South Africa in Africa: The Post-Apartheid Era / Chris Saunders

South African Historical Journal, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2007, pp. 261-285

South Africa in Africa: The post-apartheid era. Edited by Adekeye Adebajo, Adebayo Adedeji and Chris Landsberg. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2007. 339 pp. ISBN 978 1 86914 134 9.

The editors of this volume present it as a successor to South Africa in Africa: Within or Apart?1 Like this one, that was a collection of papers which emerged from a conference held two years previously, and it was edited by one of the three editors of this volume.2 While the earlier collection was published as South Africa made its transition to democracy, and so its authors could not know how relations would be transformed after that transition, this one can look back over a decade since the end of apartheid. Attractively produced by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, it has emerged from a conference held at Stellenbosch by the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town. Divided into three sections — context, challenged and case-studies — it aims to explore South Africa's relations with the rest of the continent in the years since the transition to democracy.

It is indeed remarkable how quickly South Africa moved 'from pariah to paragon', and how actively it has engaged with the rest of the continent since 1994. Even now, the extent of its peacemaking role in countries from Burundi to Ivory Coast has not properly been acknowledged, and there is material in this volume to help an analysis of this and other kinds of involvement. The important economic links between South African and other countries in the continent, here investigated only in Judi Hudson's chapter, might well have been explored in much greater depth. While one can agree with the editors that the chapters are on the whole 'academically rigorous and policy relevant' (pp. 31 and 38-39), their statements that the volume 'comprehensively' assesses South Africa's role in Africa (p. 17) must, however, be taken with a pinch of salt.

The title itself, like that of the earlier volume, can of course be criticised for suggesting that South Africa is not part of Africa, and elsewhere there are odd phrases that jar, such as that since 1994 South Africa 'has revealed a clear intention to remain within Africa'(p. 31). As the approach is thematic, there is nowhere an adequate depiction of changes since 1994 as they took place chronologically. Nor in my view is there enough history of what happened before 1994 to explain the changes that have taken place since that year. As an indication of this, 'destabilisation', referred to briefly in the Introduction, does not warrant an index entry. There is little on the greatest of the challenges facing South Africa in the region, the melt-down in Zimbabwe; this is mainly discussed in a chapter on land reform in southern Africa, which contains the remarkable sentence that there 'most of the freehold land is in the hands of whites' (p. 164), without reference to the crisis in government there and the out-migration of millions. The absence of substantial treatment of South Africa's relations with Zimbabwe is all the more striking because there are chapters on South Africa's relations with many other countries, including even North Africa and the Horn. In my view, not nearly enough attention is given to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), oddly described as having been 'initiated by western donors in 1980' (p. 59). Swaziland, for example, received only passing reference. The chapters on context, moreover, which include one on black economic empowerment, present a partial picture of South Africa and are not related clearly to the rest of the volume. While there was never any question of a democratic South Africa not engaging with the rest of Africa, it can of course be argued that it should have developed the closest relations with its near neighbours, and not become so involved in countries much further away but such policy options and decisions are not explored in any depth in this volume. Yet it would be wrong to end on what may seem a negative note: for all its limitations, this is an extremely useful collection of essays for anyone interest in what South Africa has been up to in the rest of Africa over the past decade.

1. Adebayo Adedeji, South Africa in Africa: Within or Apart? (London, 1996)
2. In his chapter in this volume, Adedeji writes: 'As I pointed out in 1994: Ex Africa semper aliquid novum' (p. 40).

Chris Saunders
University of Cape Town

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