South Africa in Africa: The post-apartheid era

Posted on December 8, 2010


edited by Adekeye Adebajo, Adebayo Adedeji and Chris Landsberg
(University of KZN Press)

(First published, June 2008)

This excellent volume does not deal with the prospects of a post-Mbeki presidency or with any of the possible fallout from the internecine feuding within the ANC. And this should not matter, for no matter the outcome now or in 2009 when President Thabo Mbeki steps down, the complex issues of South Africa’s relationship with the rest of Africa will remain in place.

And debates about these issues, which predated the formal transition of 1994, remain crucially important. How should — and how do — the various domestic constituencies relate to the rest of the continent? And what are the perceptions and impacts of a rapidly spreading South African influence throughout Africa?

Government and business are, of course, key players here, but relationships have also been influenced by internal policies such as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). The often heady mixture of fact and myth about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the transition from apartheid have proved a quite potent force.

South Africa’s political, economic and military muscle influences national priorities and policies and has a direct influence on relations with the other nation states of Africa. These factors could also determine to a large degree the manner and direction of the continental future.

As this collection of 13 essays makes clear, there are no easy answers. However, as the editors — they also each contribute an essay — point out: the hope is to provide the beginnings of some answers.

This they do, admirably, fleshing out many of the debates that surfaced a decade ago in South Africa and Africa: Within or Apart. That volume was edited by the Nigerian academic and regional integration proponent, Adebayo Adedeji. Here he contributes the opening essay, outlining the political and economic context, “looking inside from the outside”.

Adedji argues persuasively that South Africa has “not chosen the path of socio-economic transformation”; that the economic and consequent social divisions of the apartheid past have, if anything, become further entrenched.

The only weakness — and it does not have a direct bearing on his argument — is the simple equation of “communism” with the Soviet Union without any further explanation or definition.

But the case that Adedji makes for the “neo-liberal paradigm” being to the detriment of African transformation and development seems unanswerable.

This thought-provoking essay is followed by what is, essentially, an apologia for the present system in an essay on the myths and realities of BEE. Penned by Businessmap Foundation’s Kehla Shubane, it amounts to a paean to shareholder democracy, that enduring myth of the corporate and neo-liberal world.

From Shubane, it is a relief to round off the section on context with former TRC commissioner Yasmin Sooka’s incisive analysis of the myths and realities of the TRC. This raises very clearly once again, the role of business and the relationship with government.

It makes for a good introduction to analysis by Pretoria University’s Maxi Schoeman of South Africa’s often apparently schizophrenic approach to foreign policy issues. As she notes, the involvement with the rest of Africa is still evolving and a future as a potentially hegemonic partner “will not be an easy role”.

In military and regional security terms, government may be able to manage this dual role of being, by historic and geographic consequence, a big brother and would-be equal partner. When it comes to business, it is a different matter as Khabele Matlosa and Judi Hudson respectively, spell out.

However, Hudson fails to acknowledge — as do almost all writers on international economics — that the world is dealing not with a problem of shortages, but one of gluts; that the development of the micro processor has created a productive revolution that the world has yet to come to terms with.

Africa, no more than any other region on earth, is not immune. To talk, therefore, of encouraging inter-regional trade as a means of development without analysing the effects of international surpluses — and consequent price cutting and dumping — is problematic.

But this does not in any way undermine the argument for greater regional and continental ties. As Chris Landsberg notes in the conclusion to his essay on the AU and Nepad: “South Africa cannot go it alone” in attempting to build “a progressive movement” on the continent.

How that other sub-Saharan giant, Nigeria, fits into this equation is the subject dealt with clearly and concisely by Adekeye Adebajo, the executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, attached to the University of Cape Town.

There are also informative essays on relations with the Lusophone states and, very importantly, with north Africa and the Horn. However, Iqbal Jhazbhay could, perhaps, have shown clearly how the far from democratically established Arta transitional government in Somalia came into being.

The penultimate essay, by Devon Curtis, may also provide something of an eye-opener for the apparent legions of starry-eyed supporters of exporting — as one size fits all — South Africa’s recipe for achieving peace and parliamentary democracy.

All-in-all, a must read for anyone with a serious interest in Africa and in South Africa’s place within the continent.

Posted in: Book Reviews