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South African Nuclear History

This collection provides a look at nearly twenty-five years of South African nuclear policy. These documents shed new light on the country’s unique nuclear history, from early uranium supply arrangements under the United States-South Africa Atomic Energy Bilateral to the South African response to the September 1979 Vela incident, through the early 1990s when it announced the existence and subsequent destruction of its nuclear program. This collection is a result of the partnership between the Wilson Center’s Nuclear Proliferation International History Project and Monash South Africa. See also Nuclear Proliferation, and the related collections in the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project. (Image, Pelindaba Nuclear Research Centre, South Africa, NJR ZA)

  • June 30, 1975

    Meeting Minutes Regarding ISSA (Israel-South Africa Agreement)

    Minutes from the third ISSA meeting between representatives of the Israeli and South African governments, including Minsters Botha and Peres. Missile delivery systems and other military equipment are discussed.

  • July 01, 1975

    Notes and Agenda Related to Israel-South Africa Meeting in Lisbon

    Meeting notes and accompanying documents on Israel-South Africa (ISSA) meeting.

  • June, 1976

    Notes on April 1976 South African Visit to Israeli Scientific and Technical Intelligence Organization (LAKAM)

    Information on the organization, activities, and equipment of Israeli Bureau of Scientific Relations.

  • June 02, 1976

    Reply, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, 'Sale of Two Nuclear Plants to South Africa'

    French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean Sauvagnargues, responds to an inquiry from the National Assembly regarding France's sale of two pressurized-water reactors to South Africa.

  • July 31, 1976

    Agenda of South African Minister of Labor S. P. Botha’s Visit to Israel

    South African Minister of Labor and Mines, S. P. "Fanie" Botha visited Israel in connection with the lifting of safeguards on stockpiled South African yellowcake.

  • September 29, 1976

    Discussion between SWAPO with Dr Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State, in New York

    Dr. Kissinger expresses his proposal for a conference on Namibia to be attended by SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization), Turnhalle members, and South Africa. The Conference concerned the ongoing struggle for independence by Namibian guerrillas from South African rule. Kissinger pledged US support to SWAPO as the leading force in Namibia, but Namibian delegates responded that they would not attend the conference unless South Africa met all preconditions including the withdrawal of troops from Namibian territory.

  • November 23, 1976

    United States Information Service, 'United States Statement on UN Vote on South Africa'

    US statement to the UN General Assembly delivered by delegate Father Hupp. The statement explains the why the US voted no on a series of resolutions regarding South Africa. These included resolutions on an arms embargo, sporting boycott and other resolutions concerning Apartheid. It also voted no on a resolution condemning Israel for arms sales to South Africa.

  • February 11, 1977

    Letter, South African Ambassador to the United States, 'The House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa'

    The South African Ambassador to the United States writes about the reorganization of Congressional committees in Washington. The Ambassador is concerned with the new Subcommittee on Africa that is to travel to South Africa soon. It contains a number of vocal opponents to the Pretoria regime and three black members, most prominently Charles Diggs.

  • June 02, 1977

    Letter, South African Ambassador to the United States, 'US Policy on Foreign Military Sales'

    The South African Ambassador to the United States analyzes the new arms control policies under the Carter Administration.

  • August, 1977

    Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Intelligence, Office of Scientific Intelligence, 'South African Uranium Enrichment Program'

    With South Africa’s status as a pariah state, its nuclear program was a thorny problem for a series of U.S. presidents. In August 1977, the Carter administration, working with the Soviet Union, lodged protests against South Africa’s apparent preparations for a nuclear test, forcing a shut-down of the Kalahari test site if not the entire nuclear program itself. Indeed the CIA’s analysis of South Africa’s innovative “aerodynamic” uranium enrichment plant at Valindaba brought it to the conclusion that South Africa would be able to produce enough weapons-grade uranium “to make several nuclear devices per year.”

  • August 10, 1977

    Letter, Warren Christopher to William Hyland, 'Response to Soviet Message on South Africa'

    This draft reply to Leonid Brezhnev's August 1977 message to Jimmy Carter on the suspicious site in the Kalahari Desert includes a number of interesting points, among them a request for the "geographic coordinates, size, configuration, and exact nature of the facility." Presumably this information would be used by the US to better target its reconnaissance satellites on the site.

  • August 18, 1977

    Letter, US Ambassador Bowlder to South African Foreign Minister Botha

    Message from U.S. Ambassador Bowdler to the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs Botha in which President Carter’s warning that the detonation of a South African nuclear device would have “most serious consequences” for U.S.-South African relations was conveyed.

  • August 18, 1977

    South African Ambassador to France, 'Unofficial Translation of French Aide-Memoire'

    Statement from the French embassy in South Africa reaffirming their position that South Africa not pursue a nuclear weapon. Specifically, France sought a clear statement from the South African government that they not "endow [themselves] with means of proceeding with nuclear explosions” or risk continued French-South African cooperation in several areas.

  • August 19, 1977

    Letter, US Secretary of State Vance to South African Foreign Minister Botha

    US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance explains the evidence which lead the US to suspect that South Africa was developing nuclear weapons and developing a testing site in the Kalahari Desert.

  • August 22, 1977

    World Conference for Action Against Apartheid, Lagos, 22-26 August 1977, Supplement to Brief No. A7 (Nuclear Questions): Soviet Allegations About South African Nuclear Weapons Development

    Memorandum on UK position at Lagos Conference on Apartheid about Soviet allegations of South African nuclear weapons development.

  • August 23, 1977

    Telegram from South African Embassy in the US on President Carter’s Press Conference on the Kalahari Nuclear Test Site

    The South African Embassy in the US reports to the South African Foreign Ministry on President Carter’s press conference on the kalahari nuclear test site and related US media coverage. Carter called on the South African government to place their nuclear programs under international safeguards and monitoring and cease attempts to develop and explosive device.

  • August 24, 1977

    Extract from Speech by the South African Prime Minister at Congress of the National Party of Cape Province

    Extract from a speech during which South African Prime Minister Vorster discusses Soviet allegations that South Africa has developed a nuclear bomb.

  • August 24, 1977

    Telegram from South African Mission in New York to Department of Foreign Affairs on the New York Times Editorial 'Rumors, Not Bombs in South Africa'

    Summary of New York Times editorial regarding Carter's press conference on South Africa's alleged development of nuclear weapons.

  • August 26, 1977

    Cable, South African Department of Foreign Affairs, 'South Africa: Nuclear Bomb Charges'

    South African department of Foreign Affairs cable to its embassies addressing the Soviet charge that South Africa is on the precipice of developing a nuclear bomb. The message states that South Africa has no intentions of developing a weapon, that the Kalahari facility is not being used to test explosives, and that “there will not be any nuclear explosive testing of any kind in South Africa.” Attached is a copy of the Prime Ministers’ 24 August 1977 speech in Cape Town.

  • August 30, 1977

    Telegram, Statement by South African Finance Minister O.P.F. Horwood on South Africa's Nuclear Intentions

    In a statement Horwood said that South Africa's nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, but that if it choose to, the country would make the decision to develop weapons "according to its own needs and it alone would make the decision."