South Africa, a Trustworthy Partner for Iran

Monday, April 25, 2016

Javid Ghorbanoghli
Iran’s Former Ambassador to South Africa

Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, arrived for an official visit to Iran on Sunday, April 24 2016, at the head of a high-ranking delegation consisting of a number of the country’s ministers, who have signed various memorandums of understanding with their Iranian counterparts in such fields as energy, investment, agriculture, management of water resources, insurance, culture and arts. Zuma’s visit is as such a good opportunity for Iran to reorganize its relations with South Africa, as one of the world’s emerging powers, 20 years after the collapse of the apartheid regime and restoration of relations between the two countries. The following points are noteworthy in this regard.

During the post-apartheid era, Iran’s relations with South Africa have been constantly on the rise in the field of politics. During the 20 years that have passed since the rise of the democratic and non-racial government of South Africa, political relations between the two sides have seen ups and downs. However, due to the structure of South Africa’s government and the background of the ruling party’s relations with the West under the apartheid regime, on the one hand, and Iran’s position in supporting anti-apartheid struggles, on the other hand, the incumbent officials of South Africa have held a positive view of the Islamic Republic. South Africa’s support for Iran throughout Tehran’s nuclear challenge with the West, which had turned into an international crisis since 2002, was a subject of criticism for Western countries. Despite that criticism, South Africa offered its powerful support for Iran within the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Security Council, which is a good ground for further expansion of political relations between Iran and this country. Of course, due to conditions created by the nuclear crisis, all countries, including South Africa were cautious in their relations with Iran due to restrictions imposed by international resolutions and sanctions and concerns about facing political and economic punitive measures.

In the economic field, before sanctions were imposed on Iran over the country’s nuclear case, relations between Tehran and Pretoria, though below their potentialities, were considered to be standing at an acceptable level. The investment made by South Africa in Iranian projects, including in development of South Pars gas field and the country’s cell phone network, was among those instances, which can be mentioned as symbol of expanding relations between the two countries. The investment by South Africa’s Sasol company in Iran’s petrochemical industry in cooperation with the National Petrochemical Company of Iran, which was known as Arya Sasol joint venture, and cooperation between South Africa’s MTN and its Iranian counterpart, known as the Irancell project, in the field of developing the country’s cell phone network, were among the most important instances of foreign investment in Iran. These two projects are important in that they were carried out as joint venture in which the South African side not only made investment in Iran, but also transferred technology to Iran and shared risk of investment with the Iranian side. Even major European, Japanese, and South Korean companies have never entered into economic cooperation with and investment in Iran within this format and at such a high level.

Of course, it must be unfortunately admitted that after the onset of sanctions, Iran’s economic relations with South Africa took a nosedive due to huge pressures put on both sides, but relations in the political field continued, though cautiously. From this viewpoint, expansion of political and economic relations between Iran and South Africa following conclusion of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is of great political and economic importance because South Africa is a member of the G-20 group of world’s industrial states. The growing economy of South Africa is looking for stable interests in the field of economy of energy and since Iran enjoys rich energy resources as well as a stable political system, it is among countries which South Africa can reckon on in this regard.

In the field of oil, which has been the backbone of the two countries’ relations in past years and has accounted for 90 percent of economic relations between the two sides, Iran was considered as the biggest supplier of oil to South Africa before sanctions were imposed on Tehran. Unfortunately, during sanctions period, Iran’s oil sale to this country was cut off and now, one of the major plans considered by Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum is to get conditions back to where they stood before the beginning of sanctions. South Africa imports as many as 550,000 barrels per day of crude oil from various sources across the world. At the same time, this country has progressed a lot in the field of producing clean energies.

In view of new conditions of energy sector in the world, diversity of suppliers and Iran’s absence from international oil market for a number of years, which has caused it to lose some secure markets, it would be unrealistic under present conditions to expect a total restoration of pre-sanctions conditions with regard to supplying crude oil needed by South Africa. However, Iran’s goal must be to acquire a maximum share in meeting the increasing demand of South Africa for energy. Let’s not forget that due to political convergence between the two countries, before sanctions were imposed on Iran, South Africa was a regular customer of Iranian crude oil. Even when the former US President Bill Clinton approved D’Amato Act for imposing sanctions against Iran in 1996, South Africa did not comply with that act, which banned investment in Iran’s oil and gas industries and even increased the amount of oil it purchased from Iran. Therefore, Iran must try and focus its policy on getting a remarkable share in meeting this country’s energy demand. Of course, it must be noted that achieving this goals would depend on the political determination of our country and correct understanding of diversity in energy market by relevant planners. In the meantime, Iran must also show adequate resilience in this regard.

With regard to multilateral cooperation, South Africa is a member of the G-20 group of industrial countries, a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group of emerging economies, a member of the G-77 group, and also a member state of the Non-Aligned Movement and since it has good credit in the world, it can be a reliable partner for Iran both in Africa and across the world. Iran can also take advantage of this country’s capacities in such fields as energy, industries, mines and agriculture and bolster the two countries’ ties in these fields. On the other hand, due to high potential of South Africa in the field of industry, mine and agriculture, the country’s companies can be good substitutes for some Western companies in these sectors for Iran, especially that unlike Western countries, South African firms do not seek political quid pro quo in return for economic cooperation with Iran. Meanwhile, as the most powerful economic power in Africa, this country can be a reliable partner for Iran in this growing continent.

From a strategic viewpoint, Iran’s situation at the heart of the Islamic world and South Africa’s situation in the most important part on the vast continent of Africa, under the current tumultuous and unstable conditions in the region, provide both countries with a good opportunity to promote south-south cooperation for development of peace and democracy in the region and the world. South Africa is among stable and influential countries in the field of international relations and is respected by international institutions, and under conditions when the number of the permanent members of the UN Security Council is to be increased, it is one of the most important candidates to earn a permanent seat at the Security Council, which can be of high importance to Iran’s foreign policy. Let’s not forget that South Africa is the same country which raised Nelson Mandela, a politician to whom the world is in debt because of his personality and his unique ideas in politics and the effort that he made to connect ethics to politics. Despite all ups and downs that South Africa has gone through following the demise of Mandela and we are all aware of them, such a country still deserves to be considered as a trustworthy partner for Iran.

Key WordsSouth Africa, Trustworthy Partner, Iran, Jacob Zuma, Tehran, Pretoria, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Sanctions, International Oil Market, Iran’s Foreign Policy, Nelson Mandela, Ghorbanoghli

Source: Iran Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Javid Ghorbanoghli:

*North Africa, Egypt Getting Closer to Iran:

*GECF Gas Summit and Tehran’s Message:

*Photo Credit: ISNA

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