12 Things You Didn’t Know About South Africa-Iran Relations

By Dana Sanchez AFKI Original Published: February 15, 2017, 12:25 pm
Muslim men pray in Cape Town, 2014. Photo: AFP

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, some members of the international community including the U.S. have accused the government of Iran of sponsoring terrorism. South Africa is not one of the accusers. On the contrary, South Africa is expanding trade and defense commitments with the Islamic republic, with plans to expand tourism ties between the two countries. Deterring Iranian travelers to the U.S. could be South Africa’s gain as U.S. President Donald Trump attempts a travel ban and threatens to tear up the Iran nuclear deal.

Iran officially became an Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979. Iranians overwhelmingly supported the decision in a referendum. Photo: wikipedia

Iran, a central banker for terrorism?

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, some members of the international community including the U.S. have accused the government of Iran of sponsoring terrorism. Iran has been “a kind of central banker for terrorism” in Lebanon through Hezbollah, in the Palestinian Territories, “and we have deep concerns about what Iran is doing in the south of Iraq,” said former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. State Department

Six of Africa's 10 best airports are in South Africa

Cape Town International Airport. Photo: Roni Snitcher

Iran is a top source of Muslim visitors to South Africa

Iran is one of the top three source markets for inbound tourists to South Africa from the Middle East, according to the MasterCard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index for 2016, which covers 130 global destinations. More than 4,000 Iranian tourists visited South Africa from January to November 2016. South Africa, population 55 million, is home to around 1 million Muslims– less than 2 percent. Around 90 percent of Muslims are termed “Indian” and “Malay” Muslims.

Source: Bizcommunity, AboutIslam.

Kayla Razavi, whose family emigrated from Iran, rallies against a ban on Muslim immigration at San Francisco International Airport, Jan. 28, 2017. Photo: Stephen Lam/Getty

South Africa could capitalize on Trump’s travel ban

U.S. President Donald Trump attempted to impose a travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries, including Iran and three African countries — Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. South Africa wants to strengthen tourism ties with Iran and boost its standing as a Muslim-friendly destination. About 117 million Muslim visitors traveled the world in 2015 — 10 percent of the entire travel market. This is expected to grow to 168 million visitors by 2020, according to the MasterCard Muslim Travel Index. “The fast-growing Muslim travel segment is an opportunity in plain sight, but in order to benefit from it, it is crucial to understand the needs and preferences of Muslim travelers and how to adapt and tailor products and services for them,” said Matthew Driver, a Mastercard group executive for Asia Pacific.

Source: Traveller24Bizcommunity

blacklisted Iranian airline

Mahan Air, a private Iranian airline banned by Saudi Arabia and sanctioned by the U.S. for allegedly helping Hezbollah, has applied for a permit to fly twice weekly between Tehran and Johannesburg. Photo: anna.aero

Iran’s travel business booming

Iran has seen three years in a row of double-digit growth in international arrivals and scheduled global air capacity, according to a recent analysis by ForwardKeys.

Source: Teheran Times.

South African President Jacob Zuma with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani. Photo: Islamic Republic News Agency/payvand.com

Iran and South Africa agreed to boost defense, military cooperation

Iran and South Africa in December agreed to boost defense and military cooperation, promote regional and international peace and stability, and engage in a campaign against terrorism. Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan was the first Iranian defense minister to visit South Africa since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Source: PressTV.

Iranians celebrate the nuclear agreement in Tehran, July 14, 2015, ushering in a new era for Iran’s relations with the world. Photo: Ahmad Halabisaz/Xinhua

Trump imposes new sanctions against Iran

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Friday on the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution that ended the rule of U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Many rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s warning that he had put the Islamic Republic “on notice,” state TV reported. The U.S. Treasury Department earlier this month said it was imposing sanctions on 25 individuals and companies connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program. Some marchers in the crowds carried banners that read: “Thanks to American people for supporting Muslims.” On Twitter and Facebook, many Iranians used the hashtag #LoveBeyondFlags to try and end the practice of burning U.S. flags, common at anniversary events. Some also thanked Americans for opposing Trump’s executive order banning travelers from Muslim-majority countries including Iran. The travel ban is being challenged in U.S. courts.

Source: Reuters, CNN

Iranian students mourn the death of Nelson Mandela at the South African Embassy in Tehran, Dec. 14, 2013. Photo: Ahmad Halabisaz/Xinhua

Post-revolutionary Iran supported South Africa in the apartheid struggle

After sanctions were lifted against Iran, South African President Jacob Zuma visited the country and signed several commitments. South Africa views Iran as a strategic trading partner. “In the bilateral sphere, South Africa and Iran share a long historical relationship, with Iran having stood with and supported the struggle for liberation in SA. South Africa has also stood with Iran in the face of unilaterally imposed sanctions,” the president said in a statement.

Source: Fin24

Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari visits a South African naval base in 2016. Photo: tasnimnews.com

Trade has fallen between the 2 countries

South Africa blames sanctions imposed by the West and nonexistent banking relations between South Africa and Iran for a decline in trade. As of 2015, total trade between the two countries was 358 million rand ($27.3 million US). South African exports to Iran declined from 1.27 billion rand ($97 million US) in 2008 to 270 million ($20.6 million) in 2014.

Sources: Fin24CNBCAfrica.

Afro-Iranians. Photo: Behnaz Mirzai/middleeasteye.net

Before the revolution, the Shah supported the apartheid government

During the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from 1941 to 1979, Iran had few African interests other than Anwar Sadat’s Egypt, Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia and the South African apartheid regime. Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic in 1979 resulted in an overhaul of Iranian foreign policy, changing its focus from the West to the developing world. Even then, Africa was never a top priority. After the shah, Tehran abandoned ties with the South African apartheid regime in favor of the African National Congress, a move that was remembered and appreciated once the ANC took over in 1994.

Source: National Interest.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif headed an economic delegation on a four-nation tour of West Africa in 2016. Photo: Tasnim News Agency/Iran Review

Africa helped Iran overcome its pariah status

In Africa, Iran has found a way of overcoming its pariah status. The Islamic Republic has been accused of using Africa to extend Hezbollah’s reach, obtain nuclear material, advance its commercial interests, and arm its proxies.

Source: The Tower.


MTN Irancell is the second largest mobile operator in Iran.
Photo: heraldboy.com

South African cell phone giant MTN is expanding in Iran

South African cell phone giant MTN owns a 49 percent stake in Tehran’s Irancell Telecommunication Services, and has been repatriating some of the $1 billion trapped in Iran while U.S.-led sanctions were in place. Now MTN is trying to secure an agreement with the Iranian government to acquire a 49 percent stake in a state-owned internet provider. A civil complaint filed in Washington, D.C. federal court claimed MTN elbowed Turkcell, a Turkish competitor, out of a 49 percent stake through bribes paid to Iranian officials. The complaint had over 60 pages of documentation, including detail about vehicles and military equipment South Africa would provide to Iran if MTN. The weapons were never delivered, and the Turkcell case was withdrawn in May 2013 because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that international corporate civil suits could no longer be tried in U.S. court. MTN’s Iran deal nets it over $117 million a year. Irancell’s Iranian owner is a holding company whose investors include Iran Electronics Industries, a government-connected electronics and defense company that had been under U.S. sanctions since September of 2008.

Source: The Tower, Bloomberg

Iranian soldiers. Photo: Chavosh Homavandi/AFP/Getty

South African businesses were wary of doing business with Iran after sanctions were lifted

After the Iran Nuclear Deal concluded in 2015, Iran was officially open for business again with most countries in the world, including South Africa. But South African companies were wary about returning.

According to the deal, Iran would redesign, convert, and reduce its nuclear facilities in order to lift all nuclear-related economic sanctions, freeing up tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue and frozen assets, according to a joint statement by the E.U. and Iran.

The main concern for South African businesses was that most primary U.S. sanctions remained in place initially, and those would affect dealings between Iran and other countries.

South Africa had bought much of its oil from Iran before E.U. and U.S. sanctions were imposed. U.S. secondary sanctions hit South Africa hardest because they stopped other countries from doing business with Iran or risk sanctions from the U.S. There were fears Obama’s successor would reverse the Iran Nuclear Deal. Trump vowed while campaigning to tear up all international agreements signed by the Obama administration. A key player in the nuclear negotiations, Helga Schmid visited South Africa in May 2016. Schmid said she was not worried. “Europe and many others will protect this agreement. In Europe everyone will support it, every one of the 28 countries.”

Source: ENCA, Joint Statement by the E.U. and Iran



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