At this time, one of South Africa’s main concerns arose, which was America’s invasion of Iraq. In South Africa’s eyes, the situation in Afghanistan was one aspect and the war in Iraq was something totally different. Aziz Pahad, South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, led a delegation of weapons experts to Baghdad to disprove US claims of weapons of mass destruction there. None of the stated reasons for going to war, much less America’s supposed intelligence information, was considered plausible. This soured relations, and placed a big question mark over cooperation with the US. How do you cooperate with the US when the intelligence they are sharing with you is demonstrably flawed? On top of that, in the heightened tensions after 9/11, American representatives sometimes went over the top and behaved in ways that alienated their friends. They acted as if US interests, or their version of those interests, superseded every other country’s interests, and they did not care whose interests they trampled on in doing what they had to do.

This was perhaps understandable in the context of the time, but one has to say it did not help either country. It was a temporary irritation, but even such experiences take time to overcome, and may go some way towards explaining the occasional reluctance of South African officials to respond favorably to demands by their US counterparts.

South Africa further maintained that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 would have a “profound effect on the poor countries of the world, particularly in Africa, which would set back development and progress years and perhaps even decades.”[73] This line of thinking implies that the war would lead to more terrorist recruits around the world if Iraq turned into a failed state. One of South Africa’s suggestions to the US is to examine the root causes of conflict and to make reduction of poverty and the peaceful resolution of conflicts their main priority. With South Africa’s role in Angola, Burundi and the DRC peace process, they perceive themselves as well positioned to take advantage of the benefits that come from America’s preoccupation with defeating terrorism by Islamic extremists, or any other group for that matter. South Africa feels that when the underdeveloped economies of Southern Africa grow, it will create an environment where stability and democracy will flourish.[74]

This irritation over Iraq most likely played its part when President Bush and Mbeki met in Washington in 2005. It is believed that the war against Islamic extremism was discussed. It was an important factor to the US, as Kurt Shillinger of the South African Institute of International Affairs points out, Western officials quietly admitted that Pretoria’s ability to monitor the flow of people moving across its borders was poor.[75] From the South African perspective, the South African intelligence community remained skeptical of the US. The NIA had accused some members of the Scorpions, in which the US assisted in establishing and training personnel, of spying for foreign governments.[76] The NIA was unhappy about the Scorpions’ alleged working relationship with US-owned Kroll, a risk-management company with perceived strong ties to former CIA operatives. There were additional concerns about the Scorpions’ apparent close and regular liaisons with the US embassy in Pretoria and the fact that they employ foreign nationals like Ms De Gabrielle, an American who was assigned by the US Department of Justice and its local counterpart to advise the South African National Prosecuting Authority on financial and commercial prosecutions. Other alleged links included connections to Chinese, German and French foreign intelligence services.[77]

Like their response to the 9/11 attacks, South Africa does exercise caution when it comes to supporting US action. In an interview with Adam Habib of the University of Johannesburg, he maintained that South Africa’s position could be summed up by examining South Africa’s then Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils’s speech at the Brenthurst Foundation meeting on international terrorism in Southern Africa in January 2007.[78] Kasrils says in the section regarding lessons to be drawn:

First, we clearly need to continue to strengthen the capacity of our intelligence and law enforcement bodies. We need to know our societies well enough to predict threats and act against them. We need to be able to deal with those who wish to use our countries as a safe haven by making it difficult for them to travel, obtain documentation, support and finance.[79]

Then in his fourth lesson Kasrils states:

Fourth, there is a need to avoid destroying the rule of law or eroding international conventions. This must be fundamental. We lose everything, including the moral high ground, if we sacrifice basic principles of human rights. It is hard to explain to Muslim communities why a particular individual was denied a visa seemingly because of his name or religious persuasion.[80]

Kasrils continues by mentioning the specific withdrawal of the visa of the South African academic Adam Habib and his family, including his 11-year-old son, by the US, which caused an outcry in South Africa. Prior to 2006, Professor Adam Habib, a South African citizen, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg and a critic of US policies, traveled to the US with ease. Habib lived in the US for years while pursuing his PhD, but in October 2006 the US government “prudentially” revoked his visa. Habib’s lawyer, Melissa Goodman of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), asked the question of what had changed since 2003 (his last visit to the US) and October 2006?

Goodman went to court to challenge his exclusion on behalf of the American Sociological Association, the American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights—all organizations that have invited Habib to speak at upcoming events and which have a right under the US Constitution to hear his views.[81] The State Department eventually claimed that Habib was barred because he has “engaged in terrorist activity,” but according to Goodman, they had provided no evidence to support this charge. The ACLU maintained that Habib was excluded not because he has done something wrong, but because of his political views and associations.

“We are party to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 listing suspected terrorists and their sympathizers but any action taken must be based on sound evidence,” Kasrils said in his 2007 speech. By looking at his previously mentioned first and fourth point, it can be deduced that Kasrils was really saying South Africa supports the war against Islamic extremism, but that there is a fine line, which the US crossed with Habib.

It was reported in January 2010 that the US State Department, in the form of an order by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, would no longer bar Adam Habib from entering the US. A State Department spokesman said that should Mr. Habib apply for a visa again, he “will not be found inadmissible on the basis of the facts that led to denials when they last applied.”[82]

South African diplomat Fadl Nacerodien conveyed a similar tone to the Habib “fine line” argument when interviewed by the author; South Africa supports the war, but that the two countries differ on the definition of terrorism.[83] Nacerodien elaborated further on South Africa’s perception by recalling the frightening statistics of more than 5,000 people injured in Nairobi alone at a result of the 1998 embassy bombings. Of the dozens dead, most were Africans and not Americans. This is something that South Africa does not want to happen in their country, according to Nacerodien.[84]

South Africa’s foreign policy principles also stipulate that the country must promote security and protect its citizens. South Africa does feel because of a Middle Eastern foreign policy that is critical of the US and the West in general (i.e., Palestine and the Iraq War) that it is somewhat sheltered from the wrath of Islamic extremists.

With that viewpoint in mind and recalling PAGADs bombings in the late 1990’s, South Africa has had this fear of agitating their own small Muslim community. We saw this on January 5, 2002, when Nelson Mandela, in his private capacity apologized to Muslim leaders for his “vociferous and unqualified support” to the US led war on terrorism in Afghanistan.[85] South Africa’s Muslim population was originally angered by Mandela’s and President Bush’s joint press conference given in November 2001 where Mandela expressed his support. Another example, according to Kurt Shillinger, was upon the arrest of Aswat in connection to the London bombings. The South African, British, and US governments were at odds over how to handle him. South Africa was disinclined to arrest him out of fear of agitating its own large Muslim community.[86]

Outsiders proclaim that South Africa has not been attacked since 9/11 due to terrorists using South Africa as a base and a transit point. They assert that it would be unwise for a terrorist organization to attack a country they perceive as a safe haven with the necessary support infrastructures. The Associated Press’s London office quoted unnamed British “security officials” in 2009 as saying South Africa had become a new base for terrorist activity. This served as one of many reasons why the UK decided to change the immigration law that now requires South Africans to obtain visas before entering the UK.[87]

US-South Africa cooperation and the future

Some instances of cooperation were discussed in the previous two sections. This included the FBI assisting in the training of the Scorpions and joint investigations into extremists connected to PAGAD and al-Qaeda. However, there have been other incidents since the ANC formally came to power in 1994 that more clearly show the cooperative nature of the relationship despite both countries numerous concerns. One of the earliest examples occurred in 1998 when SAPS apprehended Khalfan Khamis Mohamed in relation to the US embassy bombings. South African police were first to question him followed by two FBI agents and Assistant US Attorney General Ken Karas. He was then illegally spirited from South Africa to the US where he appeared in America’s courts.

In a later court ruling in May 2001, the South Africa Constitutional Court stated their authorities acted illegally when they extradited Mohamed due to his role in the bombings. “The handing over of Mohamed to the United States Government agents for removal by them to the United States was unlawful,” the Court said in its official judgment. “The immigration authorities failed to give any value to Mohamed’s right to life, his right to have his human dignity respected and protected and his right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment,” it said.[88] Despite the ruling, it was reported in 2007 that Mohamed was still sitting in a super maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado, serving a life sentence without parole.[89]