Disrespectful tweets or the "occasional distracting statement" from national leadership in the United States shouldn't harm strong ties and what should be positive relations between South Africa and the US, senator Chris Coons, a Democrat representing the state of Delaware, said on Friday.
Speaking to journalists outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, Coons delivered the not-so-subtle jab at US president Donald Trump and senior leaders, saying the five-senator US delegation currently visiting the country wishes to reiterate the United States' "deep respect" for the people of South Africa.
Sustaining positive relations between the two countries is paramount, and the delegation recognises there have been some "strains" in US-SA relations, he said, apparently alluding to notorious remarks made by Trump referring to African nations as "sh*thole countries".
Coons said the delegation had "terrific meetings with senior ministers" during their two-day trip to South Africa, during which they had repeated a message of "respect" for South Africa, and their hopes that social media rants or gaffes by "senior politicians in the US" wouldn't sour relations.
Prior to addressing journalists, the politicians had concluded a "wonderful conversation" with four justices of the Constitutional Court, and left feeling inspired, he said. Also inspiring, Coons remarked, was seeing how the country's civil society, free press and judiciary has been "central ... to sustaining your democracy" through tough periods.
Offering condolences to South Africa following the death of liberation icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Coons said the US at the same time had just marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, paying homage to the central roles both played in the role of struggle, albeit in different contexts.
Trump and the missing ambassador
Although the senators say the US hopes to maintain "strong ties", the country is yet to appoint an ambassador to SA, since Donald Trump took office and former ambassador Patrick Gaspard departed.
While acknowledging the strains this causes to US-SA relations and reiterating commitment to speedily secure a confirmed ambassador, Coons said this "failing of the administration in the US" was not confined to South Africa.
"Context is important, because we don't have confirmed ambassadors for more than 30 countries, and no disrespect is meant specifically to South Africa. In South Korea, there isn't even a nominee for ambassador. In Germany, none is confirmed. We lack assistant secretaries for many other key areas of the world. This is a failing ... that all of us are committed to resolving as quickly as possible," he said.
In the interim, the US would ensure it remains committed to sustaining strong investment and economic partnerships, substantial investment in the fight against HIV and tuberculosis, and to participate in growing trade and commercial endeavours.
"We hope for a positive future under your new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, as we both move towards elections in our countries," he added.
SA is the second of four African nations the US senators will visit on the current tour, in which the delegation says it hopes to increase partnerships and enhance trade and investment opportunities. The other countries on their itinerary are Zimbabwe, Niger and Burkina Faso.
The five-man delegation comprises senator Coons and senators Jeff Flake (Republican; Arizona), Cory Booker (Democrat; New Jersey), Michael Bennet (Democrat; Colorado), and Gary Peters (Democrat; Michigan).