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date: 30 June 2022

South African Foreign Policylocked

South African Foreign Policylocked

  • Fritz NganjeFritz NganjeDepartment of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg
  •  and Odilile AyodeleOdilile AyodeleAfrican Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg

Summary

In its foreign policy posture and ambitions, post-apartheid South Africa is like no other country on the continent, having earned the reputation of punching above its weight. Upon rejoining the international community in the mid-1990s based on a new democratic and African identity, it laid out and invested considerable material and intellectual resources in pursuing a vision of the world that was consistent with the ideals and aspirations of the indigenous anti-apartheid movement. This translated into a commitment to foreground the ideals of human rights, democratic governance, and socioeconomic justice in its foreign relations, which had been reoriented away from their Western focus during the apartheid period, to give expression to post-apartheid South Africa’s new role conception as a champion of the marginalized interests for Africa and rest of the Global South. Since the start of the 21st century, this new foreign policy orientation and its underlying principles have passed through various gradations, reflecting not only the personal idiosyncrasies of successive presidents but also changes in the domestic environment as well as lessons learned by the new crop of leaders in Pretoria, as they sought to navigate a complex and fluid continental and global environment. From a rather naive attempt to domesticate international politics by projecting its constitutional values onto the world stage during the presidency of Nelson Mandela, South Africa would be socialized into, and embrace gradually, the logic of realpolitik, even as it continued to espouse an ethical foreign policy, much to the chagrin of the detractors of the government of the African National Congress within and outside the country. With the fading away of the global liberal democratic consensus into which post-apartheid South Africa was born, coupled with a crumbling of the material and moral base that had at some point inspired a sense of South African exceptionalism, Pretoria’s irreversible march into an unashamedly pragmatic and interest-driven foreign policy posture is near complete.

Subjects

  • Foreign Policy

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