South African foreign policy and SADC goals - lockstep or deadlock?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

18 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents


1. The South African foreign policy since 1994 – an overview

2. Strategic interests and foreign policy of South Africa today

3. The SADC – aims, visions, tasks

4. South Africa and SADC – walking in the same direction?




The strongest state on the African continent – that is definitely South Africa. Their economic strength and international acceptance as a representative for the whole continent established that position. South Africa’s international reputation as an emerging middle power (Erdmann 2007: 2) enabled the former Pariah-state to develop a unique foreign policy whose basic values are shared by most of the powerful states in the world. The importance of a flourishing African continent and economic as well as political success especially in Southern Africa was always emphasized by the representatives of the rainbow nation. According to this position, South Africa joined the South African Development Community (SADC) after its successful transition into a democracy in 1994, using this institution for cooperation with the neighbour-states. But 14 years after the termination of Apartheid questions regarding South Africa’s foreign policy are raised: In how far plays the SADC a role in the plans of South Africa? Is SADC really, as often implicated, the top priority in South Africa’s foreign policy? Does the vision of the institution and the expressed South African foreign policy go in the same direction?

To answer these questions I will use an historical approach and start with an overview of the South African foreign policy since 1994. I will identify different phases, strongly linked to presidency, which will help to understand South Africa’s current foreign policy. In chapter two I will focus on these current positions of the government and the national interests. The definition of the term national interest and its differentiation from foreign policy will take part in chapter two as well. Chapter three will focus on the SADC with its historical grown values and visions before a detailed analysis of the main question will be done in chapter four. By bringing the foreign policy on one side and the visions and goals of SADC on the other side together, a comparative analysis can be done. The assignment will conclude with an evaluation of the question if SADC and South Africa are still fitting together and if the mutual way will lead to a deadlock or a lockstep towards a prospering future for Southern Africa.

1. The South African foreign policy since 1994 – an overview

After the successful transition from the white dominated Apartheid-state to one of Africa’s most modern democracy’s, South Africa struggled to define its foreign policy. No wonder after 40 years of isolation in world politics. The reason for South Africa’s struggle can be seen mainly in the self perception of the ruling party ANC. Coming out of a past where the ANC was working as a banned underground organisation with its headquarter abroad, they now had to represent a state with severe social, political and economic problems. The new president Nelson Mandela therefore gave himself basic rules to construct South Africa’s international relations. These guidelines lasted for the first few years of the ANC governance. Mandela emphasized the importance of human rights in international relations, the values of democratization and peace and the superior relevance of the African continent for South Africa’s foreign policy (Mandela 1993: 87). Furthermore Mandela pointed out to a future where South Africa and the Southern African states would have strong relations and are bind together through institutions. In this respect Mandela spoke about South Africa’s African destiny (Mandela 1993: 90). But reality drew a different picture. Analyst’s accused the new South African government to be opportunistic and inconsistent. “South Africa first, even at the expenses of the continent” seemed to be the rule in Pretoria (Landsberg/Kornegay 1998: 18). This inconsistency became obvious when Mandela dropped diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favour of China, one of South Africa’s most important trade partners nowadays (McNeil 1997: 1). The accusations even went to a point where scientists spoke about a non-existing South African foreign policy in the years after transition (Hentz 2004: 31 f.). One of the reasons for this statement can be seen in the long lasting process of staff replacement in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). Here, where the foreign policy is made, South Africa’s old elite remained on their posts (Vale 1995: 3). A discrepancy between the new policy of reconciliation represented by Mandela and the old DFA-staff is more then obvious. While Mandela started his journey to establish his country as a rising middle power, his staff at home worked in a different direction (Vale 1995: 4). The director General of the DFA Rusty Evans stated: “He's a major actor in foreign policy.

I'm never surprised by anything Mr. Mandela does” (McNeil 1997: 1). The ‘Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement’ (TDCA) of 2000 is one result of Mandela’s initiative during his presidency to work out bilateral contracts with the EU (Meyn 2003: 3). The initiation of this FTA caused several problems as the other SADC states felt sidelined by South Africa’s success.

Besides the general conflict within the cabinet the personal relations between certain leaders of Africa and Mandela were not the best. Animosities between Madiba and Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Zambia’s Frederick Chiluba can be used to prove this point (Marx/Peters-Berries 1999: 56). Although criticism was raised about Mandela’s foreign policy, he achieved milestones for his country. Interventions in Angola 1994 and in Lesotho 1998 established South Africa as a peacekeeper and peacemaker in Africa (Landsberg 2006: 6) and an “international bridge builder” (Landsberg 2006: 9). Particularly with the BLNS countries the relations are warm. Projects to enable good neighbourliness, cooperation in terms of trade, crime, social and cultural fields were started. Mandela used his economic resources as part of his foreign policy, particularly power supply. Cooperation in electricity and water projects fostered South Africa’s foreign policy as well as the banking services provided by South Africa for its neighbours (Chhabra 1997: 97-100). Summarizing Mandela’s presidency in terms of his foreign policy a strong emphasis for the international law, the democratization of the global order and a commitment to multilateralism (Landsberg 2006: 8) can be observed. His international orientation and the effort for regional integration are witnesses for South Africa’s attempt “to become a respected global citizen” (Landsberg 2006: 8). Taking his critics in account one can resume his presidency as “between old loyalties and new responsibilities” (Pfister 2000: 6).

With the change on top of South Africa’s hierarchy from Mandela to Mbeki the countries foreign policy improved in its predictability. More than his predecessor Mandela, Thabo Mbeki focussed on clear politics and established clear foreign policy guidelines. Fair enough to say, that he profited from a more or less peaceful domestic situation where reconciliation was on its way. Even before Mbeki became deputy president he highlighted the importance of the African continent for South Africa’s foreign policy: “[…] what happens elsewhere on the continent will inevitably affect South Africa” (Mbeki 1991: 234). Later he stated: “[…] our foreign policy should reflect the interest of the continent of Africa (Mbeki 1994: 1). Combined with his success in the international institutions his orientation towards Africa brought him the nickname “foreign policy president” (Landsberg 2006: 3). Thabo Mbeki narrowed South Africa to the developed North as well as to the third world, whose spokesperson he became. Due to South Africa’s strong role on the continent with a participation of 39% of the sub-Sahara GDP, a 242 times higher export rate than Africa’s second best state Nigeria and his 15th rank in the world as an upper middle income country, the policy of Mbeki’s government is powerful (Erdmann 2007: 2). He improved South Africa’s participation in institutions like SADC, SACU or African Union (AU). Furthermore Mbeki initiated the founding of NEPAD (New Partnership for African Development) in 2001 which is designed to develop new plans for economic success on the continent (Landsberg 2006: 5). Multilateralism is therefore one of Thabo Mbeki’s main values in his foreign policy (Erdmann 2007: 2). By using tools of negotiation and diplomacy Mbeki’s policy seeks to change the world order (Landsberg 2006: 4). In order to achieve this challenging goal he started the concept of African Renaissance which is standing in a line with previous concepts of “Pan-Africanism”, “Pax Africana” (Landsberg/Kornegay 1998: 16) or the “African Agenda” (Fakir 2007: 2). The basic idea is to promote a world where the African continent will be heard in the international institutions and his inferiority against developed countries will be solved. The key dimensions in this approach are politics and economics. While the African Renaissance is politically pleading for a system without one party rules, coup d'état’s and good governance, the economic implications postulate a free-market system to attract foreign direct investment (Landsberg/Kornegay 1998: 16). The pursuit of the African Renaissance concept is following a three track strategy: political integration in sub continental context, commitment towards integration of Africa’s economy and a military strategy for the African continent (Landberg/Kornegay 1998: 24). For Mbeki’s government the African Renaissance became a “foreign policy doctrine” (Landsberg/Kornegay 1998: 16).


Excerpt out of 18 pages


South African foreign policy and SADC goals - lockstep or deadlock?
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University  (Faculty of Arts)
Masters course: The political economy of regional integration in Southern Africa
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
454 KB
South, African, SADC, Masters, Southern, Africa
Quote paper
Florian Pretz (Author), 2008, South African foreign policy and SADC goals - lockstep or deadlock?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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