Talks between Jacob Zuma and Barack Obama have exposed differences between SA and the US, but have also shown the efforts made to strengthen ties.
At a joint press conference on Saturday, President Zuma told US President Obama that a decision by the US administration to embark on this visit was a right one.
“You are visiting Africa at the right time. Africa is rising,” Zuma told America's first black president at the Union Buildings on Saturday.
“It [Africa] is the second fastest growing region after Asia and has become an attractive market for investment. Thus the United States strategy towards sub-Saharan Africa that you launched last year is well-timed to take advantage of this growing market.”
Obama agreed that investing in Africa and South Africa was unavoidable.
“Africa is on the rise and South Africa is always at the forefront in Africa,” he said.
“All too often attention is paid to Africa when there's a crisis. There is enormous progress being made.”
It was however on multilateral issues that cracks were visible.
South Africa took a firm stance on issues such as the right for Palestine to be a separate state, United Nations Security Council reforms and intervention in unstable African countries. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger, the Central African Republic and Somalia were some of the countries Zuma mentioned in his address.
“We are hopeful that the African Union, with the support of the international community, will find solutions to the challenges we face [in these countries],” Zuma said.
“Solutions that are African-led will be able to yield results.”
On the UN Security Council reforms Zuma, said it cannot be that only certain countries serve on a UN institution “that takes very decisive decisions about matters of the globe”.
UN mistakes were glaring because of this imbalance, he said.
“The problems in the Sahel region arise primarily from the manner in which the UN Security Council handled the Libyan situation. There are lessons to be learned in that episode.”
On Palestine, Zuma said South Africa “unequivocally support the Palestinian bid for statehood and believe in the principle of a two-state solution. We have noted your [US's] latest attempts to revive the stalled negotiations and you have our support in this regard.”
Obama admitted the two governments “don't agree on everything” but said the US and South Africa have seen progress they can make together such as in nuclear proliferation and climate change.
He said areas of disagreement meant that the US and South Africa “have to do a better job in communication on multilateral issues” and “anticipate potential areas of tension”.
The American president said he considered bilateral relations with South Africa to be very strong.
UN Security Council reforms
South Africa is willing to cooperate with America on peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction and development cooperation, but it's got to be under the umbrella of UN and African Union, said Zuma.
While he stressed that UN Security Council reforms are long overdue, he admitted that countries selected to serve on the council need to know what's desired and participate fully.
“It's important that the process is looked at. We don't want people who'll just come, sit there and enjoy the status.”
He continued: “Do they have a contribution to make? What is it that's going to be used as a criteria? Why should this particular country be a member? Members of the UN Security Council must talk about these things.”
Obama said the challenge with UN Security Council reforms was that some countries “like sitting around the table to plan what to do but not paying; not taking responsibility or sharing the blame. Countries generally like the idea of being part of the force, but one thing the US has done: we're bearing a lot of responsibility. They ask us to foot the bill.”
The US will renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), a policy South Africa has been hoping would be extended. Agoa allows some sub-Saharan countries to trade with the US on a duty-free basis.
Obama said the Agoa renewal is being done to generate more trade and jobs.
With the suspicion that Obama's visit to South Africa was a signal of America's panic that China is fast becoming Africa's investment partner of choice, Obama said his country was not worried about that.
“I actually like the attention Africa is receiving from countries like China, India and Brazil. I don't feel threatened by it. It's up to Africa to make sure these interventions work for the continent.”
Obama said that if more global players increase investments in Africa, it means there'll be “more tools to further incorporate Africa into the global economy”.
Meanwhile, South Africa expressed relief that the US has relaxed sanctions on Zimbabwe, South Africa's neighbour that's been struggling with democratic reforms for years. Zuma said that would help strengthen the Zimbabwean economy. The country's economy collapsed on the back of political intolerance, violent elections and the brain drain caused mainly by political instability.
Obama said lack of democracy floored the economy and said the US still demands that Zimbabwe stops the “harassment of citizens and groups”.
Obama leaves South Africa on Monday morning.