South Africas Minister in charge of the Department International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), Naledi Pandor, addressed the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Carnegie)  in Washington on Tuesday 19 March 2024.

Carnegie is described by Wikipedia as a nonpartisan international affairs thinktank headquartered in Washington, D.C., with operations in Europe, South and East Asia, and the Middle East, as well as the United States.

It has centres based in Brussels, New Delhi, Berlin (for Russia Eurasia), and Beijing.

It was founded in 1910, when industrialist Andrew Carnegie gifted $10 million to create the Carnegie Endowment to ‘promote international cooperation by advancing knowledge and building relationships around the world’. 

‘Since its founding, the Carnegie Endowment has empowered generations of world-class policy experts producing research and actionable ideas to help address the world’s most challenging problems.’ In addition, ‘Carnegie helps deepen and strengthen the relationships between international actors as they pursue solutions to complex and contentious issues.’


At the Carnegie event Pandor was asked about the BRICS economic bloc’s decision to welcome four authoritarian governments — Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt — into the group. Dirco, presumably, would have been prepared by her advisors to answer a question like this, possibly more than once, on the trip.

Pandor disputed the characterisation. She asked: ‘Who makes these judgments? Because I don’t know, this assessment, that you’re making’. Pressed by moderator Dan Baer, Carnegie’s senior vice president for policy research, on whether Iran is authoritarian, she responded, ‘I don’t know whether they are an authoritarian regime’.

‘I’m not aware — I don’t have that definition in my logbook’, she repeated.

Pandor said she does have concerns about women’s rights in Iran, and said she’s raised the issue with Iran’s foreign minister, insisting that South Africa cannot ‘close off engagement with any country’, instead seeking ‘to use our own democratic success as an example to others to say, this actually works’.

‘If we stopped talking to everybody because we define them in a particular way, I think the models we have adopted would not have any meaning’, she continued. ‘I do think that there is a strength in being able to speak to everyone because if you close off, I’m not sure that you achieve anything’.

Unique position

South Africa is in a unique position to determine the answer to the question. Democratic South Africa is governed by the Constitution of 1996, the supreme law in the country.

The South African government’s website states: ‘South Africa’s Constitution is one of the most progressive in the world and enjoys high acclaim internationally. Human rights are given clear prominence in the Constitution’.

Contrary to the politically expedient view of some, the ANC was not ‘forced’ into negotiating the terms of the Constitution. The ANC was the dominant party in the negotiations; so whatever ‘compromises’ it is made, were relatively few and were the natural consequences of the negotiations.

However, the Constitution is the logical guide to Dirco’s assessment of the nature of the countries it choses to recognise and conduct relationships with. Reference to the principles of the Constitution apply to the ANC’s governance of the people of South Africa.

The Preamble is itself instructive

‘We, the people of South Africa,

Recognise the injustices of our past;

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;        

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ­

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;

Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and

Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.’

However, Chapter 1 setting out the Founding Values is an invaluable guide to measure the nature of other governments and the states they lead:

‘The Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values:

a. Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.

b. Non-racialism and non-sexism.

c. Supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law.

d. Universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.


Applying these principles to the countries we engage with in our international affairs would be ideal criteria to determining whether what sort of governments we deal with.

That is not to say that one doesn’t deal diplomatically with countries which don’t meet some or even any of these criteria. It does help to determine whether one does deal with them, and if one does, to be cautious in those dealings.

These are the issues that should give Pandor and Dirco pause for thought. Iran is a complex and fascinating country. Its history is ancient and rich.

However, Iran is a politically theocracy, its human rights abuses are legion, it is the major supporter of Islamist terrorist groups, and is pursuing the development of a nuclear bomb. Fundamental to theological and political policy of Iran’s government is the destruction of the US and Israel. It’s policy and practices regarding anti-Semitism are on an altogether more extreme level.

Iran’s human rights abuses include suppression of opposition and protests; the deaths of women who failed to wear their mandated hijabs (head scarves) properly by the ‘morality police’; the imprisonment, torture, and execution of prisoners.

Homosexual practices can be punishable by death. People can legally change their assigned sex through a sex reassignment surgery, but not to affirm identity per Western, identity politics but to rid Iranian society of gays.


Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi was part of a four-man panel, which in 1988, was given the responsibility for presiding over the execution of over 5 000 political prisoners.

The victims had already been sentenced to years in prison — but not to death — during the 1980s for opposition to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule. Many were arrested for merely distributing or reading political tracts criticising the regime. Most of the murdered were in their 20s or 30s, and many had been left-wingers who had supported Khomeini’s overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

The prisoners were either killed by firing squad or hanged.

To this day families do not know about their family members’ burial sites. Authorities have sometimes broken up commemorative gatherings at presumed burial sites. An Amnesty International report details this period.

These are some of the comments made by committee members, on Wednesday 20 March 2024, during the the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee to consider legislation on Wednesday 20 March to reassess the US/South Africa bilateral relationship:

‘Maybe rehearsing drills to kill American soldiers and sailors is not necessarily a position of non-alignment, but a position of provocative aggression’, referring to SA’s joint military drills with China and Russia off South Africa’s coast. 

‘Madam Minister, you cannot expect to be my partner, cheat on me, and be upset when we consider stop paying your rent.’

Why ‘must we continue to send money to a country that clearly hates our allies and consorts with our enemies? More simply put… why do we have to pay our enemies when they can hate us for free?’

An amendment was adopted in the hearing which also criticised Pandor for urging pro-Palestinian activists to demonstrate outside the Pretoria embassies of the five governments which support Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza. These were understood to refer to the US, UK, Germany, France, and Canada.

However, a proposed amendment requiring the Administration to end all foreign aid to South Africa, was defeated. The view of the committee was that the US should not cut off its millions of dollars of health assistance to SA.


This amendment would have stopped Pepfar funding; the large US programme which has pumped billions of rands into helping South Africa fight HIV/AIDS for over two decades.

All of this does not dictate our foreign policy towards Iran, but it should inform it. For Pandor to say that she doesn’t know whether Iran is an authoritarian regime defies belief.

The House of Representatives is reminding the ANC, and it is specifically targeting the ANC, you can’t have your cake and eat it – even in international relations.

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Rants professionally to rail against the illiberalism of everything. Broke out of 17 years in law to pursue a classical music passion by managing the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra and more. Working with composer Karl Jenkins was a treat. Used to camping in the middle of nowhere. Have 2 sons who have inherited a fair amount of "rant-ability" themselves.