Laura Rachele GALEOTTI, PhD
Abstract. The relationship between Iran and South Africa rooted in the past. In 1941, the exile of Iran’s Shah in South Africa put Pretoria on the road of Iran’s interest, and in the 70s military and economic interests became stronger and stronger. At the same time, the two countries shared the concern with the danger of Soviet penetration into the Indian Ocean area and until the end of the 70s they handled a deliberate and strategic marriage of convenience.
Their honeymoon finished in 1979 when the Islamic revolution caused an interruption of informal relations with South Africa’s government. Khomeini cut ties with Pretoria because the Iranian Revolution was against the racist regime and in favour of the liberalisation of oppressed people, but in the 90s, during the Mandela’s period South Africa promoted a new attitude forward Iran, enhancing a positive trend and it reopened new economic trade.
Across the years, like many others African States, South Africa’s foreign policy tended to follow African Union’s position but one particular point of divergence emerged in a clear way: a tactical and robust relationship between South Africa and Iran. In fact, throughout the last three decades and in particular during the sanctions period, Pretoria had supported Tehran in several ways.
Concerning the nuclear dossier, in particular, South Africa defended the Ayatollah’s government and its nuclear right in front of both the United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In 2015 after the sanctions lifting, the African Union (AU) started to consider new choices in diplomatic issues and South Africa, which played a significant influence, became more and more important, playing a key role in the regional scenario. However, Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival, and its alliances such as Nigeria, Sudan and Egypt tried to complicate the situation, creating particular tensions inside the AU, in order to destabilize the pro-Iranian position.
This article analyses the multidimensional relationship between Iran and South Africa and it traces the development of Iran and South Africa policies, from Pahlavi era to the post-lifting sanctions period. It begins with a brief historical panorama, proceeds to the story of the economic boom in the 70s, looks at diplomatic, commercial and military relations, goes head with a short overview about the impact of the Islamic Revolution on bilateral relations, focuses on the Mandela’s period and it ends with a discussion of the nuclear deal and the new perspective from post-lifting sanctions. Finally, the paper analyses how in the global non-proliferation norms, South Africa’s policy with Iran has been puzzling, preferring the power of the negotiations and a wide multilateral approach.
Laura Rachele Galeotti is a PhD in International Cooperation Science and Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Bergamo, Italy.