Australia–South Africa relations

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Australia–South Africa relations
Map indicating locations of South Africa and Australia

South Africa


Australia–South Africa relations are foreign relations between Australia and South Africa. Australia has a High Commission in Pretoria. South Africa has a High Commission in Canberra. Both countries are former British colonies in the southern Hemisphere, share similar cultures in terms of sports and language, and are members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

It is estimated that as of 2010 around 155,690 South Africans reside in Australia.[1]


Australian High Commission in Pretoria
South African High Commission in Canberra

South Africa and Australia established diplomatic relations in 1947 and enjoyed very close political and economic ties. As campaigns for international isolation of South Africa intensified in the 1970s and 1980s, successive Australian governments placed Australia firmly in the anti-apartheid camp, supporting UN resolutions against apartheid and implementing the oil, trade and arms embargo as well as sport boycott against South Africa.[2]

When Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam came to power in December 1972, his Government quickly acted to dismantle all vestiges of racism and to adopt a more independent stance on foreign policy. One of its first actions was to restrict the entry of racially selected sports teams and individuals and initiate an apartheid sports boycott. In 1977, Australian Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock maintained "that it was impossible to divorce politics from sport because the South African Government had imposed a political dogma on its sportsmen and sports associations."[3]

After the inauguration of the first democratically elected Government of South Africa in May 1994, relations were normalised.[2]

In 1997, the Australia-South Africa Joint Ministerial Commission was established which is chaired by Trade Ministers, the JMC is the peak forum for the discussion and strengthening of the trade and economic relationship between South Africa and Australia.[4]

In the early 2000s, Australia's trade with South Africa had become more liberalised and they also played a significant role along with India in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation.[5]

2018 diplomatic disputes[edit]

In March 2018, a diplomatic row broke out between the two countries after Australian cabinet minister Peter Dutton called for white South African farmers to be fast-tracked[6] as refugees, stating that "they need help from a civilised country",[7][8][9] with the Australian High Commisioner subsequently summoned by the South African foreign ministry, which expressed its offence at Dutton’s statements, and demanded a “full retraction”.[10] The Australian government effectively retracted Dutton's offer, and responded to the South African démarche with a letter that "satisfied" the South African foreign ministry. [11] However, Dutton subsequently reiterated his position that the farmers were persecuted, denied any retraction, and insisted that the Australian government was looking at "several" individual cases of farmers that could qualify for humanitarian visas.[12] In April 2018, Attorney-General for Australia Christian Porter also offered assistance to South Africans facing "persecution".[13]

In April 2018, the South African government issued a statement that it took "strong exception" to an Australian travel advisory that warned persons travelling to Souths Africa to "exercise a high degree of caution", with the South African foreign ministry stating that it would deter Australians from visiting, as well as tarnishing the image of South Africa. According to the South African foreign ministry, previous attempts to get the advice changed were unsuccessful, and the escalation reflected the importance of the tourist sector to the economy.[14]

Australian assistance[edit]

Australia has provided formal bilateral development assistance to South Africa since 1994. Post 1994, Australian aid provided assistance to South Africa to achieve the goals set out in its Reconstruction and Development Program and its Growth, Employment and Redistribution macro-economic strategy.[15]

The Australian government's formal program of assistance to South Africa commenced in 1994, principally under the direction of AusAID, and has totalled about R480m since then. Currently Australia provides around A$10 million (approximately R93 million) in development assistance to South Africa each year.[15]


Monthly value of Australian merchandise exports to South Africa (A$ millions) since 1988
Monthly value of South African merchandise exports to Australia (A$ millions) since 1988

South Africa is Australia's 21st largest merchandise trading partner and 16th most significant merchandise export market. In 2007, two-way merchandise trade was valued at A$3.88 billion. Australian exports to South Africa were A$2.53 billion (mainly medicaments, meat and civil engineering equipment), and Australian imports from South Africa were A$1.35 billion, notably passenger motor vehicles (mainly BMW 3 Series vehicles) worth A$663 million, as well as pig iron and motor vehicle parts.[16]

Australia is the sixth largest export destination for South African goods. The majority of goods exported from South Africa to Australia are finished goods. Exports of high quality motor cars – BMWs, Mercedes and VWs – head the list.[17]

The merger of the Australian BHP and South African Billiton in 2001 created BHP Billiton, the largest mining company in the world.[17]

Up until 2008, Australia's exports to South Africa grew at an average rate of 17% per year since the end of apartheid.[18]

Sporting relations[edit]

Australia played a consistent role in the implementation of the apartheid sports boycott from 1972 to 1991, when there were no official Australian rugby or cricket tours. However, there were many unofficial tours of South Africa, such as the rebel cricket tours in 1985–86 and 1986–87.[3]

Australia and South Africa have a strong sporting rivalry particularly in rugby union and cricket.[17][19][20][21] Through the annual Tri Nations rugby union competition, Australia and South Africa compete for the Mandela Challenge Plate.

Notable people[edit]

  • Wendy Botha, Australian world surfing champion born in South Africa
  • Dennis Jensen, Australian politician born in South Africa
  • Troye Sivan, South African-born Australian singer, songwriter, actor, and YouTube personality
  • Kepler Wessels, played cricket for both South Africa and Australia

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How many South Africans have left the country?". Politics Web. 14 August 2012. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Department of International Relations and Cooperation - South Africa". Retrieved 2016-10-20. 
  3. ^ a b "page not found". 
  4. ^ "Fourth Australia-South Africa Joint Ministerial Commission Joint Communique". Retrieved 2016-10-20. 
  5. ^ "EconPapers: Trade Liberalisation between Australia, India and South Africa: Prospects for a Dynamic Growth Triangle". 2016-10-10. Retrieved 2016-10-20. 
  6. ^ Karp, Paul (14 March 2018). "Australia considers fast-track visas for white South African farmers". the Guardian. 
  7. ^ "Dutton wants to bring 'persecuted' white South African farmers to Australia". 15 March 2018. 
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ "Australia's offer to help white farmers rejected". 
  10. ^ "Dirco demands #PeterDutton retract 'persecuted' white farmer comments - IOL News". 
  11. ^ Fabricius, Peter. "Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull retracts Peter Dutton's offer to help white South African farmers - Daily Maverick". 
  12. ^ "Dutton considering farmers as refugees - 9News". 
  13. ^ Jadoo, Yadhana. "Another top Australian official puts foot in mouth about SA". 
  14. ^ "SA 'took strong exception' to Australian travel advisory". 
  15. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-05-16. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-07-12. Retrieved 2009-04-24. 
  17. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-03-17. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-22. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  20. ^ "Injuries continue to take toll on Australia - Cricket - Sport". Retrieved 2016-10-20. 
  21. ^ [2][dead link]