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South Africa’s Foreign Policy

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The Republic of South Africa, is a nation located at the Southern most tip of the Continent . It has a population of fifty seven million making it the twenty fourth most populated nation in the world covering an area of 1.22 milion square miles. A majority of its population belonging to Sub-Saharan African ancestry.The remaining consists of Africa’s largest communities of European, Asian and multiracial ancestry.

Portuguese the first Europeans to inhabit South Africa, in 1488. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company established a small settlement at the Cape of Good Hope. Other Europeans settled in the country. They can to be known as the Afrikaners. South Africa’s economy has grown significantly in the early 21st century. It’s economic prowess making it a member of the BRICS, an acronym that stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, countries deemed to be at a similar stage of newly advanced economic growth.

Recently slowing down, it suffers from high unemployment, widespread poverty, corruption, xenophobia etc. However it still stands among hegemonies in Africa. This paper looks at the manner in which the country’s foreign policy activities are managed and derived: who are key players in foreign policy decision making? Also attempting to link these foreign policy decisions to the theories of International relations.

South Africa’s contemporary foreign policy cannot be understood without explaining its post- apartheid political transition. Gaining independence in 1910, it had semi –independent governace, still accountable to the Westminster parliament. Elections were first held in 1948, The National Party was elected . A party with majority of white Dutch as members. Their administration introduced the apartheid regime. This is a racial segregation policy separating where South Africa on racial lines. It dictated relations between the country’s white minority and non -white majority sanctioning racial privileges were allowed according to race. Its enactment ,the separate development, was conceptualized through the 1959 Population Registration Act, it classified all South Africans as either all black Africans (Bantus), the mixed race (Coloured) or white and a fourth category—Indian and Pakistani (Asian).

From 1961 – 1994 the state president office and the prime minister’s office governed the country. Constitutional amendment in 1983- 1993 lead to a new dawn in South Africa. In 1994,there were national elections. Native blacks were given voting rights. Nelson Mandela on an African National Congress (ANC) ticket was elected as the president.

Characteristically, in a pluralistic society, such as a democracy, major policies are assumed to originate from negotiations and compromise among the competing parties (Mahler 1995: 143). A post-apartheied South Africa, democraticly indulging a foreign policy approach, democratized in nature was expected to reflect the interests of competing groups and constituencies. Writing on foreign policy in African countries, Khadiagala and Lyons (2001: 5) notes, on such mates decisions made have always been the province of leading personalities.

Foreign affairs matters can be said to be approached as the prerogative of presidents and prime ministers fitted together with post-colonial patterns of domestic power consideration. Environments where structures of contribution and contesting mainly political parties and legislatures deteriorate significantly, charismatic leader becomes a model embodiment of foreign policy. In addition, over three decades ago, Aluko (1977: 10) noted African foreign ministries, thought of as main initiators of international interactions, were actually the president’s emissaries.

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Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Born on July 18th 1918 he died on December 5th 2013. He was South Africa’s anti- apartheid radical, political leader, and philanthropist. Serving as their President from 1994 to 1999. The country’s first elected black native head of state in a fully representative democratic election. He steered his government towards undoing the legacy of racial discrimination due to the apartheid regime. Promoting racial reconciliation, Nelson gained the reputation of an African nationalist and socialist.

Internationally recognized for the part he played during the anti-apartheid struggle. He was once a Johannesburg lawyer. Later taking part in anti-colonial legislations he co-founded the Youth League, the African National Congress (ANC).Leading its functions as from 1991 to 1997. Initiated in 1912 at Bloemfontein, The African National Congress (ANC) is South Africa’s governing party and has been in power since the transition to democracy in April 1994.

The government of South African president F.W. de Klerk 1990–91, provided a basis for apartheid legally. Structured racial segregation continued profoundly rooted in South African society. Leading numerous demonstrations, Mandela ended up futilely accused of treason. Arranging and leading a sabotage movement against the government, he was arrested in 1962. Serving twenty seven years of his awarded life on Robben Island, Pollsmoor and finally in Victor Vester. He got his release from prison on February 1990. A new constitution that liberated blacks and other racial groups was embedded in 1993 and became actualized in 1994.

Although Mandela was president for a single term, what he had put in during the anti-apartheid struggle and rebuilding of his nation, earned him the title “father of the nation”. The all-race national elections, in 1994, lead to an alliance government being formed a majority being black natives, Nelson Mandela, led as the first black president marking renewal for the Southern nation.

Before the 1994 election, marking a new dawn for the South African nation, President Mandela had published an editorial in Foreign Affairs. He defined the principles and objectives of the foreign policy, an ANC vision of governance. March 2004 brought the release of a Strategic Plan for 2003–2005, by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).The Mandela administration made it its obligation to make every effort towards attaining a ‘more just’ world order. As president , he emphasized the need for international law to be seriously observed. The diplomatic conduct of foreign affairs being rooted on negotiation as a tool for conflict resolution became a regulatory principle of foreign policy.

Perceived by South Africans as the father of the nation, Mandela was regarded a savior sent from heaven redeeming the state from the bondage of apartheid. Consequently, Mandela delighted in considerable freedom in dictating foreign policy decisions. His choice of chastising Sani Abacha, Nigerian strongman, in 1995, over the latter’s human rights abuses (Block 1995), was never debated by either the nation’s cabinet or parliament.

Mandela becoming a president in South Africa, served to model him and South African s, a nation symbolizing reconciliation and peace bringing. Shadowed by their past of apartheid, the external policy reflecting democratic South Africa geared toward putting emphasis on human rights and democracy.

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South Africa’s Foreign Policy. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 9, 2023, from
“South Africa’s Foreign Policy.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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South Africa’s Foreign Policy [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Jun 9]. Available from:
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