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

Reviewer: Candice Moore
Review Publisher: South African Journal of International Affairs
Author: Adekeye Adebajo and Kudrat Virk (eds.),
Date: 30 May 2019

Foreign Policy in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Security, Diplomacy and Trade is a timely volume with a good balance about it. It is divided into five sections looking at key themes in South Africa’s foreign policy, along with key geographical regions or ‘concentric circles’ in the state’s international relations. The volume shares many themes with the Africa Institute of South Africa’s frequently published South African Foreign Policy Review, along with a number of the same contributors, so it is not immediately clear what distinguishes it from that publication. The introduction states that the South African Foreign Policy Review is ‘not as comprehensive as this volume, and almost all their authors as well as their editors are parochially South African, denying the books the critical non-South African perspectives that this volume provides’ (p. 2) – a statement that could leave the reader with the unfortunate impression that South African authors are not capable of being critical.

Accordingly, every effort is made throughout the volume to draw attention to the nationalities  of contributors and other authors cited – for example, ‘the Kenyan scholar Gilbert Khadiagala’, ‘South African scholar-diplomat Brendan Vickers’ – and there is further defence of the book being written partly by non-South Africans. In the context of the ‘decolonising the curriculum’ movement, this could perhaps have been explained. The ascription of identities is also problematic, as it assumes each of these authors is happy with the national identities ascribed
to them; and because it does not necessarily result in the elevation of African voices or women’s voices. For instance, only six of the 23 chapters plus epilogue are not authored by men or solely by men. These are issues that are no longer just asides, but which are becoming increasingly important in scholarship in the social sciences.
The introduction, at 48 pages, is lengthy – longer than any other chapter in the book – and it goes into detail about most of the chapters, spread across five parts. The breakdown of chapters is as follows: Part 1, ‘Key themes in South Africa’s foreign policy’, comprises chapters on the domestic drivers of South Africa’s foreign policy (Chris Landsberg); the state’s peacemaking record in Africa (Devon EA Curtis); its defence and security role (Sagaren Krishna Naidoo); human rights in its foreign policy (Nicole Fritz); and South Africa’s corporate interests in
Africa (Brendan Vickers and Richard Cawood). From there, the volume considers South Africa’s key bilateral relations in Africa, covering key states in Southern Africa (Lloyd M Sachikonye); the Great Lakes (Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja); West Africa (Adekeye Adebajo, one of the editors); East Africa (Gilbert M Khadiagala) and North Africa (Rawia Tawfik).

Part 3 focuses on the state’s key multilateral relations on the continent: with the Southern African Development Community (Chris Saunders and Dawn Nagar), Southern African Customs Union (Richard Gibb) and the African Union (Eddy Maloka). Part 4 examines its key external bilateral relations, with the US (Stephen R Wiessman), Britain (Daniel Large), France (Roland Marchal) and China (Liu Haifang). Part 5, ‘South Africa’s key external multilateral relations’, covers its engagement with the United Nations (Doctor Mashabane), the World Trade Organisation (Faizel Ismail), the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states and the European Union
(Mxolisi Nkosi), and Brazil, Russia, India and China – the other members of the BRICS group of states (Kudrat Virk, the volume’s second editor).

The book’s value lies in new and insightful commentary on a comprehensive list of the key themes and issues affecting South African foreign policy over the past 25 years, including domestic drivers of foreign policy; security and defence; peacemaking; human rights; and trade. A number of names new to the field, if not new to public discourse, appear along with betterknown names, and room has also been made for practitioner-scholars such as Fritz, Vickers, Ismail, Nkosi and Mashabane. As Jack Spence, the doyen of South African foreign policy writing, notes in the epilogue, the contributors ‘have examined the current pattern of the country’s foreign relations in impressive and convincing detail’ (p. 485). There is no question that each contributor is an expert in his or her area of specialisation.

For teaching purposes and furthering the academic enterprise in the discipline, however, it will become increasingly necessary for volumes such as these to push intellectual boundaries. While the coverage is wide and quite comprehensive, there is no clearly expounded theory or methodology that guides the selection of the cases or how they are treated. Twenty-five years into South Africa’s democratic dispensation, there have been few attempts to gather together all of the strands of the country’s foreign policy under a single theoretical framework (ambitious as this may sound), whether it be realism, constructivism or liberalism, or their various sub-schools; or
to use a single conceptual construct, such as ‘agency’, to examine South African foreign policy. The last time a single theoretical framework was used convincingly was in Ian Taylor’s Stuck in Middle GEAR: South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Foreign Relations,1 published almost two decades ago.

The introduction of the current volume posits a theoretical interplay between ‘hegemony’ and ‘concentric circles’, but no such theory is presented or laid out, nor is reference made to Taylor’s work. For postgraduate work and work that seeks to be self-critical and reflexive, contributing to new African theories and perspectives, it will be necessary to work more self-consciously with theories in the field of South African foreign policy analysis.
The book is thus more of an encyclopaedic volume, and there is certainly a market for this. An entire undergraduate module could be modelled on it, providing students with all they need to know about the past 25 years of South African foreign policy, not to mention the near-comprehensive bibliographies on each topic or geographical region that will prove invaluable for further reading. It will also be useful for practitioners and experts in the field who wish to brush up on their knowledge of different aspects of South Africa’s foreign policy.

1. Taylor I, Stuck in Middle GEAR: South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Foreign Relations. Westport: Praeger,
Candice Moore
School of Social Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
moorec@ukzn.co.za; candicelli@gmail.com

© 2019 Candice Moore