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South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa


Relations with Botswana were normalized in the early 1990s, after a period of strained ties in the 1980s. The most contentious issue between the two countries had been Botswana's willingness to provide safe haven for the ANC military wing, MK, and, to a lesser extent, for other opposition groups such as the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA--the external wing of the Black Consciousness Movement). Although Botswana officially prohibited ANC use of its territory as a base for attacks against South Africa, the ANC violated this policy during the 1980s, provoking several small-scale raids by the South African Defence Forces (SADF) against ANC bases in Botswana. At the same time, although Botswana joined in the international condemnation of apartheid, its geographic and economic vulnerability deterred it from imposing economic sanctions against South Africa, with whom it maintained extensive but unpublicized trade relations.

Relations improved in the early 1990s, as apartheid was gradually dismantled. ANC camps in Botswana were closed in 1991 and 1992, as several hundred political exiles returned to South Africa under a program administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).


Until the 1960s, several South African governments pressed for the incorporation of Lesotho, then a British protectorate, into the Union of South Africa. As a landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho depended heavily on South Africa for its economic well-being. After Lesotho became independent in October 1966, South Africa played a major role in the country's internal affairs--for example, by supporting the new government led by Chief Leabua Jonathan.

Tensions between the two countries rose in the 1970s because of Lesotho's criticism of South Africa at the UN and at the OAU, its support for the ANC, its provision of safe haven to antiapartheid fighters such as MK, and its close ties to a number of socialist countries. Relations became severely strained in April 1983, when the Jonathan government announced that Lesotho was at war with South Africa, and again in 1984, when Lesotho refused to sign a nonaggression pact with South Africa. In response, South Africa impounded shipments of arms to Lesotho, threatened economic sanctions, and suspended talks concerning the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (a thirty-year cooperative engineering venture that would supply water to South Africa and provide electric power and financial compensation to Lesotho). Tensions eased in 1984, as some ANC forces withdrew from Lesotho, but in 1985 new tensions prompted Pretoria to step up security measures along the border between the two countrries.

In early 1986, South Africa backed a military coup in Maseru, bringing into power a government more sympathetic to Pretoria's security interests. Lesotho expelled several ANC members and technicians from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), whom Pretoria considered a menace, and relations between the two nations improved. Work on the Highlands Water Project resumed, and in 1987 they established a joint trade mission. Relations continued to improve after that, and the countries established full diplomatic ties in May 1992. Pretoria recognized the outcome of Lesotho's March 1993 elections, the first in twenty-two years.

In January 1994, Lesotho's democratically elected civilian government sought South African assistance in quelling an army mutiny over pay and conditions of service in the Lesotho Defence Forces. Pretoria refused to intervene directly, but threatened to seal off Lesotho's borders, which would have blocked vital commercial transportation to and from Maseru. De Klerk and Mandela, together with the presidents of Zimbabwe and Botswana, urged both sides to negotiate an end to the crisis, a move that represented the likely pattern of postapartheid diplomacy in southern Africa.

Data as of May 1996