Throughout its history, South Africa has experienced its share of conflicts, much like many other African nations. However, the country has demonstrated a solid dedication to promoting African participation and has actively involved itself in the continent's affairs. This commitment was particularly evident in the post-apartheid era, during which South African presidents like Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma, and Thabo Mbeki intervened in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Of these presidents, Jacob Zuma's era saw the most significant intervention in the DR Congo (Mokhaloane, 2020).1 Nonetheless, during Nelson Mandela's presidency, South Africa declined an invitation from former President Robert Mugabe to intervene in the DR Congo. Later, South Africa intervened in Lesotho without working within an international framework. This raises the question of why South Africa refused to intervene in a regional framework like the Southern African Development Community when Zimbabwe requested it. This question requires careful consideration, particularly given South Africa's desire to lead in promoting African participation and helping the continent overcome its challenges.
According to Young's (2002:14) findings, ongoing conflicts have plagued Africa for years, spreading across various regions, from eastern Africa and West Africa to Angola and the DR Congo.2 During the apartheid era, South Africa experienced extreme violence, while Rwanda suffered the loss of millions of lives. Even landlocked countries like Lesotho experienced political turmoil in 2014, and Somalia faced a clan clash following the overthrow of former President Barre.
However, the end of apartheid in South Africa brought about a new role for the country in Africa. It became a peacemaker and took a leading role in reconstruction, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping after the collapse of the segregation system (Vrey and Esterhuyse, 2016:1). 3 South Africa's robust actions within African politics were accompanied by a change in policy.
Adebajo and Virk (2018) suggest that South Africa's participation in African politics began after the collapse of apartheid.4 For example, when Julius Nyerere failed to end the conflict in Burundi, Nelson Mandela was elected as the mediator (Mokhaloane, 2020).1 In essence, South Africa's proactive involvement in African affairs has significantly promoted peace and stability across the continent.). By the end of 2003, he successfully brought the mediations to a close, becoming one of the foundations for South Africa's rise in African politics. This event is an excellent example of the country's leadership and commitment to peacebuilding in the region.
Exploring South Africa's complicated approach to relations
On the other hand, Nigeria, with a more robust economy, has been investing in African nations. Still, the outcomes have not been as successful as South Africa's in enhancing growth and rebuilding post-conflict zones. In light of these findings, it is crucial to assess the efficacy of the diplomatic approaches taken by these nations to determine their reliability as partners in global affairs. This evaluation could include analyzing their foreign policies, trade agreements, investment strategies, and other factors influencing their ability to contribute to the worldwide community.
Since the end of apartheid, South Africa's foreign policy approach has been anything but consistent, highlighting the theory of realism, which posits that interests are not set in stone and can be altered by environmental factors. The country's shifting political landscape has led to a lack of clarity in its intentions, as evidenced by its foreign policies over the years. While South Africa has occasionally resorted to military intervention, it has also employed quiet diplomacy concerning its relationship with Zimbabwe, particularly during Thabo Mbeki's presidency.
The late Nelson Mandela, South Africa's former president, prioritized diplomacy, human rights promotion, peacekeeping, and the search for African solutions. Thabo Mbeki's presidency further emphasized these same values, which saw a focus on economic initiatives aimed at promoting the African Renaissance. As noted by Zondi (2010), the South African government, under the leadership of both Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, has encouraged the expansion of South African companies throughout the continent.5 The government's promotion of national interests has driven this expansion of both private and state-owned companies.
Exploring interventions within and outside of South Africa
South Africa has played a significant role in peace enforcement missions throughout Africa under the leadership of all post-apartheid presidents. Its interventions have spanned several nations, including DR Congo, Burundi, Lesotho, Chad, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and the Central African Republic. These actions have cemented South Africa's reputation as a respected peacemaker on the African continent, thanks to its unwavering dedication to promoting peace and stability in the region. South Africa is committed to creating a peaceful and prosperous Africa for all by participating in peacekeeping efforts and collaborating with other nations and organizations.
In the wake of apartheid, South Africa's foreign policy underwent significant changes, expanding its focus to encompass internal and external affairs. This shift introduced the concepts of "Ubuntu" and prioritizing Africa, as Ferreira highlighted in 2009.6 Despite adopting the Ubuntu approach, South Africa has hesitated to take action against Zimbabwe, as noted by Mazarura in a recent publication. Although global pressure ultimately compelled South Africa to take action against Zimbabwe, Mazarura and colleagues argue that despite changing presidents, there has been a consistent reluctance to act against the Zimbabwean government. This reluctance has been evident from the time of former President Thabo Mbeki to the current President Ramaphosa. In 2020, Ramaphosa expressed concern about state repression and human rights violations in Zimbabwe, but the government responded with hostility. According to Mazarura, considerable hopes were placed on President Ramaphosa, who took charge as the Chairperson of the African Union in 2020, to step in and mitigate the ongoing socio-political unrest in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, the Zimbabwean government declined to recognize the situation as a crisis and dismissed Ramaphosa's delegations, contending that South Africa had no right to interfere. This has caused further distress among the people of Zimbabwe, who desperately seek a resolution to the ongoing turmoil.
The Presidencies of South Africa have faced various challenges over the years, but they have also made significant progress through their external interventions. In the era of Nelson Mandela, the country faced numerous obstacles after apartheid. However, Mandela's leadership helped steer the country through this challenging period and worked tirelessly to promote reconciliation and unity among all South Africans. During Thabo Mbeki's presidency, the focus shifted towards addressing African political issues. Mbeki was a strong advocate for pan-Africanism and worked tirelessly to promote peace and stability throughout the region. His efforts helped to resolve numerous conflicts and create more cooperative relationships between African nations.
1 Mokhaloane S.M. 2020. Pursuit of Ubuntu? Exploring South African role in DR Congo. The case of Force Intervention Brigade 2013.
2 Young, C. 2002. Contextualizing Congo Conflicts Order and Disorder in Postcolonial Africa, in Clark, J. (ed.) The African Stakes of the Congo War. United States of America: PalgraveAfrican Republic. Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies, Vol 44, No. 2.
3 Vrey, F.& Esterhuyse. 2016.South Africa and the search for strategic effect in the Central.
4 Adebajo and Virk. 2018. Foreign Policy in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Security, Diplomacy and Trade. Cape Town, South Africa, Centre for Conflict Resolution.
5 Zondi, S. 2010. The interest versus human rights debate in context.
6 Ferreira, R. 2009. The consequences of humanitarian peacekeeping in Africa. Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies, Vol 31, Nr 2.
7 Mokhaloane S.M. 2021. Socio-political dilemmas faced by Uganda and South Africa in the third wave: The impact of lockdown measures.
8 International Labour Organisation. 2020. COVID-19 crisis and the informal economy. Immediate responses and policy challenges.
Games, D. 2017. South Africa economic engagement in sub-Saharan Africa. Chatham housem Royal Institute of International Affairs, Africa at Work.
Mutisi, M. 2015. Redefining Peacekeeping: The Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR CONGO). Social Science Research Council Mutisi, M. 2016.
SADC Interventions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. African Centre for the constructive resolution of disputes.
Mutisi, M. 2016. Recalibrating South Africa’s role in post-conflict reconstruction processes in Africa. JSTOR.