South African Foreign Policy And The Global South: From IBSA To BRICS – Analysis

South African Foreign Policy And The Global SouthSouth Africa’s role as an emerging power, and one which overcame apartheid to establish democracy in 1994, as well as its position as an economic leader on the African continent, sets it apart from other countries of the region. Under President Thabo Mbeki, South Africa took on an activist mantle to restructure the continent’s economic practices through the New Economic Partnership for Africa (NEPAD) and its political institutions like the African Union to reflect South Africa’s own democratic values and development aspirations.

During this period, South African foreign policy became truly globalised as Mbeki reached out to other emerging powers in pursuit of South Africa’s national and international ambitions. The shift from IBSA to BRICS represents an important turning point in South Africa’s understanding of its role as a leader in Africa and an emerging power on the global stage.

The African National Congress (ANC), as the governing party, faced increasing criticism and pressure from its traditional tripartite alliance partners, the trade union movement, and dissident elements to address the deteriorating racially based class division in South Africa. Between 1994 and 2014, unemployment (narrowly defined) increased from 20 to 26 per cent. During the same period, the Gini co-efficient deteriorated and the percentage of black Africans living in poverty increased by 10 per cent.[1] Importantly, the wage share of GDP decreased from 56 per cent in 1994 to 50.6 per cent during the first decade post-apartheid,[2] reinforcing perceptions on the home front that the transformation had failed. Unexpectedly, political freedom did not bring economic freedom and prosperity. Further, the neo-liberalist growth-path favoured by Mbeki in his Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy, and subsequently his successor President Jacob Zuma’s New Growth Path policy of 2010[3], which aimed to create and promote a black capitalist class, failed to address the needs of the masses of black Africans who remained poor and unemployed.[4] Increasingly, South Africa had to turn to the external environment to seek resources – tangible and intangible – in the service of domestic power struggles.


About The Project

South Africa's conduct of international relations, especially its role in international organisations like the UN Security Council, its choice of strategic partnerships, its leadership role in Africa, its public engagement and foreign policy decision making, has been intensely debated in the recent past. The FPA programme aims to provide a nuanced analysis and facilitate a structured discussion of South Africa's foreign policy in a changing world environment for purposes of informing its future direction.

Aims and Objectives of The Project

The purpose of this focus area is to unpack the extent to which the policy in its making, its nature and its application constitutes a principled and pragmatic response to a complex international environment. In doing so, we hope to be guided by an objective to promote a foreign policy that positions SA as a responsible global citizen committed to building bridges between various power blocs for the benefit of Africa and South Africans.

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