Post-democracy, South Africa and the United States have not always agreed, in fact they have never really been on the same team – not at the United Nations anyway.
However, there can be no doubt as to the mutual respect that has existed between the two countries. There is, and probably always has been, an acknowledgement from the United States that South Africa remains a key strategic partner, if any of its goals for the African continent are to be achieved.
The reality is that South Africa and the United States have shared goals for Africa. Ruining that relationship simply won’t make sense, for either party. The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States will not change that much, although some of the priorities might shift. A few rands and dollars will be moved around, some withheld altogether. But that is the extent of it.
One thing that Trump has made painstakingly clear throughout his campaign to become President of the United States and after his election, is that he will encourage countries and regions around the world to take more responsibility for their security affairs. In some cases he will probably force it to happen.
The United States’ goal has actually always been to help South Africa bolster its security force, with the view to making the country take a lead role in attaining regional stability. To a large degree, South Africa is already playing that role.
Prediction – If anything Trump might try and expedite that process and give African countries more responsibility. A decision that would be more welcomed than people think.
South Africa has always been a good strategic partner in the Sub-Saharan region’s fight against Aids. The United States has always contributed a considerable amount to this cause – a commitment that stretches as far back as the Bill Clinton administration. The jury is out on just how committed Trump will be to that and what alternatives he might suggest.
Prediction – Trump might cut HIV/Aids funding to the region and weigh up just how beneficial it is for the United States to be spending on African health issues, when his country has a health crisis of its own. He will probably identify cons, but might spot some pros too.
Now this is a bit of a sticky subject, given the role that Barack Obama has played in the implementation of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Obama has not won over many friends in the South African poultry industry or with South African Trade Unions.
Differences about American chickens aside, Trump has portrayed himself as a President that will encourage trade, so long as it is fair. The property mogul has expressed his disapproval of the manner in which China, Mexico and some other countries have conducted their business with the United States.
He appears to already be implementing punitive measures on that front. Whether similar measures would be extended towards countries in Africa is uncertain. His promise for fair trade might ring more true in the African and South African context though. The next President of South Africa is likely to be Cyril Ramaphosa, a savvy businessman in his own right. The respect they manage to develop for each other will determine a considerable amount.
Goods and services Trade between South Africa and the United States totalled 17-billion dollars in 2015 – and the exports/imports split was relatively even too. In fact, one could argue that the United States benefits more economically from its relationship with South Africa. Trump will obviously do more complicated math than this, but he is a practical man. Continuing the current relations just makes sense.
Prediction – Donald Trump and Cyril Ramaphosa will hit it off from the outset and negotiate fair trade deals between South Africa and the United States. Negotiations will be tough, and Trump will even respect that.
Well, this is where Trump and South Africa (we are going to call it Ramaphosa for now) are likely to butt heads.
However, even that would not be out of the ordinary when it comes to these two countries. South Africa’s positions on Israel and Palestine are well known. South Africa’s growing relationship with China is well known. South Africa’s relationship with Cuba is well known. South Africa’s position on refugees and asylum seekers are well known.
South Africa’s positions on torture or foreign invasions are well known.
Trump is unlikely to be on the same page on any of those issues or places. However, in truth no United States Head of State has been on the same page in any of those respects. One aspect is encouraging from a South African point of view though – Trump’s desire to work together with Russia and Vladimir Putin.
Prediction – Even then, most of these positions will only likely have an impact at the United Nations, an organisation that the United States wants to be less involved in going forward. Trump won’t let these differences harm the United States relationship with South Africa…or so we hope.