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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.


Since South Africa’s transition to democracy in 1994, the United States and South Africa have built a solid bilateral relationship. South Africa is a strategic partner of the United States, with strong collaboration in the areas of health, education, environment, and digital economy.

The United States first opened a consulate in Cape Town in 1799, and in 1929 established formal diplomatic relations with South Africa after the United Kingdom recognized South Africa’s autonomy within the British Empire. In 1948, the South African government instituted apartheid, a system of governance that formalized the political subjugation of the majority non-white population. U.S.-South Africa relations eventually became severely strained by South Africa’s racial policies; the U.S. Congress ultimately passed the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, which imposed sanctions on the apartheid South African government.

The United States played an important role in support of South Africa’s 1994 democratic transition. In October 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton received newly elected President Nelson Mandela on his first state visit to the United States with a State Dinner and public appearances. In 1995, the U.S.-South African Binational Commission was launched to support the rebuilding of South Africa, and President Clinton paid an official visit to South Africa in 1998. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both visited South Africa during their presidencies; President Obama delivered a eulogy at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in 2013. The United States and South Africa share vibrant educational and people-to-people ties, significant economic and political interests, as well as common development objectives throughout Africa. As a strong democracy and sub-Saharan Africa’s most advanced economy, South Africa plays a key economic and political role on the continent. The United States seeks opportunities for increased U.S.-South African cooperation on regional and international issues.

U.S. Assistance to South Africa

Since 1994, South Africa has made notable strides toward building an inclusive democracy that provides increased opportunity for its people. Nevertheless, the country faces many challenges, including 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, and both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Since 2004, the U.S. government has invested more than $7.25 billion in assistance through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This assistance bolsters South Africa’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and helps ensure that all South Africans live longer and healthier lives. PEPFAR investments have contributed to strengthening health security by supporting human resources for health, as well as building clinical capacity in support of the COVID-19 response. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs strengthen small- and medium-sized enterprises, create employment, improve training and job skills, promote basic education, combat gender-based violence, and promote HIV/AIDS care, prevention, and treatment. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States has provided almost $75 million in COVID-related assistance to South Africa and has provided, in partnership with COVAX, almost 8 million vaccine doses.

Bilateral Economic Relations

South Africa is the largest U.S. trade partner in Africa, with a total two-way goods trade of $17.8 billion in 2019. Approximately 600 American businesses operate in South Africa, and many of those use South Africa as a regional headquarters. South Africa qualifies for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act as well as the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences trade preference program. Both governments engage in frequent discussions to increase opportunities for bilateral trade and investment and optimize the business climate. The two nations signed an amended Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2012. In addition, South Africa 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 that prevents double taxation and fiscal evasion.

South Africa’s Membership in International Organizations

South Africa’s principal foreign policy objectives are to encourage regional economic integration in Africa, promote the peaceful resolution of conflict in Africa, and use multilateral bodies to ensure that developing countries’ voices are heard on international issues. South Africa and the United States belong to many of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, G-20, and World Trade Organization. South Africa is also a member of BRICS and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). South Africa participates as a key partner in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Enhanced Engagement program.

Bilateral Representation

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:

CIA World Factbook South Africa Page 
U.S. Embassy
USAID South Africa Page 
History of U.S. Relations With South Africa
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Country Page 
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics International Offices Page 
Library of Congress Country Studies 
Travel Information

U.S. Department of State

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