Global Good Samaritans: Human Rights as Foreign Policy

By Alison Brysk | Go to book overview

8
From Pariah to Promoter

South Africa

Human rights will be the light that guides our foreign policy.

—Nelson Mandela, 1994

South Africa’s historic transformation from dictatorship to democracy is paralleled by an equally remarkable transition in foreign policy: from realist supporter of regional instability and unholy alliances to principled exporter of global human rights. South Africa provides a role model for other emerging regional powers, demonstrating that underdevelopment, non-Western culture, and historic divisions are not necessarily impediments to an active and principled foreign policy role. However, the new South Africa has experienced limitations in its human rights program and vocation—due to a combination of the normalization of national interest as a globalizing middle power, along with countervailing national values.

The hand of history lies heavy on South Africa’s international relations. That country’s systematic policy of institutionalized racism and minority rule led to international exclusion. South Africa withdrew from the British Commonwealth in 1960, and was prevented from occupying its U.N. seat in 1974 (Wheeler 2004: 83). Through the 1980s, the international community condemned apartheid via a series of U.N. resolutions and commissions, bilateral and multilateral economic sanctions, and various cultural and athletic boycotts. At the same time, transnational antiapartheid movement solidarity sustained the black South African movement through decades of repression, and ultimately provided critical leverage for the transition to majority rule in 1994 (Klotz 1995). South African scholar Jack Spence summarizes South Africa’s

influential legacies from the past: a pattern of economic relations with trad-
ing and investment partners in the West, dating from the apartheid era; a
diplomatic corps which had spent much of its energies trying to capitalize
on those relations and defeat the sanctions regime; a defence force geared
to cope with an alleged “total onslaught from the Soviet Union”; and finally,
the heady expectations of ANC supporters of a new deal in which the
defence, extension and consolidation of human rights would be given pride
of place in both domestic and foreign policy. (Spence 2004: 36)

-171-

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