Friday, July 4, 2008


What does all this mean? There are issues with South Africa. As I said South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Botswana shifted from the Customs Union (1889) to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). But during those apartheid years Africa restricted access to its market (though the intention of the SACU was free trade among members) while pursuing lop-sided trading deals as South Africa was solely responsible for setting and levying taxes, excises, tariffs, and duties.

But after apartheid ended, South Africa under Mandela joined the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1994, the same year that saw the tragedy in Rwanda (1994) and a year earlier (1993) in Somalia. But it was in this post-apartheid era that saw South Africa’s image continue to worsen or at least stagnate contrary to expectation. Remember that with the reluctance of Western powers to get involved (i.e. Somalia, Rwanda) Africans looked to Africans for help. And the biggest kid on the block was South Africa (and Nigeria). So there was much to expect.

But it was the interventions that cost South Africa favorable perceptions by others. In September 1998 SA, with Swaziland, intervened in Lesotho but were opposed by parts of its population along with the army. But the attempted intervention in Nigeria was even worse.

The Abacha (then head of Nigeria) government hung Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian activist, and eight others (Ogoni campaigners) in 1995 to the surprise, chagrin, and anger of Mandela who had been negotiating for their release. In reaction, Mandela called for oil sanctions and the expulsion of Nigeria from the Commonwealth. He even called a SADC summit to support this, but he could not find one African state to support him. Some even accused him of being a Western pet doing their bid and calling and destroying African unity.

So it’s under this ambiance that Mbeki came to power. And it’s important to view it such when trying to understand his foreign policy. Contrasting with Mandela, he tries to seek multilateral support and participation. So since the Nigerian debacle, he has sought a sustained alliance with Nigeria. He has chaired the African Union (AU) and co-created the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. He’s done diplomatic work and peace-keeping work in DRC, Burundi, and Cote d’Ivoire. But even Mbeki hasn’t been able to fully eliminate the historical past in the minds of some.

Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia actually sent troops to DRC in 1998 which some think undermined the diplomatic efforts of South Africa. The question is were those diplomatic efforts working especially in the light of hindsight in 2008. Regardless despite being an economic and militaristic leader on the continent South Africa still has further to go with geopolitical and diplomatic legitimacy. They are easing the economic protectionist policies, but many view the “xenophobic” immigration policies and the still-present lopsided trade balance (favorable for South Africa) as more reasons why South Africa is not respected.

Information from Adekeye Adebajo, Researcher/Lecturer at UCT in African Studies

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