Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Making Sense of South Africa's Africa Policy and the South Africa/Africa Leadership Thesis

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Making Sense of South Africa's Africa Policy and the South Africa/Africa Leadership Thesis

Article excerpt


This article analyses South Africa's Africa policy announced by the ANC leadership just before the demise of apartheid and emphasised at various forums by ANC government ministers, party functionaries and supporters. The ANC offered to take South Africa back to Africa and to ensure an active, positive role for an ANC government in the continent's affairs. This role would, according to this policy declaration, encapsulate various forms of assistance with a focus on issue areas such as Africa's non-development and endemic conflict. However, an effective and meaningful role in this regard seems set to be ruled out or complicated by the parameters of the South African economy and Africa's deepening economic crisis. The nature and orientation of the South African economy, the structural problems afflicting Africa and the legacy of the antiapartheid struggle limit South Africa's role in the continent's affairs. Thus South Africa's Africa policy faces formidable challenges.


As South Africa edged closer to its historic April 1994 elections, the African National Congress (ANC) announced its Africa policy if given the mandate to govern. It said that an ANC-ruled South Africa would be a full and active member of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) -- now the Southern African Development Community (SADC) -- participating in peace-building and peacekeeping missions in Africa and other initiatives such as efforts at stimulating the continent's economic revival. The ANC stressed that its government's foreign policy would reflect the interests of Africa. Regarding relations with the SADC, Nelson Mandela declared that a "democratic South Africa will ... resist any pressure or temptation to pursue its own interests at the expense of the subcontinent" (1)

Under President Mandela the South African government reaffirmed the ANC's commitment to these foreign policy declarations, offering to provide military personnel and financial assistance towards peacekeeping and conflict resolution endeavours. (2) Soon after the April 1994 general elections which the ANC won, South Africa joined SADC and the OAU and resumed its membership of the United Nations (UN). But the debates as to what role South Africa ought "to play in the economic and political revival of the African continent ... and on the promotion of economic development in the southern African region ..." (3) were already raging both within and outside the Republic. However, the ANC government is as yet to weave a clear, coherent and unambiguous Africa policy. Whatever the reason for this, such a policy would face severe constraints and hurdles. These include the orientation and structure of the South African economy, the depth of its integration into the fastly changing global capitalist system and the imperat ives of the ANC's liberation struggle.

South Africa has limited economic links with Africa, suggesting that the latter might not be a priority for the majority of the South African people. On the other hand, the lack of economic interdependence among African states will undoubtedly complicate the ANC government's intended mission in Africa. Two important questions arise. Firstly, will it be easy for the ANC government to make the sacrifices demanded by its policy declarations; and, secondly, are Africa's socio-political and structural problems permissive of the role that post-apartheid South Africa intends to play in the continent's affairs? South Africa's role in Africa is destined to be limited to responding to discrete and sporadic episodes rather than being a messianic mission implicit in its foreign policy statements, this myth having been shattered by among other things the Lesotho and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) sagas. (4)

This article assesses South Africa's Africa policy as announced by the ANC prior to the April 1994 general elections, including the debates and hypotheses regarding the country's capability and preparedness to assume the leadership of the continent. …

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