U.S. Relations With South Africa

Bureau of African Affairs
Fact Sheet
December 21, 2018

More information about South Africa is available on the South Africa page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.


The United States established a consulate in Cape Town in 1799. The U.S. later established diplomatic relations with South Africa in 1929 following the United Kingdom's recognition of South Africa's domestic and external autonomy within the British Empire. Until the 1990s, the South African Government followed a policy of white domination over the majority black population, and, after 1948, racial separation (apartheid). From the 1960s through the early 1990s, U.S.-South Africa relations were everely strained by South Africa's racial policies.

Since the end of apartheid and with the advent of democracy in 1994, the two countries have enjoyed a solid bilateral relationship. South Africa is a strategic partner of the United States, particularly in the areas of health, security, and digital economy. The two countries share development objectives throughout Africa, and South Africa plays a key economic and political role on the African continent. The United States seeks opportunities for increased U.S.-South African cooperation on regional and international issues. In 2010, the United States and South Africa launched a strategic dialogue aimed at deepening cooperation on a range of issues of mutual interest and concern.

U.S. Assistance to South Africa

South Africa has made remarkable strides toward building a prosperous and peaceful democracy since 1994, but faces many challenges. These include slow economic growth, high rates of crime and unemployment, lingering corruption, and a persistent HIV/AIDS epidemic. U.S. assistance focuses on improving healthcare, increasing education standards and teacher training, building capacity in agriculture to address regional food security, developing clean energy, and adapting to changing weather patterns.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs seek to strengthen small- and medium-sized enterprises, create employment, improve learning and job skills, promote basic education, combat gender-based violence, and promote HIV/AIDS care, prevention, and treatment.

Bilateral Economic Relations

The United States and South African are major trade and investment partners, with total two-way goods trade of over $12 billion in 2017, and more than 600 U.S. firms operating in South Africa. South Africa qualifies for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The U.S. and South Africa signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2012, which amends an earlier version, signed in 1999. The TIFA provides a strategic framework and principles for dialogue on trade and investment issues between the United States and South Africa, including market access issues, labor, the environment, protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights. In addition, the country belongs to the Southern African Customs Union, which signed a Trade, Investment, and Development Cooperative Agreement (TIDCA) with the United States in 2008. The United States and South Africa have a bilateral tax treaty eliminating double taxation.

South Africa's Membership in International Organizations

South Africa's principal foreign policy objectives are to promote regional economic integration in Africa; to promote the peaceful resolution of conflict in Africa; and to use multilateral bodies to ensure that developing countries' voices are heard on international issues. South Africa and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, G-20, and World Trade Organization. South Africa will serve as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from January 1, 2019, until December 31, 2020. South Africa is a member of BRICS and, as chair in 2018, hosted the BRICS summit that year in Johannesburg. It also participates as a key partner in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Enhanced Engagement program.

Bilateral Representation

The position of U.S. Ambassador to South Africa is currently vacant; Jessica Lapenn currently serves as Charge d’Affaires; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department's Key Officers List.

More information about South Africa is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

Department of State South Africa Page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook South Africa Page
U.S. Embassy
USAID South Africa Page
History of U.S. Relations With South Africa
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Investment Climate Statements
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Country Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Export.gov International Offices Page
Library of Congress Country Studies
Travel Information