Academic journal article Parameters

The Pivotal State: Post-Apartheid South Africa

Academic journal article Parameters

The Pivotal State: Post-Apartheid South Africa

Article excerpt

In April 1999 Thabo Mbeki became the second democratically elected President of the Republic of South Africa. Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela, whose own election in 1994 marked the climax of the most important political transition in the history of modern Africa. For his countrymen, the majority of whom were voting for the first time, Mandela's election signified the end of 46 years of white minority rule under South Africa's increasingly oppressive apartheid government.

Instituted by the South African Nationalist Party in 1948, apartheid ("separateness") sought the "separate development" of South Africa's races. Apartheid provided the policy framework for the maintenance of minority rule through the institutionalized social, economic, political, and legal segregation of South African whites, blacks, Indians, and "Coloreds" (people of mixed race). Prior to Mandela's election, internal resistance to apartheid had driven South Africa to the brink of civil war, and regional and international opposition to South Africa's racial policies had left the country a pariah state, largely isolated from the rest of the international community.

Since the end of apartheid South Africa has made significant progress toward overcoming the legacy of this politically and economically fragile race-based system which denied full rights to the majority of its people. Six years after Mandela's election, South Africa is by far the most advanced democracy in Africa. The end of apartheid also has allowed South Africa to end its previous international isolation. The country's new government aspires to both a position of regional political leadership and one of influence in international organizations. South Africa also has emerged as one of Africa's leading trading nations and a key center of foreign, including US, investment in the region. South Africa's economy alone accounts for 40 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa's total gross domestic product (GDP). Excluding oil imports, South Africa accounts for 60 percent of US trade with Africa and one-quarter of US capital investment in the region. [1]

South Africa's demonstrated commitment to democratic governance and peaceful political change and its level of industrial and economic development in comparison to other African states, along with its military capabilities, mark it as Sub-Saharan Africa's "pivotal state." A pivotal state is one which is:

so important that its collapse would spell transboundary mayhem: migration, communal violence, pollution, disease, and so on. A pivotal state's steady economic progress and stability, on the other hand, would bolster [its] region's economic vitality and political soundness and benefit American trade and investment. [2]

South Africa's emergence as Sub-Saharan Africa's pivotal state is of strategic importance for the United States. During its tenure the Clinton Administration has made an unprecedented effort to foster engagement with the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has traditionally been of only peripheral strategic interest to the United States. "For too much of this century," President Clinton said, "the relationship between the United States and Africa was plagued by indifference on our part." [3] One aim of President Clinton's March 1998 visit to Sub-Saharan African was "to persuade an American audience with few notions of the continent that Africa not only exists, but matters." [4]

The broad outlines of a new US policy approach to Africa began to emerge in May 1993 when, in a speech to the African-American Institute, Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced that the United States sought a "new relationship with Africa." Unlike during the Cold War, when US "policies toward Africa were...determined not by how they affected Africa, but whether [they] brought advantage or disadvantage to Washington or Moscow," American relations with African states would now be "based upon our common interests and shared values. …

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