12. Foreign Policy in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Security, Diplomacy and Trade

Reviewer: Michael B. Bishku
Review Publisher: African Studies Quarterly
Author: Adekeye Adebajo and Kudrat Virk (eds.).
Date: May 2019

This edited volume, according to the authors, is designed to provide an up-to-date comprehensive study of post-apartheid South African foreign policy in terms of geography, history, and themes written by both South African and other contributors. It is divided into five parts: 1) thematic, including domestic imperatives of foreign policy, peacemaking efforts, the role of defense and security, the influence of human rights, and the expansion of South African corporations throughout the continent of Africa; 2) bilateral relations in Africa divided by region with concentration on key countries—Southern (Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe), Great Lakes (Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda), West (Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire), Eastern (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sudan/South Sudan) and Northern (Egypt, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia); 3) multilateral relations with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), and the African Union (AU); 4) key external bilateral relations with the US, Britain, France and China; and 5) key multilateral external relations with the United Nations (UN), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the European Union (EU), and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group, and BRICS. The editors (in same order as on the book cover) provide and an introduction and conclusion, respectively, as well as one other chapter each. In the process, all chapters in the five sections are of similar structure and there is much overlapping of coverage.

Many chapters point out continuity of policy as well as differences in approaches of the respective South African presidents: Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, and Jacob Zuma; as Cyril Ramaphosa acceded to office in early 2018, there are only a few references in the book as he was previously deputy president. Mandela concentrated on strengthening domestic democratic order, while incrementally attempting to redress poverty and inequality. Mbeki stressed the link between addressing those latter issues in country and dealing with the security, development and economic issues on the rest of the African continent. Zuma felt that civil society organizations should have a greater role in shaping foreign policy. Naturally, peacemaking efforts in Africa increased greatly under Mbeki, while the idealism of earlier attempts have given way to greater concern for promoting South African mercantilist interests. South Africa has engaged in peacekeeping efforts in Lesotho, Burundi, the DRC, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Sudan/South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, and Libya with mixed results; and sometimes it has appeared to set aside promotion and protection of human rights or found itself at odds with positions taken by other states in Africa or the West, particularly France, which is still heavily involved in Francophone countries. Also, the South African National Defense Force “have had to endure a mismatch between their capacity and the expanding array of roles and tasks with which they have been entrusted” (p. 108).

There is a chapter on South Africa’s relations with the rest of the SADC, an organization of sixteen states which it joined in 1994, a subject that has received scant attention. South Africa wants to play an important role on the global stage and regards itself as a “gateway” for foreign countries to the rest of the African market and as a representative of African interests in the UN, BRICS, and the G-20. On the other hand, the SADC is a weak institution dependent on foreign donor funding, especially from the EU. There is resentment over the dominance of the South African economy and its protected markets as is the case in the much smaller SACU, which was created in 1910. South Africa joined BRICS in 2010 with support from China, a member along with Brazil, Russia and India, in an attempt diversify its political and economic connections. Like Brazil and India, South Africa is concerned with promoting interests of the South and having greater political influence in the UN (through a permanent seat in the Security Council) and other world forums. At the same time, the EU remains South Africa’s largest trading partner and there are important economic ties with the US and Japan (not covered at all).

This very readable and informative book provides comprehensive coverage of many aspects of South Africa’s foreign policy necessary in understanding the importance of that country to African and world affairs. However, it provides only a brief description of relations with India and nothing concerning Turkey, an increasingly important participant in African affairs.