Home|[in] focus|Opening the ‘black-box’ of South African foreign policy making
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by Institute for Global Dialogue


Categories: [in] focus

by Institute for Global Dialogue



Foreign policy is concerned with the internal and external level of state relations, it is the sum of a state’s principles and practices that determine its behaviour with other actors in the international arena. It consists of domestic institutions and issues of the state as well as foreign issues that affect the state. Holsti highlights core, middle-range and long-range objectives of foreign policy. Short-range objectives are core values and interests which are of paramount importance for a state e.g. political independence and territorial integrity. Middle-range objectives are concerned with interstate economic and political relations including economic prosperity of a state and the enhancement of its status, while long-range objectives are set over a longer time frame and are aimed at political or ideological re-organization of the international system.

Foreign policy during the apartheid era was characterised by ‘pariah diplomacy’, but since 1994 there has been significant changes in South Africa’s foreign policy orientation. For instance, the ‘old’ South African diplomacy was secretive and clandestine, whereas the ‘new and modern’ South African diplomacy has embraced the spirit of openness and multilateralism. Furthermore, whereas the apartheid-era foreign policy towards the sub-region and region was marked by a siege mentality, the post-transition South Africa has prioritized regional integration and the African agenda as a core tenet of its foreign policy.

The South African Foreign Policy making ‘black-box’ will be divided into three categories, namely political actors, the interplay between government and state-owned entities, and lastly the interplay between the state and non-state actors. The first category of South African foreign policy looks into the complex process of interaction between various political actors. At a national level, the President is the most powerful and important actor in foreign policymaking. Since 1994, the African National Congress has had the power of setting South Africa’s foreign policy agenda. So far South Africa’s foreign policy has been guided by the administration of Presidents Mandela, Mbeki, Motlanthe, Zuma, and now under the leadership of President Ramaphosa. The administration of President Mandela from 1994 – 1999, was primarily linked to the promotion of human rights, peace, justice, unity and democracy. The Mbeki administration from 1999-2008, placed great emphasis on the role of Africa within South Africa’s foreign policy. During the Motlanthe administration from 2008-2009, the President played a crucial role in ensuring stability and continuity in South Africa’s international relations. Under the Zuma-turned-Ramaphosa administration, more focus has been put on domestic frameworks such as the National Development Plan (NDP) and various economic diplomacy initiatives. The Department of international Relations and Cooperation, currently headed by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, also plays a key role in foreign policy decision making as the key interface between objectives and implementation. Provided that almost all Ministries are in some way involved in South Africa’s international relations, the role of DIRCO has become ever more complex as it seeks to coordinate foreign policy across ministries and between national, provincial, and local government.

The second category of South African foreign policy looks at the interplay between the government and state owned entities. Even though the role of parastatals is not yet fully acknowledged in the South African economic diplomacy strategy, with very little research published in this area of study, there is a growing realisation of the importance played by state-owned enterprises in the pursuit of economic diplomacy. The South African Department of Public Enterprises has prepared a strategy for Africa, which aims to coordinate the investment activities of state-owned companies in the continent and promote regional development. A number of South Africa’s state-owned companies have an international mandate or are directly involved in activities that are encompassed by the concept of economic diplomacy. These include Eskom, Transnet, South African Airways and Denel, as well as development-finance institutions such as the Development Bank of Southern African and the Industrial Development Corporation.

The third category is the role of non-state actors, which refers to the domestic constituency of foreign policy making where any non-state actors within a ‘society’ including academia, think tanks, business, labour unions, private media, NGOs, voluntary organisations and political parties, provide public opinions as well as checks-and-balances. To name a few actors in the think tank landscape, one finds the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD) and the African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). However, civil society still largely remains on the periphery of foreign policy making, and this will be looked at further in this research series on the black-box of South African foreign policy making. Of particular importance will be the role of the South African Council on International Relations (SACOIR) as the potential bridge between state and non-state actors in foreign policy.

The challenge faced today is the need for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to coordinate all the work and narratives of each actor in South African foreign policy, and the following blogs will form a series to discursively assess the role of each of the actors mentioned above in South African foreign policy, and also recommend how the Department of International Relations and Cooperation can manage the South African foreign policy landscape and work towards a common goal. Foreign policy is a multifaceted exercise, entailing various levels of analysis. This has implications for foreign policy making processes, including the management of relationships among various actors in a multistakeholder approach.

Ms Jesuloba Ilesanmi holds a BA Hons in Political Sciences from the University of Pretoria and is an NRF research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. Her views do not nece

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