our trade is valued at $3 billion (approximately R30 billion)” (Department of Trade and Investment 2017). Thus, it can be argued that South Africa and the UAE enjoy mutual trade relations, although trade tends to be beneficial towards South Africa despite the fact that South Africa spends a large portion of its trade with the UAE on mineral products.

Moreover, we see the advancement of development through the high number of South Africans working in the UAE. Furthermore, South Africa participated in the Defense Exhibition, held in Dubai in February 2005, which included the South African-manufactured Rooivalk combat helicopter (Department of Foreign Affairs 2006).

Women’s Rights:

Most important in this region of the Middle East is the factor of human rights, particularly the Western narrative of women’s rights and democracy. Therefore, this paper notes various cases where until recently these rights had not been protected. Here, the principle of human rights includes democracy. This becomes important in both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In 2005, Qatar saw its first written constitution come into effect, this following a conference on human rights in 2004. Furthermore, prior to 2006, the formation of trade unions in the UAE had been prohibited. However, the notion of human rights should be evaluated through cases in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) in Article 4 states that no person “shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery… shall be prohibited in all forms”. Qatar however, is believed to have modern slavery and forced labour. This has been due to the demand for cheap labour to build infrastructure needed for the FIFA 2022 world cup. A study by the Global Slavery Index (2017) has estimated that 30 300 people are currently living in modern slavery in Qatar.

Furthermore, women’s rights play an important role in human rights, where until 2009, women in Kuwait were not allowed to obtain passports as set out by a law in 1962 which required women to have their husband’s permission in order to apply for a passport. This undermined women’s right to free will. Although it is argued that this law had only applied to married women, where it states in “Article 15 of the Passport Law 11/1962, a married Kuwaiti woman cannot apply for a passport without the written approval of her husband, but an unmarried woman over 21 years of age can directly obtain her passport” (Nazir and Tomppert 2005, 129).

Finally, the topic of woman’s rights is important to this discussion, where Saudi Arabia’s following of Wahhabism as a version of Sunni Islam has impacted on gender based discrimination in Saudi Arabia’s state practices. Thus, women’s rights have been limited in various ways through legal restrictions on their everyday lives, where the law does not provide equality to women, where women “do not enjoy the full benefits of citizenship or legal adulthood” (Nazir and Tomppert 2005, 258). Furthermore, the movement of women has been restricted in that they should be accompanied by their husband or a close male relative when leaving their neighborhood, they should not use public transport and they have been prohibited from driving. It is important to note that these restrictions have been argued to be necessary to ensure the protection of women. Despite this, it is not to say that in recent times there have not been advancements to this although, “the major fault line in the Saudi body polity is the regime’s approach to threat the country as uniform despite the diverse regional, tribal, cultural and sectorial diversity. Calls for the reform of the system have been met with suppression and repression” (Seokolo 2015, 71).

South Africa’s Position:

In considering South Africa’s position on human rights in the region, it is important to note that South Africa’s relations with these states have not been impacted by their stances on human rights despite South Africa’s foreign policy being committed to human rights. Rather, “South Africa constructed itself as a friend to all and an enemy to none, a state willing to consult and co-operate with others… it recognized all states irrespective of its ideological stances” (Van Wyk 2004, 106). However, this is not to say that South Africa has not had a position on women’s rights, despite its failure to provide statements or criticisms on particular cases mentioned above. Both South Africa and Saudi Arabia are members to the G20, which established the Women 20 (W20) in 2015 as an outreach engagement with the aim of addressing gender inequalities, with South Africa participating in the W20 in 2016. Moreover, Deputy Minister Mfeketo (2016) stated that South Africa’s “collective actions to promote gender equality and women empowerment continues, and is not limited… to our borders”.

South Africa’s Relations with Syria:

Formal relations between South Africa and Syria were established in June 1994, with the Syrian embassy in Pretoria opening in 1998. Since the establishment of these relations, an emphasis has been placed on further strengthening both political as well as economic and trade relations. This has been undertaken since 1999 and in 2010, deputy President “Motlanthe paid a working visit to Syria… [where] an agreement on economic and trade cooperation was signed” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011a, 321). In addition, relations were strengthened further in 2015 where bilateral relations and the Protocol on Cooperation between the two states were renewed for another five years, with both states holding diplomatic missions in one another’s states (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2016a). Thus, this paper should note the trade relations between the two states. “In 2009, South African exports to Syria totaled R63 million and South Africa imported goods to the value of R3,3 million from Syria” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2011a, 321). In bilateral trade data provided by the South African Revenue Services (2017), trade between South Africa and Syria had been in favour of South Africa. Since 2009, South Africa’s lowest exports to Syria had been in 2013 amounting to R13 million, while in 2014, we see a significant increase in exports of approximately 818% with exports amounting to R118,9 million. In contrast, imports had seen a decrease from R2,5 million to R1,3 million for 2013 and 2014. Since 2012, South Africa’s main export has been prepared foodstuffs, which plays a major role due to the ongoing civil war in Syria since 2011.

Syrian Civil War:

What began as peaceful protests in 2011, soon turned into a violent civil war. “The protests started after two Arab dictators, in Tunisia and Egypt, had already stepped down amid pro-democracy demonstrations in their countries” (Gilsinan 2015). In March 2011, teenagers were arrested and tortured after they painted revolutionary slogans on school walls in support of the Arab Spring, while one of the students had been killed. This resulted in the rise of pro-democracy protests in Syria. It has been argued that President Bashar al- Assad responded to these protests by releasing some political prisoners (Gilsinan 2015). However, government responses to these protests included the use of force where security forces opened fire on protestors and arrested others. This led to increased unrest, where protestors demanded that Assad step down as president, this had been supported by a large number of the Syrian population. The use of force by the government caused opposition groups to arm themselves, where we see the emergence of various opposition groups including the Free Syrian Army in 2011. This violence led to the civil war. Rebel groups increased in numbers, with the goal to overthrow Assad’s regime. “In Syria, a relatively modern and educated society, multi-sectarian and tolerant, but ruled as a secular police state by the iron hand of minority Shia Alawites, the Arab Spring’s contagion had propelled massive non-violent protests that initially destabilized the regime” (Kinsman 2016, 2). It can be argued that the rise of rebel groups has played a role in the continuation of Syria’s civil war. Moreover, together with the government, these parties to the civil war have created devastating effects for the Syrian state.

South Africa’s Position:

In considering South Africa’s position on the Syrian civil war it is important to note the prior to the civil war, Syria had an interest in buying arms from Denel. However, South Africa had been against this. In support of the South African position on this is the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) which maintains that “arms should not be sold to countries where they could contribute to internal repression or violate human rights” (Bishku 2010, 168). From this, the notion of sovereignty plays an important role, where Lipton (2009, 332-333) provides the argument that;

 South Africa strongly supports state sovereignty and multilateralism, urging that external interventions in sovereign states only be undertaken under the aegis of the UN or regional organisations such as the AU or SADC. South Africa also strongly advocates the use of non-violence and diplomacy to resolve interstate disputes, rather than armed force or even measures such as sanctions.

However, in contrast with the above argument, it should be noted that although the domestic occurrences within a state are the responsibility of the state, “the non-interference principle is used as a legal pretext to ignore serious human rights abuses in countries concerned and [affords] them untouchable status” (Olivier 2006, 179). It is in line with this that scholars believe that South Africa should not be involved or concerned with the occurrences in Syria. As cited in Powell (2013), Tom Wheeler from SAIIA has argued that South Africa has remained quiet over the Syrian issue because it is not an area of concern.

Nonetheless, South Africa’s position on the civil war in Syria has reaffirmed South Africa’s position in the international community as a ‘follower’. Here we see the role of BRICS, where South Africa’s alignment with both Russia and China has impacted on its position. In a speech given on South Africa’s foreign policy, President Zuma argued that;

 “To achieve lasting peace in Syria, the international community must reject all calls for regime change in that country. The international community must not support external military interference or any action in Syria that is not in line with the charter of the United Nations. Support for non-state actors and terrorist organisations that seek to effect a regime change in Syria is unacceptable” (Allison 2015).

 This position can be argued to be due to South Africa’s concern of the role of western states involved in the conflict who advocate for regime change. This can further be argued to have stemmed from South Africa’s history regarding its position on Libya, where many states felt betrayed by western powers. From this, South Africa has been cautious in voting on UNSC Resolutions regarding Syria. In 2011, South Africa abstained from UNSC votes on Syria, but in 2012, South Africa voted in favour of sending UN observers to Syria as outlined in UNSCR 2042 (Mansour 2012). Thereby, South Africa’s position regarding Syria had been one which emphasized the importance of finding a solution through dialogue, where it has maintained that all parties to the conflict in Syria should respect human rights in finding a political settlement. Thus, South Africa does not support the occurrences in Syria, where Powell (2013) has declared that;

 South Africa does not believe that bombing the already suffering people and crumbling infrastructure of Syria will contribute to a sustainable solution… The U.N. Security Council cannot and must not be used to authorize military intervention aimed at regime change. A regime change agenda through outside military intervention undermines any hope of sustainable all-inclusive political solution.

In addition, South Africa believes that new governance models can be established in Syria, where Syrians should be able to effectively exercise their freedoms. However, this should be achieved by Syrians, without the interference from the international community (Ebrahim 2011).

South Africa’s Relations with Turkey:

Important to the establishment of relations between South Africa and Turkey has been through Turkey’s support in the struggle to end apartheid, full diplomatic relations had been established in 1992, with embassies held in both states. Here, South Africa’s emphasis on “South-South cooperation includes strengthening the political, social and economic linkages with partners in the developing world, especially emerging powers like… Turkey” (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung 2014, 17). However, Turkish Ambassador to South Africa Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen (2017) argues that there should be some criticism regarding these relations, where more emphasis should be placed on taking care of one another, although this can be affected by the geographic distance between the two states and the fact that South Africa places more of an emphasis on the African continent while sharing more interests with the BRICS countries. However, this is not to say that South Africa and Turkey have neglected their relations.

This becomes important in that Turkey has one of the largest economies in the international community and is important to South Africa due to their growing economic relations. South Africa and Turkey have enjoyed trade relations with one another with trade favouring both sides. In bilateral trade data provided by the South African Revenue Services (2017), the difference in trade values since 2011 has not exceeded R600 million, except for the period of 2012, which saw the largest trade difference of R1,214 billion. Here, South Africa’s major exports to Turkey have been in mineral products as well as iron and steel, while imports from Turkey have been in machinery, vehicles, aircraft and vessels.

Included in these relations are agreements which have been established between the two states. In 2003, agreements had been signed on trade and economic cooperation, where this is believed to “contribute to continued growth in trade, and economic and investment relations” (Department of Foreign Affairs 2006, 328). In addition, in 2008 a Joint Economic Commission had been established to facilitate cooperation between the two states. In 2009, a platform for the enhancement of political relations had been established (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2010). While in 2010, the two states had signed an important agreement establishing a binational commission. Finally, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (2011a, 329) has provided that;

 In May 2010, Deputy President Motlanthe undertook an official visit to the Republic of Turkey at the invitation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan. South Africa and Turkey share common platforms in key multilateral institutions, including as members of the G20 and Executive Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency… The visit also focused on expanding and consolidating of political and economic relations, promoting the Government’s key priorities, the African Agenda, multilateral issues, including UNSC issues, the Middle East Peace Process, climate change and the G20.

 Therefore, it can be argued that political and trade relations are important factors in future relations between the two states in that there exists a high potential from an economic perspective. However, more needs to be done to improve these relations where there currently exists no free trade agreements, while the relationship can be criticized in terms of the expected frequency of the bilateral high level state visits.

Increased Terrorism:

The fundamental issue seen in Turkey has been the rise of terrorist attacks since 2015, with several terrorist groups active. However, important to this has been the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and the Islamic State (IS), where devastating attacks have taken place in, but not been limited to, Ankara as well as Istanbul. The PKK consists of Kurdish nationals living in Turkey, while other Kurdish nationals live in Syria, Iran and Iraq. The Kurds have been denied their decades long struggle to achieve statehood, with the PKK in Turkey fighting for greater political and cultural rights, while it has accused the Turkish government of not protecting Kurdish civilians (Council on Foreign Relations 2017). Thus, there have been heightened tensions between Turkey and the PKK, which has been considered a terrorist organisation by members of the international community. Despite attempts at a ceasefire, this fell apart in 2015 following a bombing in Suruc.

From the above, it can be argued that Turkey faces increased terrorist attacks as a response from these groups where Turkey “launched a military incursion into neighboring Syria to clear Islamic State (IS) terrorist militia fighters from its border. Turkey has also stepped up its campaign against Kurdish militants” (Bilen 2017). Thus, both the PKK and the IS pose a threat to the Turkish state, where the image below illustrates the various attacks which have taken place in Turkey as well as the number of civilians killed as a result.


Image by Almukhtar et al. 2017.


South Africa’s Position:

The South African government has defined terrorism as “an incident of violence, or the threat thereof, against a person, a group of persons or property not necessarily related to the aim of the incident, to coerce a government or civil population to act or not to act according to certain principles” (Masuku 2002, 2). From this, South Africa’s position regarding terrorism has been clear as seen in a statement given by President Zuma which reiterated this point in that;

 “Terrorism in any form and from whichever quarter constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and any acts of terrorism are criminal, unjustifiable and cannot be condoned. To this end, South Africa wishes to reiterate its commitment to international initiatives aimed at fighting the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism” (Department of International Relations and Cooperation 2016c).

 Thus, it can be argued that the South African government places an emphasis on preventing terror attacks, protecting civilians against terror attacks and cooperating with the international community regarding terrorism, with the aim of strengthening relations with Turkey in the aims of creating a better world (Malefane 2016). In addition to this, South Africa is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and has agreed to the Declaration on Preventing and Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism which had been established in 2017.

However, terrorism in Turkey has not been a priority in South Africa which can be attributed to various factors, namely the geographic distance between the two states and the fact that South Africa has not been exposed to these terrorist attacks. Moreover, a problem arises in that South Africa’s major news sources do not provide accurate detailed coverage of the events which take place in Turkey and often they rely on western dominated news sources. Although, it should be noted that South Africa cannot base its foreign policy or relations with Turkey solely on fighting terrorism (Ülgen 2017). While no state can free itself from terrorism, states should not neglect the security of its individuals and therefore, should be taking active measures to fight terrorism in the international community in its commitment to peace and security.

In conclusion, this paper has provided an analysis of South Africa’s relations with key states in the Middle East since 1994. In these relations, it was discussed that South Africa’s foreign policy had been informed by its domestic policy and that it establishes relations in order to advance the development of the South African state. Included in these discussions were the drivers of South Africa’s relations. These drivers were i) human rights, ii) ideology, iii) defense considerations, iv) public participation, v) economics and trade, as well as, vi) diplomacy. It should be noted that while all factors can be applied to each state, specific factors have been emphasized in certain relations.

Firstly, human rights inform relations as a main principle of South Africa’s foreign policy, emphasized since 1994. To illustrate this, the relations between South Africa and Egypt were discussed, followed by a discussion of South Africa’s position on the Arab spring. Secondly, ideology has played a role in driving South Africa’s relations with states such as Iran, where a history of support has led to South Africa supporting and defending Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Thirdly, South Africa has emphasized the importance of establishing peace and security in the international community, where the role of defense considerations was discussed, analyzing South Africa’s relations with Iraq in its position on the 2003 invasion as well as, more recently, South Africa’s relations with Turkey regarding the increase in terrorist attacks since 2015. Fourth, the case of Israel and Palestine has been examined, finding that South Africa has a large participation rate from the public as well as civil society groups in their attempts to influence policies towards both Israel and Palestine. Fifth, economics and trade has been fundamental in driving South Africa’s relations with the Middle East, where trade relations were analyzed with each state included in this paper. Finally, the factor of diplomacy became important in analyzing South Africa’s relations with Syria, where it became evident that South Africa has guided its relations and taken a position closely tied to BRICS members, while it has been involved with multilateral institutions. 


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A SATAC Member’s Paper – Copyright Natasha Agrizzi – May only be quoted from with full accreditation.

Visits: 912


Director of SATAC. Director of Grudko Associates. SASA, IPA, ACFE, AFIO, WAD (Governor for Africa).

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