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 enjoyed 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, which involved policies of racial segregation and white domination over the black majority and other non-white groups. U.S.-South Africa relations became severely strained by South Africa’s racial policies, leading the U.S. Congress to pass 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 U.S. President Bill Clinton visited South Africa in 1998.  The United States and South Africa share strong 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 developed economy, 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. 

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, developing clean energy, and adapting to changing weather patterns.

Since 2004, the U.S. government has invested more than $6.2 billion in assistance through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in South Africa’s HIV response to ensure that all South Africans can live longer, healthier lives.  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

South Africa is the largest U.S. trade partner in Africa, with a total two-way goods trade of $14 billion in 2018.  Approximately 600 U.S. businesses operate in South Africa, many of which use South Africa as 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 United States and South Africa signed an amended Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2012. 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 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 a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, G-20, and World Trade Organization. South Africa is a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council through 2020 and will assume the one-year chairmanship of the African Union in February 2020.  It is also a member of BRICS and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). South Africa also participates as a key partner in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Enhanced Engagement program. 

Bilateral Representation

The U.S. Ambassador to South Africa is Lana J. Marks.  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:

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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