South Africa in Africa: The Post-Apartheid Era/Jeremy Grest

Transformation: Critical Perspectives on Southern Africa - Number 68, 2008, pp. 141-150

 South Africa in Africa: the post-apartheid era (review)

This volume emerged from workshops held in 2004, organised by the University of Cape Town's Centre for Conflict Resolution in collaboration with the Centre for Policy Studies, Johannesburg, and the African Centre for Development and Strategic Studies, Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria. Its three editors are Directors of the Institutions involved in this collaborative venture, which aims 'to disseminate Pan-African perspectives on this and other important issues related to Africa's international relations' (12). The impetus for the current book is derived in part from earlier initiatives from the eminent Nigerian-based editor, Adebayo Adedeji, in the form of workshops in Windhoek and Johannesburg and their outcome, a 1996 publication South Africa and Africa: within or apart?1 where the general consensus was that more time was needed to see the outlines of South African policy before any definitive judgements could be made. The lapse of time since then makes it appropriate, in the editors' view, for a more considered and comprehensive assessment. The authors contributing to the present volume are mainly South African-based, but not necessarily all of South African nationality, as the introduction is careful to note.

The book is 339 pages long, counting the index. It contains an introduction by the three authors, and thirteen chapters which are divided into three themes: three chapters on 'Context', five on 'Challenges' and five on 'Case Studies'. In their introduction the authors set out to frame the project by asking the following questions:

Can a country that has brutalised and exploited its own people, and those of surrounding countries, go on to become a credible champion of human rights, democracy and sustainable development on the African continent, even after a remarkable political transformation? To what extent has South Africa been liberated to play a leading role in Africa, and to what extent is it still crippled not only by the past, but by the widely varying priorities of its 47 million people? How have these dynamics played out in the years since the 'rainbow' nation stepped out of its own shadow in 1994? (17)

The editors comment that South Africa's room to manoeuvre in Africa will be severely limited unless ways are found to address the inherited structural inequalities and distortions which stand in the way of long term economic development and political stability. The introduction argues that a process of 'deconstruction' of institutions inherited from the apartheid era is necessary if South Africa is to shed its 'dual heritage' of the 'skyscraper economy' coexisting with the 'subsistence economy' (20) and that a reconstruction must follow. Whilst there can be no fundamental quarrel with such general assertions, since they are made almost in passing as part of a focus on external relations, it seems as though the complexity of this process and its contingency on a complex range of variables may have escaped their attention momentarily. Reconstruction is not guaranteed from Deconstruction. Further, institutional reconstruction, growth and state capacity are all linked, and have profound effects on the abilities of a state to project itself internationally. That being said, however, South Africa's credentials for candidacy as Africa's leading power are listed as including its role in the establishment of NEPAD and the African Union and its peace-building efforts in Burundi, the DRC and Ivory Coast, all of which clearly show that South Africa since 1994 is not only in Africa, but also for it in a way that it never was in the past.

The editors also allude to the debates over the terms of South Africa's re-integration into Africa as hegemon or partner, concluding that it is becoming an African power which aspires to middle-level power status globally through collaboration with key African allies and other regional powers such as Brazil and India, in international fora. The introduction discusses South Africa's African Renaissance agenda, focusing on its peacemaking efforts and the caution exercised to avoid being perceived as domineering, and ends with a useful brief presentation of the chapters to follow.

Part 1 of the book — 'Context' — has three chapters. Adebayo Adedeji's contribution is entitled 'South Africa and Africa's political economy: looking inside from the outside'. This is a continuation of discussions on Africa's political economy that he has had since the early 1970s through his engagement with ECOWAS, his Ministerial experience in Nigeria and his involvement in the management of the UN Economic Commission for Africa and COMESA. In it he returns to the theme already noted of the need to 'deconstruct' the colonial political economies of Africa and to reconstruct them, pointing to a structural dissonance between 'the African indigenous mode of governance and the western mode of democracy that is now in vogue in many parts of Africa' (49) which is unsustainable in the long term without fundamental social transformation. He concludes that South Africa and the rest of Africa urgently need not just growth, but holistic human development and the democratisation of the development process, and, very interestingly, a 'culture of personal and social discipline' (62). Anyone listening (or more to the point, reading) out there?

Khehla Shubane writes on 'Black economic empowerment: myths and realities'. The main thrust of his argument is that critics have focused on a single element — equity — to the exclusion of other factors in the score-card. His defence of BEE is that it is still the only viable solution for the complex problem of economic redress, and he rejects the views of critics who dismiss it as a 'gravy train' which principally benefits the politically-connected black bourgeoisie.

Yasmin Sooka, a former member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reflects on the process in 'Race and reconciliation: e pluribus unum?' She looks critically at the TRC processes and achievements, and argues, using market research findings, that the workings of the Commission may even have heightened racial antagonisms. She concludes, citing the National Assembly Hansard Debate on May 29, 1998, that South Africans will remain divided by race, inequality and poverty without a renewed commitment to transformation 'through a combination of affirmative action and employment equity together with the strengthening of a culture of hard work, efficiency and honesty' (91).

There are five chapters in the second section of the book. Maxi Schoeman's contribution 'South Africa in Africa: behemoth, hegemon, partner or "just another kid on the block"?' looks at where, and how, SA fits into Africa, from the point of view of both the roles that South Africa is expected to play by African and international actors as well as South Africa's own conception of its role. The image of 'another kid on the block' which is developed in this piece is an interesting contribution to the 'academically rigorous and policy-relevant' discourse promised by the editors in their introduction (31).

Khabele Matlosa's chapter 'South Africa and regional security in Southern Africa' looks at the critical challenge which SA faces with its neighbours, which is how to relate firmly but with respect, ie providing regional leadership without seeming insensitive. He begins by contextualising regional security within the framework of southern Africa's political economy, and then moves on to look at the crises in Lesotho in 1994 and 1998 and SA's differences with Zimbabwe over SADC's Organ for Politics, Defence and Security (OPDS). He observes that the evolving patterns of regional security have been largely structurally determined by the political economy and that these have been overwhelmingly state-centric. He offers a number of conclusions regarding prospects for SA's role in the next decade: SA will remain a dominant force; regional leverage will be invested in promoting democratisation and managing violent conflicts but national interests will generally trump regional concerns; multilateralism will be the chosen route; 'quiet diplomacy' will dovetail with the Mbeki vision of the African Renaissance; and this strategy will fit with his commitment to continental initiatives such as NEPAD and the APRM. With the end of the Mbeki era, it is less clear whether his successor will seek to follow exactly the same path.

The chapter by Judi Hudson, 'South Africa's economic expansion into Africa: neo-colonialism or development?', is a thoughtful analysis of the rapid penetration of corporate and parastatal investments which have made SA pivotal to the flow of capital, goods and people on the continent. She notes that 'not everyone is delighted' and provides some ideas about how to think about assessing the impact. She concludes that SA's prominence has forced a more nuanced approach to the question and suggests that corporates should look more carefully at the OECD guidelines with a view to their adaptation for the African environment. She also argues that greater intra-African trade would drive sustainable growth on the continent and asks why South Africa is not investing more in Africa.

In their chapter 'Conflict and land reform in southern Africa: how exceptional is South Africa?' Sam Moyo and Ruth Hall note the slow pace of land reform since the ending of apartheid and the lack of progress towards rural restructuring and poverty alleviation. They argue that the lessons from other countries in the region about the limits of market-based redistribution have not been learnt, with regard to both commercial and communal agriculture, and that South Africa appears to be in a state of denial rather than embracing its identity as part of the region and the continent. In their overview of land reform in South Africa, they look at land dispossession and agrarian dualism; the dynamics of land reform in the first decade of democracy; and market-led land reform and macro-economic policy. They conclude that the challenges facing South Africa's efforts at redistributive land reform have much in common with the rest of the region. They then move to a consideration of the links between the 'agrarian' and 'national' questions and development in Africa, asserting the necessity for redistributive land reforms — both in southern Africa and in those parts of East and North Africa where highly unequal land distribution exists alongside landlessness and shortages. They add that 'progressive' tenure reforms should also be put in place to counter general tenure insecurities, as well as necessary institutional reforms that will defend the poor against potential land seizures and accommodate those excluded from increasingly scarce arable land.

Turning to southern Africa, they provide a survey of land reform and land redistribution, arguing that in places such as Mozambique and Angola, where national liberation was decisively concluded, the land distribution question appears to have been broadly resolved, although new sites of localised land concentration have emerged. Whilst noting the 'radicalisation' of Zimbabwe's 'land reform' approach, the authors avoid mentioning any of its ongoing human consequences. They observe that the 'white settlerist' basis of southern Africa's land problem emphasises the primacy of racial conflicts in land reform, and nationalistic tendencies towards resolving national development. They conclude that neoliberal development and land reform policies have thus far failed to negotiate peaceful resolutions to these conflicts, but whether land issues will emerge as a future source of conflict will depend both on levels of rural organisation and on the 'broader political and economic trajectory of change in South Africa and beyond' (176).

Angela Ndinga-Muvumba and Shauna Mottiar look at HIV/AIDS and the African Renaissance and ask whether it is South Africa's Achilles' heel. They focus on the question of leadership by providing a concise review of SA's response to the epidemic, discussing the racial politics involved, and looking at the role of Mbeki and the ANC in the debates over causes and treatment. They then unfavourably contrast SA's response with that of Uganda and Senegal , and comment on the SADC strategy and its worrying dependence on external support and leadership, as well as briefly considering the AU and its relationship with the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The conclusion of the authors is that

Eight years after the birth of the idea of an African 'century'; eleven years after Mbeki's famous 'I am an African' speech; and twenty five years after the onset of humanity's most tragic recent outbreak of disease, South Africa has failed decisively to halt its own HIV/AIDS epidemic, and deferred the dream of an African Renaissance.(194)

The third section of the book is devoted to case studies, of which there are five: by Chris Landsberg on South Africa and the making of the African Union and NEPAD; Adekeye Adebajo on South Africa and Nigeria in Africa; Augusta Conchiglia on SA and its Lusophone neighbours, Angola and Mozambique; Devon Curtis on South Africa's peacemaking in the Great Lakes region, and Iqbal Jhazbhay on SA's relations with North Africa and the Horn.

Chris Landsberg looks at Mbeki's 'progressive' African agenda, which refers to a 'wide range of measures to make democratic political systems, peace and security, and accelerated economic growth the basis of development in Africa' (195). He details how the South African government has attempted to navigate African sensitivities about its role, objectives and agenda through the choice of multilateralism as a preferred mode of action, and through attempting to gain acceptance by actors for an articulated set of working principles — 'the rules of the game'. South Africa's role in the making of the African Union, and NEPAD is described. Landsberg outlines the Peer Review Mechanism and comments on the Review Process, in which he participated as a consultant, noting the comments contained in the draft report of the Panel of Eminent Persons, (the 'Peer Reviewers' in effect, led by one of this volume's co-editors). Landsberg describes how the SA government's serious reservations about the report have effectively stalled the very review process which it was instrumental in setting up and shaping. In concluding, he argues for an opening up of NEPAD to African civil society, which was not sufficiently incorporated at the outset, and for a revision of its neoliberal economic underpinnings.

Adebajo sets out to answer the question whether Nigeria and South Africa, as two potential hegemons, can form 'an axis of virtue' to play a leadership role in managing conflict, drive economic integration and promote democratic governance on the continent, using the various African institutions available. He outlines the recent trajectories of the two countries in relation to each other and their neighbours, using a three-part periodisation which begins with the period of African independence to the ending of apartheid — from 1960 to 1993, moves on to cover the General Abacha/Mandela interlude of 1994-1998, and concludes with an assessment of the legacy of the rule of 'the philosopher-king' (Mbeki) and 'the soldier-farmer' (Obasanjo) from 1999-2006. He discusses both the work of the Binational Commission, set up in 1999, an attempt to institutionalise the strong working alliance between Obasanjo and Mbeki, which met on an annual basis from then until 2005 to discuss issues of common interest. He also looks at the SA corporate penetration ('invasion') of the Nigerian market, and some of the difficulties emerging in the relationship between the two countries. In assessing the prospects for the future continental leadership roles of the two countries he notes that the idea is not universally accepted, and is seen by some as a new form of imperialism and concludes that only by taking measures to alleviate such concerns can the two countries become 'the beacons of democracy and engines of economic growth to which their leaders clearly aspire' (235).

Conchiglia reviews the relationship between South Africa and 'Lusophone' Angola and Mozambique, contrasting the close and cordial nature of its ties with Mozambique and the more vexed and distant ones with Angola. The close ties with Mozambique are based on physical proximity, a long history of (unbalanced) economic relations and strategic alliances born of a common struggle against colonialism and apartheid. Angola on the other hand has not shown a great desire to improve diplomatic relations with SA since the ending of apartheid, and the expected South African investment has been somewhat eclipsed by Angola's recent opening to China. She concludes her review by commenting that better relations will probably have to await the next generation of leaders on both sides, and that the South African government for its part will need to moderate and regulate economic expansion into the rest of Africa or risk depriving its ambitious political design for the continent of its moral content.

Devon Curtis looks at how South Africa has set about 'exporting peace' to the Great Lakes region, focussing on Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo as case studies for what she sees as a 'model' which is based on a process of extensive dialogue with different belligerents and stakeholders, leading to a negotiated settlement that includes a broad-based power-sharing transitional government, the establishment of a new national army, and democratic elections. She outlines the assumptions underlying this essentially liberal-rational approach, and some of the criticisms which have been levelled at it, such as the dissonance between the civic values assumed and the actual basis of the conflicts, and the idea that countries can democratise according to external blueprints despite their underlying conditions and prior institutional legacies. She also notes questions about South Africa's underlying economic interests which, some commentators have argued, cannot be separated from its diplomatic involvement in these conflict zones. Having outlined the Arusha process for Burundi, the inter-Congolese Dialogue and the peace process in the DRC she moves on to enumerate some implementation challenges and some post-election vulnerabilities. These include the fragility of the peace agreements, due in large measure to the economic stakes in both conflicts, the nature of authority in the two countries and the regional dimension of the conflicts. Reflecting on the difficulties of building peace in a context in which some key actors do not want peace, where some local and foreign interests benefit from continued conflict, and where informal structures of authority are pervasive, she concludes that despite the risks there have been some notable successes and that these may lead to larger changes which could make peace meaningful for the wider populations of the Great Lakes region.

Jhazbhay's piece on North Africa and the Horn concludes this collection. He notes that building relations between the two regions has required a great deal of work to make up for the lack of contact in previous decades, and differentiates between the Mandela and Mbeki presidencies in his overview. He shows how relations with Algeria and Tunisia have grown into a strategic partnership, and how ties with Egypt, Libya and Morocco have been much more difficult, requiring 'courage, forbearance and tact of the highest order' (276). There is also a brief assessment of relations with the Horn, with specific attention on Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Somaliland. He concludes that the government has opened up lines of communication with the North and the Horn, investing a lot of political capital in the process, as part of the larger strategic goal of achieving Africa's renewal, but that the 'take-up' by the business and NGO community has so far been fairly limited. This is in part explained by logistical problems which make direct travel between the two zones difficult. On the other side, there is the delicate question of how these leaders see themselves, in terms of alternative and perhaps competing African or Arab or Mediterranean identities. Jhazbhay is confident that, if properly engaged by South Africa in its capacity as the emerging continental power, they will embrace their core African identity.

This was a disappointing volume. Its format, with 13 chapters, is already quite a long read, but it leaves me with a number of unanswered questions about South Africa in Africa. How for example, is foreign policy for Africa made? Is it any different from the way it is made for other areas of the world? We get no sense of any political process outside of Mbeki's vision for Africa. How is policy decided? Where is it discussed? Who makes the most meaningful inputs? What are the roles of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Parliament and its committees, the Cabinet, the ANC and other political parties, business and other lobby groups, etc? There is actually no view into the 'black box' which might tell us something of the politics of the process. The almost exclusive focus on leadership in articulating the vision may be justified in terms of Mbeki's key role, but is this where the process ends? If so, then our foreign policy capacity becomes largely a function of personalistic executive decisions, with little role for any of the other professional or public inputs which characterise foreign policy formation in democracies.

The collection is also uneven in its geographical spread, and this may be a product of the chosen format, which focussed on selected case studies in the third part. West Africa is bigger than Nigeria alone but very little mention was made of other Anglophone states in the region, and Francophone states were only dealt with as far as they were zones of conflict requiring South African mediation. In East Africa the important states of Kenya and Tanzania get no mention, even in passing. Perhaps a more general regional conspectus, such as that given by Jhazbhay when dealing with North Africa and the Horn, would have been useful. But the biggest silence is on Zimbabwe, where an ongoing political crisis is dealt with, more or less in passing, as part of a review of land reform in Africa, and described as an example of 'radical redistribution'. If ever there was a case for a careful analysis of South African foreign policy in action in Africa it must be here. The large-scale xenophobic attacks on African migrants in South Africa, which began in May 2008, have to be seen as a major foreign policy failure amongst other failures of governance. What moral claims to the leadership of a Renaissance can be made by leaders who, with their discourse of brotherhood and African identity, have failed to recognise and act to mitigate the scale of the human disaster unfolding beneath their noses? The disconnect between the articulated vision of continental renewal and the anger, hatred and criminality on the streets could not be more profound. Certainly, the South African foreign policy community will need carefully to examine the links between a range of internal policies which have caused such disaffection from citizens living on the margins of our society and their own capacity to do a credible job selling South Africa in the rest of the continent.

Jeremy Grest

Notes
1. Adebayo Adedeji (ed) (1996) South Africa and Africa: within or apart? London: Zed Books.

Synopsis of the book »

 

Rate this item
(0 votes)

© 2016 Centre for Conflict Resolution 

Centre for Conflict Resolution, Coornhoop, 2 Dixton Road, Observatory 7925, Cape Town, South Africa

 Tel: +27 (0)21 689 1005 | Fax: +27 (0)21 689 1003