South Africa has long been a cornerstone of Iran’s South-South strategy, which intends to boost Iranian international credibility and promote trade. The Islamic Republic was one of the first countries to resume trade with South Africa following the end of apartheid, and the two countries have enjoyed strong relations ever since. Trade has been an integral element of this relationship, with Iranian officials.
Against the backdrop of intense developments in the Middle East in early 2020, the University of Johannesburg Centre for Africa-China Studies (CACS) and Library convened a seminar on Monday, 17 February 2020 under the theme of ‘Iran-US Crisis: Implications for Iran-South Africa Relations,’ highlighting the Pan-African and Pan-Asian outlook of the Centre.
Over 100 people in attendance consisted of present and former government officials, the business community, civil society, academics and students. The seminar was chaired by Professor Suzy Graham of the Department of Politics and International Relations at UJ, with Ambassador Mr Mohsen Movahhedi Ghomi of Iran being the headline speaker, and Mr Naeem Jeenah serving as the discussant.
The ambassador articulated his presentation around two major points: he explained the reasons why the US-Iran crisis has been exacerbated since the beginning of 2020. His Excellency then gave a summary of Iran-South Africa relations, including their evolution throughout the different regimes and how they reached a stage of maturity after the 1994 democratic dispensation in South Africa.
Ambassador Ghomi also mentioned key areas of partnership between Iran and South Africa. For instance, he revealed that the Iran market was the second most profitable market for MTN, a South African mobile network company and also evoked the expertise of Iran in water management, energy and mining machinery or the gas resources from which South Africa could benefit from as part of the cooperation between the two countries.
In response, Mr Naeem Jeenah, the Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre pointed out that US-Iran relations have been difficult since 1953. He nuanced the ambassador’s explanations on Iran-South Africa relations by bringing up the diplomatic obstacles between the two countries. He cited as an example the fact that since the past six or seven years, South Africa does not officially import oil from Iran due to US sanctions. Mr Jeenah concluded by criticizing the use of the terms “anti-imperialism” and “terrorism” by officials as they can be utilized to “mobilize support” even by dictators or autocratic regimes,” he said.
In conclusion, the session highlighted audience concern around the future of the globe in light of Iran-US crises, the role of constitutional values in South African foreign policy, the role of South Africa in the United Nations Security Council in which it seats until later this year. The Ambassador insisted on the interconnectedness of the countries and continents of the world and the need for collaboration.