The twelve-member European Union (EU) was South Africa's leading trading partner in the early 1990s, purchasing almost 40 percent of its exports in most years. European (including British) direct investment in South Africa had reached US$17 billion, o
r 52 percent of all foreign investment in South Africa, by 1992. By the mid-1990s, the EU could promise South Africa one of the world's largest markets for South African exports. The EU also proposed a variety of loans and grants on preferential terms for
South Africa in the 1990s, as well as a US$122 million aid program for priority needs such as education, health, job creation, and human rights.
South Africa's closest European ties have been with Britain, particularly with its Conservative Party-led governments. More than 800,000 white South Africans retained the right to live in Britain, although official ties weakened after South Africa lef
t the British Commonwealth in 1961 (see Apartheid, 1948-76, ch. 1). Britain supported the 1977 Commonwealth decision to discourage sporting links with South Africa to register international disapproval of apartheid, but Britain's refusal to impose broader
sanctions came under attack at subsequent Commonwealth heads of government meetings, especially in 1985, 1987, and 1989. In September 1994, British Prime Minister John Major, on a visit to Pretoria, promised a new investment protection treaty that would
further strengthen commercial ties.
France played little role in South Africa before the 1990s. Trade between the two countries was increasing during the decade, however. South Africa imports roughly US$1 billion in French products a year, and at least 125 French companies operate in So
uth Africa. French president François Mitterrand paid his first visit to South Africa on July 5, 1994, when the two nations signed an agreement aimed at strengthening commercial ties through long-term loans, subsidies, and technical assistance programs. S
ectoral goals for these programs include strengthening cooperation between the private and public sectors, urban and rural development, financial reconstruction, and environmental protection.
Pretoria severed diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union in 1956, largely because of Moscow's support for the SACP. In 1964 the Soviet Union began to deliver arms to ANC military training camps in Tanzania, and this support continued through the early 1
980s. Then in 1986, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the idea of a revolutionary takeover in South Africa and advocated a negotiated settlement between Pretoria and its opponents. Officials from the two countries then sought improved commercia
l and diplomatic relations.
In July 1990, the South African mining conglomerate, De Beers Consolidated Mines, advanced a US$1-billion loan to the Soviet Union as part of an agreement for that company to serve as the exclusive exporter of Soviet rough diamonds. In August of that y
ear, South Africa's minister of trade and industry, Kent Durr, visited Moscow to discuss possible South African assistance in the cleanup of the former Soviet nuclear site at Chernobyl. In early 1991, the two countries agreed to open interest sections in
the Austrian embassies in each other's capitals, and Pretoria appointed its first trade representative to Russia a year later. Diplomatic ties were established in February 1992, and the first ambassador to South Africa of the new Russian Federation arrive
d in Pretoria in December 1992. At the time, the two countries hoped to develop trade ties, especially in military hardware, although they were competitors in some areas of international arms trade.
Data as of May 1996