South Africa


Ramaphosa delegation in the US to persuade Washington not to drop SA’s trade benefits

Ramaphosa delegation in the US to persuade Washington not to drop SA’s trade benefits
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) laughs with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) at the first plenary session as part of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art in Sochi, Russia, 24 October 2019. EPA-EFE/SERGEI CHIRIKOV / POOL

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national security adviser Sydney Mufamadi is in Washington at the head of a delegation lobbying the Biden administration and congressional leaders. This comes amid concerns that South Africa’s controversial stance on Russia’s war against Ukraine is jeopardising SA’s economic and political relations with America.

Sydney Mufamadi’s team is likely to focus its efforts on trying to ensure that South Africa is not expelled from the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), a US law that gives duty- and quota-free access to the US market for selected African countries, including South Africa. The law is due to be extended or terminated in 2025, and there are growing concerns SA could be ejected then – or even before. 

Mufamadi, with Ramaphosa’s legal adviser Nokukhanya Jele, and deputy minister of international relations and cooperation Alvin Botes, are meeting their administration “counterparts” as well as congressional leaders, probably including the Congressional Black Caucus, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya confirmed to Daily Maverick.

His confirmation that Mufamadi’s delegation would meet “counterparts” suggested they would meet President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, among others, but Magwenya did not specifically confirm that.

Magwenya said the delegation would discuss a wide range of issues in the relationship, including the upcoming negotiations on South Africa’s continued participation in Agoa – which gives SA privileged access to the lucrative market – and also the 2023 Agoa summit which is due to be hosted by South Africa during the second half of the year.

Magwenya said many other aspects of relations between SA and the US would also be discussed, many of them follow-ups to the discussions Ramaphosa had with President Biden in the White House last September. These would include US offers to support the fight against insurgents in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo, differences over US sanctions against Zimbabwe, increased US tariffs on SA steel imports and the US offer to support the SA National School of Government, which trains public servants.

Magwenya said the delegation was just part of the ongoing relationship with the US and suggested there was no particular concern in Pretoria which had motivated sending a special delegation to Washington.

However, US sources have said there is a growing concern in the US, particularly in Congress, about SA’s failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a perception that SA is drifting further into the Russia-China camp at a time when Washington’s relations with those two countries are becoming more tense and competitive.

These sources had said that these concerns were crystallising around SA’s participation in Agoa, which facilitated an extra $3-billion of SA exports to the US last year, much of it in manufacturing and other value-added goods which help create jobs in SA.

BRICS-Putin tangle

The Agoa summit in SA was originally scheduled for September, but US sources said recently that concerns had been growing about it being held so soon after the BRICS summit which SA will host towards the end of August.

The sources were saying if the Agoa summit was held just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin had visited South Africa, many US congressional leaders would not attend the Agoa summit. That could jeopardise SA’s continued participation in Agoa, as it is Congress that decides which African countries qualify for Agoa’s benefits.

It would be particularly offensive to these congressional leaders to visit SA if Pretoria had just allowed Putin to visit the country in defiance of a request from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to SA to arrest and surrender the Russian leader, the sources said. The ICC has indicted him and issued a warrant for his arrest for the alleged war crime of abducting Ukrainian children and deporting them to Russia.

Sources have told Daily Maverick that the Agoa summit has been postponed to November to try to avoid the proximity with the BRICS summit, but US concerns about Putin visiting SA remain.

Recently, Republican members of the US House of Representatives – which is now controlled by the Republicans – drafted a resolution condemning SA’s ever-closer ties with Russia and China, and called on the US administration to review US relations with South Africa, and in particular, the benefits which SA derives from Agoa.

Magwenya also played down these concerns. He said no one should be basing any decisions yet on Putin’s attendance at the BRICS summit, as attendance at the summit had not been finalised.

Though all BRICS leaders had been invited to the summit, he noted that Ramaphosa had also announced that South Africa was still considering how it would deal with the fact that the ICC had issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest and was “looking at all permutations” to address the issue.

Magwenya also downplayed the resolution on SA drafted by the House of Representatives Republicans, saying it had not even been tabled yet and was merely a proposal that had been circulated. “And as far as we know, it’s not going very far.”

He said Biden had shown an appreciation for SA’s position on Russia and the historical reasons for it when he met Ramaphosa in the White House last year. 

“He also appreciated that President Ramaphosa has an open line to President Putin, which he has consistently used to tell him the conflict needs to be resolved peacefully and soon.”

The US also appreciated that Ramaphosa had an open line to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“So while there may be discomfort by the US that we have chosen to be non-aligned in this conflict, there is an appreciation that we can get messages to both Putin and Zelensky.”

Magwenya said while some members of the US establishment might feel differently from the Biden administration, “we didn’t walk away from Washington last year with the sense that the US would adopt any punitive measures that would undermine our relationship. And since then we have seen no signs pointing in that direction.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Am I alone in feeling like this could validly be the spin-the-wheel daily task choice list provided to members of our governing party on sign-up?

    1. screw up a domestic policy
    2. Screw up a foreign policy
    3. Revoke a law that promotes integrity
    4. Revoke a law that promotes transparency
    5. Implement a fatally flawed policy to make me look good for a few days.
    6. Blame a mess I’ve made on apartheid.
    7. Call someone not African a racist.
    8. Buy my wife and son a Porsche on tax payers money.
    9. Offer a friend control of an SOE
    10. Deny involvement.
    11. Blame a predecessor for a delivery I’ve obviously failed on.
    12. Re-invigorate my efforts to spell “Service Delivery”.
    13. Initiate a vote-of-no-confidence in a metro.
    14. Do absolutely nothing

    • johanw773 says:

      Great comment. This sums up my impression of the ANC perfectly.
      I feel like a matric pupil attending a school where the student council is made up of kindergarten kids, who run the playground with all the experience and finesse they have accumulated during their 4 or 5 years on this earth. And that kindergarten student council has just been sent to the US to plead our case after they have stuffed up for the umpteenth time.
      Anyone with even a modicum of intellect chafes under this misfit government on a daily basis.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      15. Call a racist BBBEE and AA a “non-racist policy”.

    • Philip Armstrong says:

      Says it all!

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Send them packing back home. Any government, with an iota of common sense, decency and acting in the best interests of the country and NOT for its own party’s obnoxious and nefarious interests, would have carefully thought and evaluated its policy before moronically and blindly aligning with nothing but an evil, deranged and mass-murdering thug that is Putin. Speaking with a forked tongue, being hypocritical to boot and betraying all the values that were fought for no longer cuts it. SA deserves to be booted out of AGOA!

    • - Matt says:

      Agree. Thinking this through with a ‘what’s best for my people’ filter might have added value.

      Putin invades neighbour. Grain prices shoot up, fuel prices shoot up. Inflation in SA through the roof. Already battling SA consumers now under even more pressure. So, how should we respond? Hmmm, let’s support the idiot who invaded his neighbour!

  • Nicholas De Villiers says:

    The ANC’s hatred of the West is about to have serious repercussions. This isn’t just shooting our own feet, we shot a thigh and might bleed out. Let’s hope the US is forgiving.

  • Wilhelm Boshoff says:

    The ANC is gambling with our future.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The ANC merely see Agoa as a growth and opportunity for the politically connected, hence their concern! Once again South Africa appears to want their cake and eat it without giving anything back in return. We should be kicked out of Agoa – until the Guptas are repatriated to face criminal charges and we resign from the rotten, corrupt, morally anorexic BRICS cartel. The USA has some leverage with which it can negotiate – which is more than what the taxpayers in this country have….we’re just sitting ducks watching our stolen revenue going into the pockets of the politically corrupt!

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      I think the ANC only considers AGOA or our other trade deals when it may cost them votes: at no other time is the link between economic stability and progress on the one hand, and our diplomatic engagement with the broader international community on the other, ever tied. There is simply zero connect between DIRCO and DTIC and the Presidency or Parliament to ensure that political decisions taken by DIRCO (or the ANC NEC, more likely) actually enhance our economy and prosperity, rather than playing at being 60s revolutionaries, which is where the mindset remains firmly rooted.

  • Peter Vos says:

    Sup with the devil, Cyril – don’t hide your spare spoons in the couch

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    I guess that’s what happens when you live in bubble – you are unable to read the room…

  • Derek Jones says:

    “We have to be nice to them because it’s your fault. This Putin thing is just a special operation. I didn’t come myself because I am worried, One, because I have to prepare for the next cattle auction and 2 because I do not think it is important enough and it might look bad. You have to give us trade deals anyway because we are useless and because it’s your fault we are in a mess”…..

  • Kobus Loubser says:

    “Though all BRICS leaders had been invited to the summit, he noted that Ramaphosa had also announced that South Africa was still considering how it would deal with the fact that the ICC had issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest and was “looking at all permutations” to address the issue.”
    Ahem, Aha, Dear Mr President, we tried isibikezelo somlingo & ukupela komlingo, Abracadabra and Hocus Pocus, Alakazam and Boom Zahramay…… but the permutations remain disastrous for South Africa….. “It’s OK”, our Communist Comrades surely would ensure the ANC could continue their extravagant, lavish, self indulgent, high-rolling ridiculously self-serving lifestyles and if not we can always sort some more tenders, get money from the taxpayer, raid the municipal/provincial/central government coffers a few more times!!!!!

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    The ANC has a long history of snubbing the USA remember their black Ambassador who was ignored for months until an interview by a journalist made front page news. The US provided help with ARVs but under Mbeki it had to be a covert operation. Mind you if they snub Putin there could be the odd poisoning incident. The USA has been super patient but a quickie PR job is unlikely to throw dust in their eyes.

    • Patricia Sidley says:

      The ARV programme was far from covert and is still in place. Pepfar (as it is known) has helped provide for the largest HIV/AIDS programme in the world. I do not see the Americans dropping that in any hurry. Trade is a different matter.

  • us says:

    This government is not non-aligned; it has explicitly refused to condemn invasion of a sovereign country, held military exercises with that country, conducted shadowy military transfers with it (Simonstown) refused to allow exports to a third party country that is allied to Ukraine (Poland) and now wants to invite a war criminal head of state to visit South Africa. Public messaging is implicitly pro-Russian and the private views of government members are explicitly pro-Russian. This is not neutrality. SA is going to pay a price for it, something completely avoidable. And for what purpose does it operate its foreign policy this way?

    • Uma Kabanye says:

      Well said. Magwenya’s hopeful claim that ‘open lines’ to both Presidents means non-alignment is not going to fool anyone except perhaps his ANC colleagues. Disturbing evidence of how deep the apparatchik mentality – that a statement from the Party is therefore the truth – runs in our government. America won’t buy it.

  • Hiram C Potts says:

    Integrity, intelligence, cognitive ability, financial literacy and competence are all prerequisites for making informed political and financial decisions, and running a country’s economy.

    These buffoons masquerading as our govt. do not even possess one of these qualities.

    The US should place the ANC under sanctions for their love-in with Russia. Freeze their offshore bank accounts and slap a travel ban on them. Moscow and Minsk will be the only destinations that they’ll be able to travel to for their taxpayer-funded designer shopping junkets.
    End of story.


    This self-entitled government must finally realise that there are consequences to it’s absurd foreign policy. If it wants to align itself with Russia and China then so be it- but of course there will be consequences.

    • Dragon Slayer says:

      The ANC was bought and paid for long ago. Many ANC exiles were resident in, and at the cost of, the UK and Europe without any strings attached. Those in Zambia, Tanzania, Angola, and Mozambique were totally reliant on Russia and China. Both are certainly less forgiving and the ANC most certainly sold their souls and our future. Zuma’s attempt to sell South Africa’s electricity future to Rosatom is just what we know about and don’t for one second believe we have seen the end of that!
      BTW – exiting the ICC may be more about protecting the ANC international gang of thieves and Putin demonstrating the hold he has over the ANC!

  • Donald bemax says:

    Well they won’t be able to sit on the pole much longer… frankly so far the ” open line” has produced zilch, and never will.

  • Graeme J says:

    Oops. Both an ethical AND a strategic mistake.

    1. How much trade do we have with Russia?

    2. How much trade do we have with the USA?

    • John Smythe says:

      True. So, how many jobs does Russia create in SA and how many jobs does the US create in SA. Only the ANC can’t see a no-brainer.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Once again, the ANC blunders and imperils the future of South Africa, but doesn’t give a damn. If you want to understand why our foreign policy is such a hopelessly out of touch Cold War mess, search for ‘Alvin Botes’ on DM (he’s aprt of the delegation and will add the sum of zero to any intelligent, balanced interaction in the US) – it is chilling how he still sees the world through the prism of Cold War contestation and alignment, without for one single moment considering the economic consequences of our alignment with the Chinese and Russians. Or, more pertinently, that as a small, developing nation at the bottom of the world’s poorest and least economically important continent (other than Australia), we’re not really of global importance in the power-broking stakes and should take a truly non-aligned view of the world, with the duty to the prosperity of our country and its citizens first and foremost. Not playing a puerile, luddite game of Big Man politics when we’re agonisingly close to collapsing as functional society.

  • R S says:

    Dear USA,

    Please sanction the ANC directly and not us ordinary citizens.

    Yours truly

    An average South African person

  • Anthony Sturges says:

    Like it or not, South Africa occupies a dicey backwater when it comes to global politics and can hardly be said to wield any diplomatic clout, especially with the monolith that is the United States!

    The response of the United States to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine that began in 2022 has been in favour of Ukraine. President Biden condemned the invasion, providing humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine, and sanctioning Russia and Belarus, the countries heavily involved in invading Ukraine.

    The ANC is too hung up on the past, conflating Russia with the old Soviet Union and putting the welfare of its citizens (jeopardizing AGOA) at risk to satisfy some obsequious misdirected loyalty!

  • Mark Gory Gory says:

    This administration needs to experience consequences. I do t often agree with the gop, but this time, they’re right. Chuck sa out of agoa and see who votes for the anc when American generosity dries up.

    • Gerrie Pretorius says:

      Unfortunately ‘the masses’ will still vote for the anc or not vote at all. Remember – they rescued the people from aparthate (there was also corruption, but infrastructure was working) and therefore ‘the masses’ don’t seem to care if the anc cadres are corrupt AND nothing is working. Isn’t it just part of African culture? (Just ask jz)

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Please advise why any thinking or even non-thinking person would vote anc?

  • Johan Buys says:

    I have a picture in my mind : you stop to help a stranded motorist. he then robs you.

    I hope we continue forging better trade ties.

    I hope those trade partners attach conditions with teeth. It’s a bit like how the Opec cartel pushes oil prices but demand that Nato will send an army to rescued them when one of their cousins has a bully moment.

    If Putin does come to SA and we do not arrest him, we will learn a very hard lesson.

  • KEVIN COX says:

    Judging from the comments below, mine is going to be very unpopular. But just for once, the ANC is taking a serious moral stand, and rightly so. First, one should resist the mass hysteria about the war in the Ukraine. People have no serious historical awareness of its background. Second, the US is anxious about its hegemonic role in the world. Its anxiety is indeed a coalition of forces around Russia and China. But what a great exemplar it is for the world – and I live here: guns galore, a totally dysfunctional state in which special interest groups haul in the harvest, a nasty arrogant middle class that thinks, quite erroneously, that it deserves its privileges, and then throw in a still virulent racism. Some country to ally oneself with.

    • Matsobane Monama says:

      No apology Kevin, give us the truth. My old man taught me the dangers of being inside the head of cattle. The pastures and the water runs out, the whole head dies.

    • Johann Olivier says:

      Mr. Cox. You’ve lost the plot. In this specific case, an independent country was invaded by a brutal aggressor. Regardless of what you think about the US – and much of what you say about the country per se is true – in this situation the US & it’s allies in this (across the globe) has the high ground. Nothing about the ANC stand in this is ‘moral’. It’s reprehensible & shameful & Nelson Mandela would be mortified.

    • Rama Chandra says:

      So, because you want to focus on hegemony, you are ok with the consequences for Ukraine? Genocide, foreign dictatorship, mass killing etc. If that is your viewpoint that these things are okay in Ukraine, and perhaps Rwanda and elsewhere, why would we consider your view in any way worthwhile?

    • Derek Jones says:

      Its complicated and not complicated Mr Cox. If you don’t like America and prefer Russia I believe you should move there. If you think Russia has a right to invade another country illegally, bomb civillian targets and threaten nuclear war if anyone intervenes, then you are a complete idiot.

  • Matsobane Monama says:

    “Biden had shown an APPRECIATION for SA’s position on Russia and the historical reasons for it when he met Ramaphosa in the white house last year “. Ah! Finally two sides of the coin from the horses mouth (Americans) not here in SA. Once again it’s Trade not Charity or Favor. Africa is not carrying a begging bowl. They stopped it in other African countries but they are still breathing.

  • Quentin Brand says:

    After yet another embarrassing screw-up by the chronically inept government of South Africa, officials must now visit Washington DC, hat in hand, begging that we not feel the consequences of our actions. It reminds me of Mussolini. Not quite as evil as Hitler (Putin) but definitely a moron and he went along for the ride and he ended up being strung up from a lampost as people spat on his corpse.

  • Rama Chandra says:

    It is one thing to be non-aligned in a conflict between the US and Russia. It is quite another to be non-aligned between genocide/ethnic cleansing and self-determination. South Africa seems to have now understanding that actions have consequences. I hope the US keeps things simple and teaches South Africa a valuable lesson. And that South Africans themselves understand that lesson when it comes to elections. ANC deserves to be wiped out. I appreciate that likely means a DA/EFP awkward coalition, but it is time for the devil we don’t know, and a period in government might make the EFP a little more responsible, and the DA less racially aligned.

  • Sam Shu says:

    In the newsletter, this paragraph

    “Let’s keep in mind: Russia contributes virtually nothing economically to the country. Our pro-Russian stance is illogical on anything outside of apartheid-era historical links”

    Not quite correct. Our stance in connecting Russian and South African criminal networks o ANC funding is completely logical if also completely despicable.

  • Nic Bosveld says:

    When you cling to the terms of ‘comrade’, ‘struggle’, and ‘revolution’ in a democratic society after being 30 years in power it shows the inclination. No forward thinking, with a victim mentality, forever.

    Keep on burning your and the country’s bridges ANC.

    You will pay dearly at the polls next year.

  • Jess Bouwer says:

    Should we lose the support of the US it would be interesting to see what form of financial rescue Russia and China will provide and crucially, how long this help will be in coming. We are a pawn in the world wide power struggle and should condider our options wisely and with the welfare of our impoverished millions in mind.

  • Rob Wilson says:

    I find the continuing and dogmatic attraction this government has with Russia astounding. I can’t find a single meaningful contribution Russia had made to this country, I see no evidence of Russian technology, education or science in our society, no evidence of meaningful trade or bilateral tourism. Russia is an imperialist invader and aggressor. No meaningful immigration or refugees. Only refugees trying to leave. Now the US is expected to continue to be kind to us? Well, pigs may fly.

  • Hugo Luyt says:

    The ANC is doing what is pleases in South Africa, using double speak and promises with no substance, enabling corruption, lining their back pockets and their own interests (which of course is the communist way, and probably why they find common ground with Putin). I think they are going to find it bit harder to keep up in the international community. They will be less forgiving than their voters.

  • Sharon S says:

    It is encouraging to see the comments below on this critical topic – Now the ANC need to see these messages, as for too long South African’s are too quiet & do not speak out. The ANC is very comfortable in its domain of saying one thing and doing another, and remaining completely unscathed from its criminal activity– but now .. its at the international ” adult table ” and it must “grow up” . Cannot have all of the support, trade benefits and positioning of a democratic country AND shake your fists – scream false facts and narratives and dance with Putin and become a debt whore to the Chinese . Its one or the other — so ANC time to grow up and decide which side are you on — because it cannot be both – the democratic world does not play by the short term playbook ( all you can steal) of the ANC . Your ego is so big that you cannot see that Russia is playing you -and using you like a dish towel – as a propaganda tool ! and the Chinese, they have you hooked on greed and thinking that anything is for free – because in reality nothing is. ANC you will soon see how small you are – and that now that you have crossed the moral, ethic, & constitutional line – the PEOPLE of SA will start to clearly differeniate themselves from the ANC as these actions and dark alliances do not reflect the wishes of the people of this country nor its constitution. once you cross that line your true friends will be gone – and you will have placed SA on the wrong side and completely isolated.

  • André Pelser says:

    Why are we maintaining an embassy in Washington at enormous cost to the taxpayer? Surely they should be handling this issue???

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