John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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South Africa: An Alternative to Iran Oil?

by John Campbell
March 14, 2012

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (R) welcomes South African Foreign Minister Dlamini Zuma in Tehran, December 14, 2004. (Raheb Homavandi/Courtesy Reuters) Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (R) welcomes South African Foreign Minister Dlamini Zuma in Tehran, December 14, 2004. (Raheb Homavandi/Courtesy Reuters)

Reuters reports that on March 13, South Africa’s minister of energy, Elizabeth Dipuo Peters, said that South Africa is looking to have in place by the end of May a plan for an alternative to Iranian crude, suggesting Venezuela as a possibility. She told Reuters the United States is not pressuring South Africa to cut Iranian imports nor has Iran offered South Africa concessionary prices. U.S. pressure would be a red flag for parts of the ruling African National Congress that are suspicious of alleged Western “neo-colonialism” in Africa.

Iran supplies South Africa with up to thirty percent of its energy imports. The energy relationship between South Africa and Iran is long standing, extending back to the apartheid era. Many refineries in South Africa are specifically designed for Iranian crude. Hence, a shift away from Iranian crude is a big South African decision.

Nevertheless, South Africa is a party to the UN sanctions against Iran, the most likely reason for moving away from Iranian oil, despite the likely significant costs.

That South Africa is taking concrete steps to end its dependency on Iranian oil, and the explicit recognition by the minister of energy that the move was not the result of American pressure, suggests that Iran may be an area where close consultation between the Obama and Zuma administrations could be fruitful and strengthen the bilateral relationship.

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