South Africa in Africa: The Post-Apartheid era / Patricia Bassomo

Global Dialogue, Vol. 13, 1 March 2008, pp. 45, 47-48

South Africa in Africa: The post-apartheid era. Adekeye Adebajo, Adebayo Adedeji and Chris Landsberg (eds). University of KwaZulu-Natal Press (2007)

Embracing Africa is easier said than done for SA. Patricia Bassomo reviews a new collection of essays which closely examines the vexed issue.

The highly symbolic year of 1994 saw the dawn of constitutional and participatory democracy in SA, and its advent meant new beginnings for SA, Southern Africa and Africa as a whole. The title of this book is thus both intriguing and suggestive. Following its democratic revolution, SA expressed the desire to integrate itself into the community of African states and demonstrate a political readiness to fully embrace the African self from which it had been divorced because of apartheid.

The book focuses on SA's foreign policy 13 years after having embarked upon the democratic process, with an emphasis on a range of foreign policy issues such as HIV/AIDS and the land question. It insightfully highlights the interface between SA's domestic and foreign policy, and critically shows the extent to which the country's Africa policy and diplomacy have been an extension of domestic policy, particularly in economic affairs, peace and security.

New self-image

The face of this foreign policy in Africa has changed substantively since the presidency of Nelson Mandela. SA has created a new self-image in order to change the perceptions of its African peers, to break from its tragic past and to pave the way for new and brighter relations with the rest of the continent.

SA, since 1994 and particularly since Thabo Mbeki's accession to the presidency in 1999, has adopted a consensus-based, multilateral approach to African affairs, with the intent of building stronger diplomatic and political capital within Africa. Mbeki has tactfully capitalised on this in order to nudge the continent towards an African Renaissance and an economic rejuvenation process embodied in NEPAD and the AU.

The thread running explicitly and implicitly through the book is the necessity for SA to embark on a multidimensional process of domestic transformation. A second important theme in some chapters is that of SA's role as a hegemon. A few authors, such as Adekeye Adebajo and Maxi Schoeman, seem to favour SA taking up that role. The negative and destructive legacy of the apartheid regime still haunts the new SA and will continue to do so for a very long time. In spite of efforts to restrain it from playing the role of Africa's 'big brother', SA has had a hard time persuading its African fellows of its good intentions and that it has the continent's best interests at heart. On one hand SA's active diplomatic and political involvement in Africa epitomises its willingness to placate the concerns of its peers. On the other hand its repeated attempts to export home-grown frameworks and approaches are indicative of a desire to achieve grand ambitions in the continental and global arenas — like any other rational actor within the international system.

The book is a compilation of 13 chapters divided into three thematic parts. Part 1 sets the tone for an intellectually and conceptually engaging account of SA's role in Africa. In his beautifully written chapter 1, entitled 'South Africa and Africa's political economy: looking inside and from the outside', Adebayo Adedeji questions the theorisation of Africa's political economy and compellingly points its lacunae.

Colonial political economy

Furthermore, he constructively juxtaposes Africa's and SA's political economies to demonstrate the level to which they have come to terms with an inherited colonial political economy. He argues that they must address this issue of inherited colonial political economy for the sake of sustainable development and the realisation of an African Renaissance. SA 'has not chosen the path of fundamental socio-economic transformation'; however, he does not explain why African countries after five decades of political freedom have still not taken on what he calls 'a historic responsibility'.

Khehla Shubane's chapter, 'Black Economic Empowerment', aims at rehabilitating BEE in a broader socio-economic context by transcending the reductionist perspective through which the policy has been evaluated. He argues that BEE is a necessary corrective governmental measure 'to deracialise the ownership of significant economic assets'. In chapter 3, Yasmin Sooka, writing on race and reconciliation, asserts that national reconciliation will only be possible when South Africans across the racial divide genuinely confront their common past demons through a frank and open national dialogue. The limitations of SA's TRC process epitomises her argument.

Part 2 of the book deals with the obstacles SA faces. Maxi Schoeman devotes her chapter to the highly controversial image of SA in Africa and indicates a belief in the country's ability to go beyond the difference between its self-image and the role expected of it by others. In examining SA's role in Africa, she equates hegemony to soft power, the power of persuasion and leadership qualities, in contrast to the traditionally held militaristic notion of hegemony. She argues that SA cannot easily fulfil its 'hegemonic' aspirations 'given its domestic needs and demands', and unless transformation at home is under way.

Khabele Matlosa makes a twofold argument on Southern Africa regional security. Firstly he posits that the African Renaissance initiative has given Mbeki a comparative advantage in foreign policy, in contrast to Mandela. And secondly he maintains that multilateralism will continue to be SA's preferred approach to African affairs. Judi Hudson's chapter asserts that SA's 'rapid corporate expansion has led to new relations of dependency and exploitation' in Africa.

Sam Moyo and Ruth Hall examine whether the land issue in SA is an exceptional case and argue that it is not. Yet, 'the extent of land dispossession in SA may exceed that of other countries in the region and continent'. Furthermore, they argue, the nature of SA's negotiation process has had a tremendous impact on the land issue in general and the land redistribution process in particular.

Angela Ndinga-Muvumba and Shauna Mottiar deal with HIV/AIDS. Taking stock of SA's national response on HIV/AIDS, they argue that its leadership's stance on the issue poses a threat to the realisation of the African Renaissance. Senegal and Uganda's success stories point to the fact that SA is in no position currently to lead the African Renaissance on the HIV/AIDS issue.

Part 3 stresses the political and economic significance of SA's strategic partnership across the continent. Chris Landsberg delves into SA's role in Africa's emerging AU and NEPAD institutional architecture since Mbeki's accession to power. He states that 'particularly during Mbeki's presidency after 1999. SA has pursued a diplomacy that was activist in nature'.

Adekeye Adebajo's chapter on SA's strategic partnership with Nigeria and its impact on African affairs affirms that the two countries will indeed constitute an 'axis of virtue' if they can convince other African countries that their actions are not an expression of hegemonic aspirations but are for the sake of Africa.

Augusta Conchiglia in her comparative analysis of SA's relations with Angola and Mozambique argues that SA has a warm and economically fruitful relationship with Mozambique whereas its relations with Anglo are tense and fragile due to a history of suspicion and mistrust. Devon Curtis closely examines SA's peace and transition model and evaluates its success in the Great Lakes region. She argues that SA's one-size-fits-all approach to democratic transition faced several hurdles in Burundi and the DRC. Iqbal Jhazbhay, in the final chapter examines how SA has successfully built strategic partnerships with a number of countries in North Africa and the Horn of Africa. He claims that these strategic partnerships are 'part of its larger strategic goal ... to achieve Africa's renewal'.

This book is a valuable and timely contribution to the practice and study of SA's foreign policy. It will be of great intellectual benefit and utility to policymakers, practitioners and scholars in multidisciplinary fields of study. And it will be informative to lay readers with an interest in Africa's international relations and politics.

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