Which role does South Africa play in Africa?

An analysis of the foreign policy of South Africa in regard to regional integration in Southern Africa.

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents


1. The regional integration in Southern Africa

2. The foreign policy of South Africa since 1994
2.2 Africa

3. South Africa as a Hegemon?
3.1 In the SADC zone
3.2 On the African continent

4. South Africa as a “Zivilmacht”?


Source list


“The shackled continent” - that is Robert Guest’s chosen title for his book about decades of failure on the African soil (Guest 2004). And indeed, Africa suffered from years of economic crisis, political violence and genocides, food shortages and nature catastrophes. Many people have lost their hopes in Africa but there is still a chance for a bright future of the indigenous continent. No, there is no easy solution for Africa, but there are several ways how to improve Africa’s situation. One way out of the misery is the concept of regional integration. Based on the perception that African nation states can’t compete with global players in a networked world, regionalism offers the power of the many. For Africa, whose economically strongest nation state South Africa is not even producing 0,5% of the worldwide GDP (Notshulwana 2004: 58), regionalism seems to be a chance out of poverty. But the conditions need to be created in terms of stable democracies, qualified leadership and guaranteed rights in every single state.

In this assignment I will analyse the role of the big player South Africa on the continent as well as within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) guided by the question: Which role does South Africa play in Africa? In the beginning I will have a look at the process of regional integration in southern Africa in the light of regionalism all over Africa. It will be surveyed what goals are formulated for SADC and which progress was make up till now. The foreign policy of Post-Apartheid South Africa will be broached in chapter two. I will further analyse South Africa’s guidelines towards the SADC and investigate which role the rainbow nation normatively wants to play in Africa. Equipped with basic knowledge about the institution SADC and South Africa I will then make my points on the core issue of this paper: Does South Africa got the resources to act as a hegemon on the continent like the United States in America? Is the government willing to play that role or are the pretensions different? In chapter 3 I will work out South Africa’s hegemonic tendencies and compare them in chapter 4 with the power term Zivilmacht. Both chapters will first focus on southern Africa and then broaden the view on the whole continent. The conclusion will contain an evaluation – South Africa’s status quo: a hegemon or Zivilmacht?

1. The regional integration in Southern Africa

The African continent is highly aware of the advantages offered by regional integration. No other inference can be done if you take a closer look at the history of Africa. In the beginning of the 20th century when Europe was in its strongest nationalism phase, African states started cooperating through the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Obviously the African nation state was far away from being independent at that times, but intergovernmental cooperation was brought to the continent (Notshulwana 2004: 46). With the wave of independency in the 1960’s (Thomson 2004: 33f.) the topic of regional cooperation appeared again. This process was institutionalised with the foundation of the OAU, the Organisation of African Unity in 1963 (Thomson 2004: 151). Created as a symbol of political and economic cooperation, the OAU turned out to be a ‘toothless tiger’ without the power to rule about the sovereignty of the newly formed nation states. A low level of acceptance and a lack of shared interests preceded the OAU to failure (Thomson 2004: 151). One of the most sustainable outcomes of the OAU is the process of regionalism with five regions in Africa where economic cooperation should have been started. Besides the ECOWAS, COMESA, ECCSA and AMU the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) was created in 1980 (SADC 2002: 1). Founded with the purpose to stand against Apartheid South Africa, the SADCC went through a process of change in 1992 when the transformed South Africa became a member of the South African Development Community (SADC). Its new objectives were “to promote dialogue and obtain funding from foreign donors” (SADC 2002: 2). As the last institutional change OAU was restructured and launched in 2002 as the AU, the African Union (Thomson 2004: 151).

All these processes show the world one picture: As much as African states believe in the power of regionalism, as less successful is the design they chose. Transformation, changes and multi-memberships retard Africa’s rise. An inflationary number of around 130 regional co-operations on the African continent show the danger: The more, the better? Definitely not! Africa needs to be cautious about the side-effects of regionalism where Europe can be a role model. The slogan for the EU: The closer, the better – within one institution!

Although interferences occur in the regional integration process in Africa, the situation in southern Africa is not hopeless. If SADC were to reach their challenging integration goals, the benefit would be distributed. The goals are a free trade area in 2008, a customs union in 2010, a common market in 2015 and a monetary union by 2016 with a common currency in 2018 (von Soest/Scheller 2006: 3). If these goals will be achieved, SADC will be drained and the region will be integrated in the African context, leaded by the AU. Integration in southern Africa is therefore not in a state of whether or not, it is on its way to find out “who, how and when” (Hentz 2005: 23) to realize the formulated objectives. Regretfully the main feature of SADC was in the previous years a divergence between ambitious goal and a lack of ignition (von Soest/Scheller 2006: 2). The forecast for the 14 member states with their population of 230 Mil. people must therefore be described as ‘cloudy’ (von Soest/Scheller 2006: 2).

2. The foreign policy of South Africa since 1994

Since the termination of Apartheid South Africa’s foreign policy is oriented on six basic principles described by Nelson Mandela in 1993. Although the principles are nowadays not up-to-date, they still sustain with small modifications and can be found in the published papers of the South African government (Erdmann 2007: 4). The principles are the following:

1. Human rights as a main focus in international relations.
2. International solutions can only be provided “through the promotion of democracy worldwide”.
3. International relations should be based on international law.
4. Peacekeeping without violence.
5. African interests should be considered in international relations.
6. Economic growth can only be realised through „regional and international economic cooperation“ (Mandela 1993: 87).

These principles are still guidelines of South African policy. What can be reasoned out of the principles for the topic of the assignment?


The focus of South African on regional integration in southern Africa is nowadays undoubted (Mandela 1993: 90). Also because they observed, that “they can not escape from each other” (Notshulwana 2004: 56). Their destiny is bound together with their geographical position. South Africa is in these terms more or less the loser because their economic strength pushes the rainbow nation automatically into the position of a leader in SADC. Bearing that in mind, South Africa’s policy is trying to play on two fields. First, the field of regional integration with its membership in SADC and secondly bilateral contracts with its most important trade partners like the EU.

South Africa’s foreign policy towards SADC is stamped with incomplete convincement. Although the strongest state hosts most of the important institutions of the regional organisation, their commitment is not total and South Africa’s relation with the region “remains tenuous” (Notshulwana 2004: 58) as they hadn’t implemented more than just one out of eight SADC protocols in their constitution by 1998 (Notshulwana 2004: 58). Even if Mandela mentioned in the concept of South African foreign policy that regional integration is one of the keys to economic growth, the incentives for South Africa are simply not strong enough as I will present later. It is obvious though that the reality and the rhetoric proclamations differ from one another (Notshulwana 2004: 58). The fact that South Africa signed a bilateral Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU while SADC is still negotiating for the same goal demonstrates the preferences of the South African foreign policy (von Soest/Scheller 2006: 4). Seeing their own position on the trade markets of the world in danger, they are not willing to wait for their economic weaker partners (Erdmann 2007: 5).

In the numerous conflicts in the region, South Africa is following straight their principles of non-violent peacekeeping. Especially the situation of Zimbabwe is an indicator for this theory. Although Mugabe’s regime is acting against human rights and principles of a freely elected democracy, South Africa is keeping silent while promoting the idea of “quiet diplomacy” (von Soest/Scheller 2006: 5).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Which role does South Africa play in Africa?
An analysis of the foreign policy of South Africa in regard to regional integration in Southern Africa.
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University  (Faculty of Arts)
Master course: The political economy of regional integration in Southern Africa
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
392 KB
Which, South, Africa, Master, Southern, Africa
Quote paper
Florian Pretz (Author), 2008, Which role does South Africa play in Africa?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/113400


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