July 3, 2024 | Policy Brief

New South African Government Likely to Continue Anti-Israel, Anti-U.S. Policies 

July 3, 2024 | Policy Brief

New South African Government Likely to Continue Anti-Israel, Anti-U.S. Policies 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the formation of a coalition government on Sunday. Given the dominant position of his African National Congress (ANC), the government is poised to continue Pretoria’s anti-Israel and anti-American policies despite the new governing coalition’s inclusion of a party with a more positive stance toward Israel. 

Under Ramaphosa, South Africa has bolstered ties with Iran, Russia, and China, including both defense and economic cooperation. Likewise, Pretoria’s anti-Americanism has been palpable. Outgoing Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor declared in May that the United States will be the next target for the International Criminal Court because of its support for Israel.  

Also in May, Ramaphosa’s ANC — once the party of Nelson Mandela — had its worst electoral performance since the end of apartheid. From an apex of nearly 70 percent in 2004, the ANC received barely 40 percent in the May 29 vote. Widespread ANC corruption, high unemployment rates, pervasive poverty, soaring crime rates, and deficient government services have led to this decline.  

The new government coalition will comprise the ANC, which will control 20 of the cabinet’s 32 ministerial positions; the Democratic Alliance (DA), which will have six seats; and nine smaller parties, which will help dilute the DA’s influence. The DA’s Israel-friendly policy reflects a popular viewpoint among South Africans. However, given which cabinet posts it holds, the DA will have limited sway over foreign affairs. 

Pandor will step down as foreign minister, but her replacement, ANC Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola, is no less hostile toward Israel. On October 7, the day of Hamas’s murderous rampage in southern Israel, Pretoria’s foreign ministry blamed Israel for the outbreak of violence. Ten days later, Pandor spoke with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to discuss how to deliver aid to the Hamas-controlled enclave but did not reach out to Israel. On March 10, Pandor vowed to arrest South African citizens who have served in the Israeli military.  

During Lamola’s tenure as justice minister, Pretoria brought a case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last December, falsely accusing Israel of committing genocide and requesting a halt to Israel’s operations to counter Hamas. At the ICJ, Lamola falsely blamed Israel for the Hamas massacre, saying, “The violence and the destruction in Palestine did not begin on October 7, they have experienced violence for the last 76 years,” disregarding persistent Palestinian efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and declining to negotiate peace agreements since the Oslo Accords.   

The inclusion of the small Al Jama-ah party in the new government and the allotment to it of a deputy ministerial post also indicates that Pretoria will continue along its anti-Israel path. On its website, the Muslim political party wrote, “Al Jama-ah invited Hamas and other resistance fightrs [sic] to Parliament.” Al Jama-ah has made opposing Israel a key component of its vision and declared that implementing this opposition was a central motivator for joining the coalition.  

Some in Washington have suggested that pushing back on South Africa’s policies that are anathema to U.S. interests could push Pretoria into China, Russia, and Iran’s hands. However, Pretoria’s ties to these adversaries are already substantial. The Pentagon should carefully and transparently assess South Africa’s defense cooperation with Beijing, Tehran, and Moscow, ensuring those activities do not undermine U.S. national security interests. There should be consequences, not rewards, for threatening U.S. security.  

Congress and the administration should have candid conversations with Pretoria about its support of Iran and Iran-backed proxies’ activities, including Hamas’s visible presence in the country. South Africa is currently on the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which sets global anti-money laundering and anti-terror finance standards. Washington should insist that FATF maintain Pretoria on the grey list until it takes tangible measures to prevent Hamas from exploiting South Africa as a financial haven, including rescinding its memoranda of understanding with Hamas and closing bank accounts associated with Hamas-linked “charities.” 

David May is a research manager and senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Toby Dershowitz is the managing director of FDD Action. For more analysis from the authors and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow David and Toby on X @DavidSamuelMay and @TobyDersh. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy. 

Issues:

China International Organizations Iran Israel Lawfare Palestinian Politics Russia Sanctions and Illicit Finance