U.S.- South Africa Relations: The View From WashingtonLinda Thomas-Greenfield, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Remarks to the University of Oklahoma
September 14, 2006
Fifteen months ago, President Mbeki met with President Bush in Washington and the two pledged to deepen our close bonds of cooperation and our shared values of peace and prosperity. Their joint statement, issued after the meeting, outlined specific areas in which they intended to improve cooperation. This statement has provided a road map for the bilateral relationship, to guide our areas of endeavor. Looking back over the accomplishments of the past year, I'm happy to say that the bilateral relationship between the United States and South Africa is the best it's ever been.
From the point of view of those of us who have worked on South Africa for a long time, it is extraordinary that this meeting between the two presidents even took place and that they found common ground in so many areas. When we think back to the tumultuous early nineties, it was far from clear that South Africa would emerge from apartheid without open civil war. Having overcome the apartheid regime, the black majority was in danger of being torn apart by ethnic power struggles. The U.S. was perceived as a latecomer in supporting the ANC and not the friend that the Soviet Union and its client states had been.
With great moral leadership and sound economic policies, South Africa emerged as the powerhouse of the continent. The U.S. considers it to be, along with Nigeria , one of our two strategic partners in Africa . Old attitudes about the U.S. are giving way to the reality of the need to cooperate on intractable regional conflicts, rampant HIV/AIDS infections rates and the threat of terrorism.
The joint statement by Presidents Bush and Mbeki outlines three broad areas for active engagement— spreading economic growth and well-being; building peace and security; and expanding democracy and freedom.
By far the most serious threat to South Africa 's well-being is HIV/AIDS. Our most significant assistance to South Africa is provided through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The USG has committed about $237 million in the past two years. We are currently working with an FY06 budget of $221 million and the request for next year is $330 million. As a result of our efforts, approximately 130,000 people are on ARV therapy through programs in all provinces; over 75,000 pregnant HIV-infected women have received transmission prevention treatment and another 450,000 have benefited indirectly from our support of transmission prevention programs. Finally, 375,000 South Africans have received palliative and/or tuberculosis care under PEPFAR- supported programs.
You are of course aware of the mounting criticism South Africa 's HIV/AIDS policies and the controversy sounding the display booth at the Toronto conference. You may be wondering how we manage to accomplish so much with a government that seems to downplay anti-retroviral therapy. The reality is that we have a productive relationship with the Department of Health. Behind the rhetoric are government people determined to make progress in fighting HIV/AIDS. A key factor has been the PEPFAR approach – entering into partnerships with the many organizations that are providing the services on the ground. Indeed, a few months ago President Mbeki thanked a U.S. congressman for PEPFAR assistance, specifically for the way the program has been executed emphasizing those partnerships.
In our efforts to build peace and security on the continent we have a steadfast partner in South Africa . A beacon of reconciliation, South Africa has much to offer the region, and the world, in terms of its experience in coming to terms with a violent past and turbulent change. Its most significant success has been in Burundi , but it has been actively engaged in Sudan , Cote d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has troops deployed in all these conflict zones—1,100 in DRC; 900 in Burundi ; 400 in Sudan ; and 30 in Cote d'Ivoire . In addition, South Africa provided the millions of ballots needed for the Congo elections and bore the considerable expense of printing and airlifting them there. Outside the continent, South Africa has been helpful in our efforts to bring stability to Haiti by providing an exile location for former president Bertrand Aristide.
The U.S. Government seeks to expand African countries' peacekeeping abilities through our African Contingency Operations Training Assistance program. South Africa became a partner in this program approximately one year ago. It is truly a partnership as South Africa has provided significant input on the types of training that would be appropriate for them. For example, they proposed riverine training—many potential African hotspots have riverine environments and South Africa , with no navigable rivers has no brown water naval capability. Another area they are concerned about is the environmental impact of troop deployments and we are looking into ways of incorporating that kind of training.
For several years now, South Africa has been ineligible for foreign military financing and military training assistance for lack of an Article 98 agreement, under which each country would agree not to surrender the other's nationals to the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, the military-to military relationship has grown stronger. In June we held a highly successful bilateral Defense Committee meeting at West Point . The results of that conference indicate that we are working collaboratively in a number of areas including research, education and treatment of HIV/AIDS, military education, preparations for the 2010 World Cup, and wide array of military visits and exercises.
Lastly, in the area of expanding democracy and freedom, both governments remain concerned about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe and we consult regularly about efforts to effect economic and political reform. This past year the USG coordinated with our South African government counterparts on collaboration with the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization to provide food and other humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe . The US contributed $102 million in food commodities and the South African Government donated Rand 140 million to the WFP to stem the food crisis. Through our small grants program we are assisting Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa with torture counseling and income generation.
We are excited about the possibilities of a new program, the Women's Justice and Empowerment Initiative, which will provide $21.9 million to four countries including South Africa . The purpose is to expand South Africa 's Thuthuzela (too-too-ZAY-la) centers dealing with victims of violent sexual crimes. These centers take a holistic approach, working with the victims to provide not just counseling and health services, but also legal advocates who provide liaison between the victims and the courts to ensure that the cases are handled expediently and appropriately. The plan is to increase the number of these centers in South Africa and to adapt the approach to Zambia , Ghana and Kenya .
Finally, the Joint Statement specifically requires our governments to undertake high-level consultations in the area of multilateral human rights. This requirement is particularly important in the light of the creation of the new UN Human Rights Council, which South Africa has joined. The first consultations were held in November 2005 and the second round took place last week on September 7 in Pretoria. These talks have been highly productive.
These are some of the highlights of what has become a robustly productive relationship. What then, are the difficulties? To fully understand the complexities of the relationship, I think we have to return to the historical context. The legacy of the Soviet Union is still present and thus the government is inclined to favor close ties to the Non-Aligned Movement countries. There is marked sympathy toward countries that assert their independence from the West. For example, the government has publicly stated its support to Iran 's right to a peaceful nuclear power program. South Africa has consistently voted against any country-specific resolutions on human rights issues. Indeed, their overall UN voting coincidence with the US is very low. (If asked, 11 percent).
These are the very issues that we engage on in consultations such as the human rights dialogue. I am hopeful for the future because we have accomplished so much already from our difficult start in 1994. In the meantime, we are working hard at hammering out our differences. Our two countries have too much at stake to do otherwise.