Malawi–South Africa relations

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Malawian – South African relations
Map indicating locations of Malawi  and  South Africa


South Africa

Malawian-South African relations refers to the bilateral relationship between Malawi and South Africa. South Africa's first formal relationship with an independent African country was established with Malawi, beginning in 1967.[1]

Colonial-era relations[edit]

The colonial structures were set up in a way that Malawi exported labour to South African mines prior to 1964.

Post-colonial policy (1964–1992)[edit]

The colonial structures of Malawian labour export to South African mines continued after Malawi achieved independence in 1964. Led by the then dictator Hastings Banda, Malawi was the only African ruled country to maintain close relations with White-ruled South Africa until the 1994 election of Nelson Mandela. Malawians were viewed as important workers in the South African mines due to their "skills, work discipline and lack of militancy".[2]

Banda's apartheid-era policy[edit]

Malawi was the only country in Africa to maintain diplomatic relations with South Africa during the apartheid era.[3] Hastings Banda was the first black President ever to visit South Africa in 1971 and the first chief of any foreign state to come since the United Kingdom's King George VI's visit in 1947.[4] During his visit, Banda received a 21 gun salute and an official welcome from President Jacobus Johannes Fouché.[4] White students at the University of Stellenbosch applauded him and sang accolades.[4] Following a state visit by South African Prime Minister Balthazar Vorster to Malawi the previous year in 1970, Banda was quoted to have said "We have to start talking to each other. I go to South Africa. You come here. I allow your people to come here and see how the people live. This might not solve the problem today, next month, in five years, ten years, or even twenty years. But I honestly believe that this in the end is the only solution."[5] His position on South Africa was that "It is only contact like this [between South Africa and Malawi] that can reveal to your people that there are civilised people other than white..."[5] However his non-isolationist approach to the National Party ruled apartheid government alienated him from other African countries and Pan Africanist leaders who had just gained independence.[6] By visiting South Africa, he had defied the 41 member Organisation of African Unity (OAU).[4] Tanzania's government paper called on the OAU to expel Malawi in order to isolate Banda and, "further alienate Banda from all those who believe in the equality of man.".[4] Kenyan newspaper, the Daily Nation, thought his visit would "set into motion a train of diplomatic events that may well make nonsense of Africa's commitment to the liberation of the millions of black people who still live under colonial or racist subjugation." if other African leaders followed suit. In response Banda called African leaders hypocrites, highlighting that they oppressed their own people but preached unity and equality.[4]

Banda-era transition period 1990–1994[edit]

During the transition period for both Malawi (transitioning from one party to multi-party democracy) and South Africa (transitioning from Apartheid to a multi-party democracy), the Malawian government's future relations with South Africa were not secure due to Malawi's past relationship with the apartheid government. Some leaders of the anti-apartheid movement did not support the Banda government or retaining ties with Malawi. South Africa was Malawi's largest trading partner and host to many Malawian labourers so relations with South Africa was still vital to Malawi. From 1988 to 1992, around 13,000 Malawian migrant labourers were forcefully repatriated out of South Africa. The official explanation for these repatriations was that 200 Malawians had tested positive for HIV in the previous two years; however, many believe that it was due the need for retrenchment of labourers during a crisis in South Africa's mining industry.[2]

The Malawian government made efforts to set straight its stance on South Africa by hosting ANC leader Nelson Mandela. A visit which was made possible due to efforts by Malawian diplomats resident in South Africa, including acting Ambassador Percy Kachipande. It was revealed shortly afterwards,that Kamuzu Banda had been secretly assisting the ANC during the apartheid era. The Malawi government pledged election support and continued support to the ANC government and diplomatic relations continued between the two countries.

Post-transition era reactions to Banda's policy (1994–1999)[edit]

In a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by former South African president F W De Klerk of the National Party, De Klerk argued that sanctions and isolation against South Africa by the international community were a factor in dismantling apartheid but "more often than not, they served to retard reform rather than stimulate it."[7] De Klerk notes that,

"The Government was always more inclined to listen to the advice of countries that maintained contact with it...the decision of Malawi to send black diplomats to Pretoria was far more effective in exposing the logical and logistical absurdities of apartheid than any number of resolutions by the United Nations."[7]

Democratic relations (1994–)[edit]

Since both South Africa and Malawi had their first multiparty democratic elections in 1994, Malawi and South Africa have enhanced relations. In 2008, the two governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding designed to enhance the relationship between the two countries through enhanced security cooperation.[8] Skilled Labor competition and the issuance of work permits from Malawi became problematic as South Africa tried to create jobs for local South Africans.[9]


  1. ^ "Department of Foreign Affairs, South Africa". 30 September 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Aliens and AIDS in Southern Africa: The Malawi-South Africa debate by Wiseman Chijere Chirwa, in African Affairs, 97:53–79 (1998)
  3. ^ "History Of Malawi". 31 December 1963. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Red Carpet for a Black Man". Kamuzu Banda. 30 August 1971. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Hastings Banda, Life President of Malawi quoted in Sunday Times, Johannesburg, 24 May 1970". 
  6. ^ "Banda Ngwazi Hastings Kamuzu". Novelguide. 14 October 2011. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  7. ^ a b "Submission To The Truth And Reconciliation Commission By Mr F W De Klerk, Leader Of The National Party – The O'Malley Archives". Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  8. ^ Country, Malawi to Enhance Defence Co-Operation by Bathandwa Mbola, BuaNews, 25 February 2008
  9. ^ "17 Feb 1995: Mzizi, Gertrude – The O'Malley Archives". Retrieved 19 October 2011.