30 Jan 2004

South Africa and Africa: Within or Apart

Written by  Neeran Naidoo

No. 3: South Africa and Africa: Within or Apart / Neeran Naidoo / Independent Online
30 January 2004

Does South Africa see itself as part of Europe but geographically linked to Africa or is it an integral economic, political and cultural part of Africa? A leading academic raised this question at a recent seminar on the country's role in Africa.

Academic, intellectual, author and distinguished international public servant, Professor Adebayo Adedeji, former Executive Secretary for the UN Economic commission for Africa and a member of the NEPAD Peer Review Mechanism, addressed a seminar at the Centre for Conflict Resolution on South Africa's economic, political and leadership role in the rest of Africa.

He asks the critical question: Is South Africa within or apart from Africa?

For Adedeji, the issue is whether South Africa sees itself as part of Europe but geographically linked to Africa or is it an integral economic, political and cultural part of Africa.

Adedeji has tracked these trends over the last ten years. He found it ironic that South Africa was never a member of the Organisation for African Unity for most of its existence, yet buried the OAU when the African Union was launched in Durban in 2001.

While South Africa has played a more stabilising role in the region since 1994, its borders still remain, largely, closed to citizens of other African countries.

Adedeji also questioned South Africa's economic role in Africa. Capital from this country penetrates far north into the African continent. But Adedeji is ambivalent of the role South African capital plays. Is it one of real partnership with African countries or is it an economic model based on domination and exploitation? Very seldom do South African corporations buy products and services from countries where they have economic investments.

Adedeji was also concerned about South Africa's stand on the increasing marginalisation of the continent. He noted that only 1% of world trade comes from Africa, down from 5% in the 1960s, prior to independence. There is the possibility that South Africa can integrate into the global economy for its own interest without regional or continental economic integration. The delisting of South African capital from the Johannesburg Securities exchange to the London Stock Exchange is an indication of this trend.

But despite Adedejis concern's, he remains optimistic about South Africa's commitment to the African Renaissance, the African Union and Nepad, which in themselves have many hurdles to cross.

Rob Davies, chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry, as respondent at the seminar pointed out that South Africa's relations with Africa are governed by three factors: South Africa's political involvement in African countries, the penetration of South African capital into Africa, and global trends that influence these relations.

South Africa, for instance, has joined the Southern African Development Community and has been active in peacekeeping missions in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Davies points out that South Africa, like many African countries, continues to export raw materials and import finished products at a higher price, thus weakening its global economic leverage.

Ben Turok, also an MP, chaired the session and noted that many Africans welcomed South African investment as an alternative to European and American capital.

Neeran Naidoo is senior communications manager at the Centre for Conflict Resolution.

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