Foreign policy and defense
After South Africa's democratization in 1994,
the government developed good relations with the United
States and the rest of the Western world but maintained
close ties with countries such as Iran, Cuba and Libya,
all of which supported the ANC's struggle during the
apartheid era. The country has in recent years
In its own region, South Africa has continued to play
a leading role but in a different way than during the
apartheid era. Then South Africa sought to create
concern in neighboring states through sabotage and
support to government hostile groups. The ambition was
to combat what was seen as the onslaught of the Soviet
Union and World Communism via Angola, Mozambique and the
ANC guerrillas in neighboring countries.
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in South Africa for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
When the Soviet Union discontinued its involvement in
conflicts in the third world, including southern Africa,
in the late 1980s, South Africa's regional policy
changed. Now the country is instead investing in
increased trade, political contacts and active mediation
in conflicts in the immediate area. South
Africa-controlled Namibia became independent in 1990.
After the abolition of the apartheid system, South
Africa became a member of the regional economic
development organization SADC (South African Development
Community) in 1994.
However, South Africa's dominance as an economic
superpower created imbalances in SADC cooperation and
relations with neighboring states have taken some toll.
At the same time, South Africa has mediated in a
number of regional conflicts, for example in Angola,
Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi and not least in
Congo-Kinshasa. In 1998, South Africa's army entered
Lesotho to defeat the government at the request of the
government. The seven-month effort became bloody and
caused international criticism. Also in 2015, South
Africa intervened in Lesotho when South African Vice
President Cyril Ramaphosa mediated a conflict between
the government of Lesotho and a faction of the military
threatening a coup.
Nowadays, South Africa's relations with neighboring
countries are generally good, although there is
sometimes criticism in neighboring states against the
Zuma government acting big brother. Of particular
concern has been Zimbabwe and President Robert Mugabe,
who continue to hold South Africa behind despite
widespread international criticism.
A controversy with neighboring countries arose in the
spring of 2015 in connection with riots in several slums
with attacks on immigrants from poorer neighboring
countries. From the neighboring states came harsh
criticism that President Zuma faced by criticizing the
neighbors' leaders for their citizens feeling the need
to leave their homelands.
In 2010, South Africa became a member of Bric, the
informal association formed by the emerging economies
Brazil, Russia, India and China as a counterweight to
the rich countries' consultative bodies G8 and G20. As a
result, the group changed its name to Brics. The current
government has placed great importance on Brics,
allocated a more anti-Western tone and, in an
international context, has chosen to ally with the other
members. South Africa has repeatedly refused to give
visas to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, who was
invited by his good friend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond
Tutu. One reason is that South Africa does not want to
clash with China, which has made extensive investments
in the country. Trade exchanges with China have also
increased and strengthened ties with Beijing.
Prior to democratization in 1994, South Africa's
military service was transformed into a professional
army and began to integrate former guerrilla soldiers
from the liberation movements ANC and PAC as well as
soldiers from the former homelands. At the same time,
the number of soldiers was significantly reduced. The
integration has been problematic, but the army has
nevertheless changed radically.
The defense budget has fallen sharply since the
apartheid era, but the Arsenal has been modernized at
high costs. The government has made large arms
purchases, among other things in 1999 it was decided
that 28 Swedish Jas Gripen plan for about SEK 17 billion
would be purchased. The order was later slimmed down to
26 planes. The giant order received criticism in South
Africa, where many wanted to see the money go to social
initiatives. The weapons purchases, which also included
corvettes, submarines and helicopters, were also
surrounded by allegations of corruption and blackout.
Of the 26 JAS-Gripen planes, 12 were in the bag for a
long time in 2014 as there was no money to fly. In the
same year, only six pilots were qualified to fly the
During the apartheid era, when the UN targeted an
arms embargo on South Africa, the country built up an
extensive arms industry. It has been partially
privatized and switched to civilian production. But arms
exports have continued, even to warring countries, which
has attracted international criticism.
South Africa previously had a nuclear weapons
program, which was discontinued at the end of the Cold
War. In 1999, the country signed the International Test
Stop Agreement. In 2014, it emerged that South Africa
still has 350 kilograms of high-quality weapons-grade
uranium in stock. The United States has requested that
the uranium be delivered or destroyed, with South Africa
refusing to date.
South Africa's army participates in international UN
operations. By mid-2010, operations were underway in
Congo-Kinshasa and Sudan. South Africa also has a naval
unit that fights pirates off the coast of Mozambique.
In 2013, 14 South African soldiers were killed in the
Central African Republic. The presidents of the two
countries had agreed on South African military support
to defend the incumbent government threatened by
advancing rebels. After the defeat, President Zuma
dragged home remaining soldiers and the government
received harsh criticism at home for the force lacking
the necessary equipment and air support.
South Africans also act as mercenaries in other
countries even though there is a law that prohibits such
activities. So far, however, no one has been convicted.
FACTS - DEFENSE
40,200 men (2017)
The air Force
10 450 men (2017)
7,550 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
1.0 percent (2017)
Military spending's share of the state budget
3.1 percent (2017)