South Africa 101

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South Africa is a country full of contradictions and surprises.  In its long transition from the legacy and policies of the apartheid government, it has been a powerful example of peaceful transition from repression to democracy, yet too many South Africans feel they are still being left behind. In a region rife with armed conflict, South Africa has remained at peace and played a crucial role in international peacekeeping operations, yet thousands cite violent crime as their motivation for leaving the country every year.


On a continent with a long history of poverty, South Africa has the strongest economy, with a middle-class lifestyle that often resembles Western Europe or North America, yet it faces sky-high unemployment and poverty rates, with extreme discontent directed toward continuing inequality. In a world where so many go without the prescription drugs they need to survive, the South African government has a program to provide free antiretroviral drugs to some citizens, yet many more go without, as the country has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa has struggled against these great challenges, seeking to strengthen multilateral relationships and establish itself as a powerful international player. It’s evident that the country has made great progress on many fronts by developing democracy and rebuilding international relationships that were damaged during the apartheid years, but it is equally clear that South Africa has a great number of domestic and international challenges it must face before it will fully achieve the international status and influence it desires.


Since its election victory in 1994, the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) has worked to develop, articulate, and achieve its foreign policy goals through a variety of means. According to the South African Department of Foreign Affairs, the country’s strategic foreign policy objectives are focused on working bilaterally and multilaterally to protect and promote South Africa’s national interests and values. These interests include the following priorities: consolidation of the African agenda, promotion of South-South cooperation (among developing countries), increased North-South dialogue (between developed and developing countries), and promotion of global governance. The country seeks to continue to strengthen its relationships and policies through multilateral means in order to play an increasingly important role in international decision making. Its guiding principles for international engagements include commitments to human rights, democracy promotion, justice and international law, international peace and internationally agreed upon mechanisms for conflict resolution, strength of Africa in world affairs, and economic development through regional and international cooperation in an interdependent world. The South African government currently has 93 embassies abroad and hosts 115 embassies from other countries.

South Africa has strategic partnerships with other countries and bodies to specifically help it to reach its foreign policy goals. The United Nations and South Africa have implemented a UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for 2007-2010 that is designed to work in alignment with the national development priorities of South Africa. The UNDAF is intended to ensure that democracy and good governance and administration are strengthened; that the government and its partners have the support they need to ensure accelerated economic growth and development for everyone; that national and subregional institutions are strengthened to consolidate the African agenda and promote global governance and South-South cooperation; that government efforts to promote justice, peace, safety, and security are strengthened; and that programs and measures to eradicate poverty are intensified. As the goals of the UNDAF mirror the ambitions South Africa has vocalized for itself, this partnership is a way for the United Nations to directly support and assist South Africa in strengthening its institutions and improving the lives of its people.

The United States has also provided support for South Africa’s development and foreign policy goals. The United States views South Africa’s main foreign policy objectives as being first and foremost to promote the economic, political, and cultural regeneration of Africa through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development; to promote the peaceful resolution of conflict in Africa; and to use multilateral bodies to ensure developing countries’ voices are heard on international issues. The United States and South Africa have had successful bilateral cooperation on many fronts, especially in areas such as counterterrorism, fighting HIV/AIDS, and military relations. The United States continues to provide assistance to South Africa’s development goals through the presence of the Peace Corps with the first group of American volunteers starting in 1997.

Beyond these two arrangements, South Africa has worked to grow and develop its multilateral partnerships and involvement since the end of the isolation it incurred due to international condemnation of apartheid policies. After becoming essentially cut off from the international community after many years of apartheid rule, the government and private sectors have labored to rebuild relationships of all types and earn South Africa a place at the table in important negotiations. South Africa’s multilateral commitments include membership in the Group of 77 (G-77) and the Group of 24 (G-24), African Union (AU), International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), INTERPOL, International Labour Organization (ILO), Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO), and a variety of United Nations bodies, including the UN Children’s Fund, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Development Fund for Women, and others.

South Africa’s role in multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament treaties is especially significant given its history with nuclear weapons. In collaboration with the United States, South Africa started a nuclear program in the 1950s. Fearing possible threats from the Soviet Union or its regional satellites, South Africa transformed their program and developed a series of nuclear weapons in the 1970s and 1980s, making it the first and only African country to successfully develop nuclear weapons. In 1993, however, the government voluntarily renounced nuclear weapons and dismantled the entire program. Since then, South Africa has signed on to a number of nonproliferation and disarmament agreements and has been dedicated in its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation.

Through all of these relationships and goals, South Africa aspires to greater regional and continental power, and has long lobbied for a more influential role in international institutions and decision-making bodies. The country has, in many ways, the strongest and most stable democracy and economy on the continent. Yet while that fact is hugely significant and demonstrative of South Africa’s influence and involvement in its own region, the significance is diminished when the country’s status and growth are compared to those of other developed countries on more relative terms. While it is an important leader in its region, it has not attained the stronger leadership role in international decision-making bodies that it is seeking. Its “moral authority” has been questioned by even its own neighborhood, as the leadership’s unwillingness to confront the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe despite its role as mediator in the country has been harshly criticized. While its wealthy are often as well off as the wealthy in Western Europe, North America, or Australasia, its poor are generally much poorer and more abundant. Despite all the advances it has made, the country still ranks 121 out of 177 countries in the UN Human Development Report, placing it well below any other developed country in quality of life standards for its citizens. With the highest infection rate of HIV/AIDS per capita in the world and a life expectancy of only 50 years, the country’s greatest foreign policy challenge may possibly be its own internal battles. The country wants to be a major player, but the reality in the country is still one that makes room for the services of the Peace Corps, which is generally present only in countries that need significant development assistance. Still, despite these serious challenges, South Africa cannot be overlooked. Its defining role in the affairs of an entire continent, its insistence on a stronger voice for developing nations, and its immense resources and drive grant it all the tools and potential to make a powerful place for itself in international decision making.


Nearly every aspect of life in South Africa is shaped or influenced by the legacy of apartheid, which is unsurprising considering the length and severity of apartheid rule. The legal system of apartheid was established by the right-wing National Party, which was elected to power in 1948. This system—developed by the white minority carried over from Dutch and British colonization—institutionalized racially based restrictions, separations, and inequalities that legally separated the different races and put the black African majority and other nonwhite minorities in a severely disadvantaged position in nearly every aspect of life. This system of discrimination lasted for decades, until the limitations of racially based restrictions and intense international disapproval and sanctions crippled the economy to the point where the National Party began to transition itself out of power. In 1990 the National Party ended the ban on the ANC, freeing important ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela after long stints in prison for accusations of political crimes or uprisings against the government. In 1994 South Africa had its first full elections, with every adult allowed to vote, and Mandela and the ANC were elected to govern the country.

Mandela and the other leaders of the ANC went to work dismantling the web of institutions and roadblocks implemented throughout the long rule of the National Party. Mandela was followed in 1999 by his colleague, Thabo Mbeki, whose presidency has continued the party rule of the ANC throughout the fourteen years since it was first elected. In December 2007 Jacob Zuma, former deputy president for Mbeki and longtime ANC organizer and associate of Mandela, was elected president of the ANC, leaving him well-positioned to win the country’s presidency at the end of 2008. The country has made significant improvements on all fronts under the leadership of the ANC—seeing democratic growth through political participation and freedom of the press, economic development in new infrastructure and increased standards of living for many, and social changes through integration in schools and public life. Yet many feel that these improvements are only the beginning and that the country is now ready for a second transitional period. They reason that the first transition was important and necessary, but that it is now time to move forward from ANC dominance and turn to a pluralist democracy with multiple competitive parties and free competitive elections. Under this new system, many argue, South Africa will be able to take the next steps toward fully consolidating its democracy and facing the many challenges to its own stability and continued growth

South Africa’s post-apartheid politics have been defined by the personalities and influence of a few very powerful leaders, including former President Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Thabo Mbeki, and ANC President Jacob Zuma. The first democratically elected president after apartheid rule, Mandela is an iconic and revered international figure, leading the transition from repression to inclusion and inspiring huge changes in his country, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela served twenty-seven years in prison for his resistance to the National Party government before being freed in 1990. Just four years later, he led the ANC to victory in the country’s first all-race elections. Archbishop Desmond Tutu also played a major role in the struggle against apartheid, earning a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his significant efforts. In 1996 Archbishop Tutu was appointed to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which spent five years investigating apartheid-era human rights abuses, reviewing and granting amnesty for politically motivated crimes, and recommending compensation to victims of abuse. Reordering an entire society after so many years of damaging rule was and is still a critical challenge, and the TRC was intended to lend significant support to this transition. Still, despite the great influence of Archbishop Tutu and the steps that were taken by the TRC, including reparation payments to victims, critics argue that it left too many issues unresolved and unfairly protected certain individuals, such as Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Mandela, for political reasons.

Thabo Mbeki was Mandela’s successor and has strived to continue the important work he started, though many feel that Mbeki fails to inspire or lead as effectively as Mandela. Mbeki’s terms have been marked by success and progress but also corruption and an onslaught of serious challenges. Early in his term, Mbeki asked then Deputy President Jacob Zuma to resign over the corruption conviction of one of his financial advisers, and corruption charges have spread to the police and security forces through the arrest of Jackie Selebi, the head of the police. Selebi was arrested on charges of corruption and ties to drug lords—accusations that only feed the suspicion that the police and elite security forces in the country are corrupt and spending their time battling each other, making them ineffective against the high crime rates that threaten the citizenry on a daily basis. Even Mbeki himself has been implicated in a bad arms deal. All of these accusations lend credence to the concern that the government and leadership has become too corrupt to effectively lead the country through the serious challenges it faces. Many of these challenges have been magnified during Mbeki’s presidency, a fact he has acknowledged in recent public addresses, discussing inflation and rising food and fuel prices, high crime rates and instability of the country’s crime-fighting units, and an electricity supply crisis that has crippled the economy. Still, stabilization and growth efforts undertaken by Mbeki have led international analysts to assess that he has embraced free market policies, and the country has seen significant growth in many areas despite the obvious setbacks. Many argue that the magnitude of the challenges facing the new leadership in the early 1990s cannot be solved overnight but that progress is being made every day through the policies implemented by Mandela first and now Mbeki.

As the newly elected ANC president and hopeful for the country’s presidential nomination in 2009, Jacob Zuma has returned to power despite continuing corruption charges and has wasted no time in criticizing the failures of the Mbeki government. Zuma has argued that Mbeki has refused to place any individual accountability for failures in the country, and he has both criticized Mbeki’s policy of “quiet diplomacy” regarding recent developments in Zimbabwe and criticized the international community for pointing fingers at South Africa. Many have found cause for concern in the battle between Mbeki and Zuma, worrying that their rift could be a devastating and divisive blow to the party and the country. Lack of unity could cripple decision making and effectiveness, further aggravating the feeling that government is too corrupt and internally minded to take on the real problems facing the country.

Zuma’s election victory in December 2007 was significant, as it marked the first time since the end of apartheid that someone other than the front-runner won a leadership race. Many feel this could be a positive first step toward the development of multiple competitive parties and then legitimate, serious choices in presidential contests. Zuma is the favorite to win the country’s presidential elections in 2008, but his plans may be stopped by new corruption charges against him, for which he is scheduled to go to trial in summer 2008. Zuma is facing 18 charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering, and money laundering; and while some feel these charges are a last attempt by Mbeki to retain power, others note that a conviction will likely take Zuma out of the running for president. Zuma, a self-proclaimed polygamist who claims 16 to 18 children and 5 to 6 marriages, many concurrently, has an inspiring and charismatic personality and has defeated charges of corruption and even rape in the past, remaining popular throughout; and many feel that he is the only chance for unity at this point. Still, no matter what the outcome, a new president will be elected, an event that will maintain positive democratic trends in the country as they continue to move forward.


The economic situation for nonwhites in South Africa immediately following the end of apartheid was disparate and dire, with decades of institutionalized discrimination and disadvantage causing damage that will take many years to repair. As such, the main focus of the government’s economic policy is Black Economic Empowerment, or BEE, which is a process of correcting social imbalances and creating jobs within the context of fiscal and monetary discipline. The focus on BEE has in many ways overtaken top priority during these first years of democratic consolidation, as the need to repair years of government-sponsored inequality has necessarily been at the forefront of every major policy issue. More broadly, the government has also focused on the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa, which emphasizes boosting economic growth and investment in the country to generate employment and reduce income disparities. To do so, the government has concentrated on building infrastructure, nurturing industry, improving employment skills, accelerating land reform, and reducing crime, all the while also trying to incentivize the private sector to undertake some of these same projects.

BEE policies have taken new form in agreements like the recent Sasol transaction, which will be the biggest BEE transaction ever. When implemented, the Sasol transaction will result in effective black ownership of 19.7 percent of Sasol’s South African business, a new benchmark for this type of transaction. This deal “confirms the trend toward greater use of both employee share ownership plans (which are seen as boosting productivity) and targeted public share offerings in BEE packages,” a change that is likely to be repeated by other companies in the future (see The Economist). Still, despite the success of these types of agreements, it is clear that transferring ownership of company shares is only one step in a huge process of reparation and equalization, a process that necessarily will take many years and inevitably, just as in any other country, will never be fully complete.

South Africa’s wealth of natural resources, industry, and agriculture indicates lots of room for positive economic growth and development. The country is the world’s largest producer and exporter of gold and platinum and also exports a huge amount of coal. It has a diverse manufacturing industry, which includes significant production in railway rolling stock, synthetic fuels, and mining equipment and machinery. South Africa is a net exporter of food, and primary agriculture makes up approximately 4 percent of overall gross domestic product (GDP). Its major trading partners include the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Japan, and it is always developing and strengthening new partnerships with countries in the region and around the world. South Africa’s embrace of free market principles has made it an attractive trading partner for many developed countries, and this growth and income has greatly increased the standard of living of many South Africans, developing a middle class that in many ways mirrors those in areas like Western Europe and North America. Growth has slowed recently because of problems in the world economy and electricity shortages in country, but the economy is expected to pick up again in 2009 in preparation for South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup in 2010.

One of the most prominent and frustrating challenges facing the country at the moment is the increased frequency of electricity shortages. The government tried unsuccessfully to convince the private sector to develop the necessary infrastructure to provide for rapidly growing power demands, and by the time they gave in and intervened in the situation, demand had greatly outpaced supply, resulting in frequent difficulties for the main power company, Eskom, that leave the general population without power for hours at a time. These shortages have stunted economic growth as shops are forced to close, and restaurants and groceries continually lose inventory as refrigerated items spoil in the heat. South Africans are frustrated and concerned about the country’s future growth and impact in the region, with some even worrying that their ability to host the World Cup may be damaged irrevocably if they can’t guarantee power supplies for all the additional guests that will flood into the country. As it works to develop new power supplies, the government has seriously pushed conservation measures, encouraging everyone to cut down and conserve power whenever necessary and inviting citizens to “name and shame” government officials or buildings that don’t take the appropriate steps to do so.

Unemployment, poverty, and crime also run a vicious circle that cripples the country’s economy and growth and threaten its continued stability and development. Unemployment rates are extremely high, estimated anywhere between 28 and 41 percent, and the government’s best efforts have not gone far enough in fighting unemployment and creating good jobs. South Africa has a huge informal sector, leaving many people outside of the protection of formal employment and vulnerable without labor standards, protection against corruption, or health care. Many feel that the country’s frightening crime rates are directly linked to these high levels of unemployment and poverty, as people turn to violence and theft in reaction to the dire reality and lack of opportunity they face. The ineffectiveness of the police and security forces leaves many feeling vulnerable and fuels violent crime by eliminating any major deterrents to it. In a UN survey conducted for 1998-2000 with a 60-country data set, South Africa had the second highest rate of assault and murder, and the highest rate of rape per capita. South Africans with education and means are leaving the country in increasingly high numbers, citing violence and, in the case of whites, affirmative action as deterrents to professional development and a quality of life they can enjoy. All of this together creates a dangerous downward spiral in the country that must be improved for the country to continue to move forward toward its goals.

In South Africa, health challenges of the population are so severe that they are damaging the economy and the country’s ability to grow and develop. South Africa has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world, with estimates that up to 30 percent of the general population is infected, as well as 35 percent or more of pregnant women. Life expectancy in the country is only about 50 years, a very low number compared to developed countries, which average life expectancies of 70 to 80 years. Infant mortality rates are rising, and there are a huge number of orphans in the country, as an enormous segment of the young and middle-aged adult population has been wiped out. Statistics would argue that the country is losing the battle to HIV/AIDS, as more people are being infected and dying than are being treated. The government’s program to offer treatment has provided approximately 380,000 patients with antiretroviral drugs, but that still leaves approximately 1.2 million infected who aren’t receiving treatment. With tuberculosis and malaria infection rates also on the rise, the government and economy are forced to pump money into prescription drugs and health care and still are losing citizens to the extent that the country is facing a negative population growth. The effect on the economy is further exacerbated by the fact that a huge sector of what should be the most productive members of society are sick, unable to work, or dead—producing a lack of caretakers and human capital that has stagnated growth. Clearly, for the country’s economy to continue to grow and for the government to meet its development goals, the leadership and citizenry must tackle not only the problems of inflation, unemployment, inequality, and crime, but also must take on the health problems facing the country—for the sake of the economy and the quality of life of the citizenry.


Despite its repressive past, South Africa has maintained and celebrated a great amount of cultural and ethnic diversity. The country has 11 official languages, and a high percentage of the population speaks 2 or more of these languages, especially in urban areas. English is considered the language of business and politics, but according to recent census data, it is spoken at home by only approximately 8.2 percent of the population. The most commonly spoken languages at home are Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans. There is a great deal of ethnic diversity in the country as well; beyond the traditionally defined groups of black Africans, whites, and “coloureds” (mixed race), there is a significant Asian population, as well as an increasingly high number of immigrants from other countries on the continent. Rural citizens tend to maintain more native culture and language than the urban middle class, which often lives in many ways like the middle class in other developed societies.

Still, despite the significant gains in official and superficial integration, the reality for many is one of deeply ingrained segregation that is pervasive in everyday lives. A recent article in The Economist discussed this phenomenon, stating that “peaceful coexistence, which South Africa generally enjoys, does not mean integration.” An example of this reality can be seen by entering a normal restaurant: while one might see people of many different races eating at the same restaurant, they are unlikely to see many mixed tables. South Africa is certainly not alone in facing continuing racism and separation, as likely every country in the world with any level of diversity could find examples or indications of discrimination or separation by differences. However, South Africa’s modern institutionalized form of racism and discrimination puts an added responsibility on the population and especially the government to continue to confront its past and move forward with equitable policies and attitudes.

Tourists have increasingly flocked to the country to enjoy the varied cuisine, popular music, and striking scenic landscapes. Shortly after the end of apartheid, the government encouraged South Africans to see tourism as a viable way to empower citizens, create jobs, and help the country reach its economic and social development goals. South Africa has taken a uniquely focused approach to environmental protection in developing tourism, as indicated by the government’s joint Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT). Its goal regarding tourism is to grow and develop tourism in an environmentally responsible manner to create jobs and economic opportunities, especially for “previously disadvantaged individuals.” The efforts to grow tourism have been very successful, with the DEAT reporting in its 2006-2007 Annual Review that “tourism is the only sector nationally that has managed to grow jobs…while increasing its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product” (see 2006-2007 DEAT Annual Review). It estimates that one new job is created in the country for every 12 tourist arrivals. The DEAT has been working with others in both public and private sectors to bolster security and physical safety, increase accessible transportation, improve services and marketing, and train citizens with new skills they need in order to succeed in this booming industry. The country hopes to be up to the level of being able to accommodate ten million visitors by 2010, when it hosts the World Cup. As noted by the DEAT and others, concerns over crime and physical safety are one of the biggest deterrents to continued growth, so the ability of security forces in the country to improve that dynamic is directly linked to the tourism industry’s ability to reach its goals.

In South Africa, many say that there are two ways to become really famous: football (soccer) and kwaito. As in many countries around the world, football is the favored sport in South Africa, and star players are considered celebrities by many. Kwaito is a uniquely South African art, a music form that emerged in the early 1990s in many ways similarly to the development of hip-hop music in the United States. The musical form took off around the same time that Nelson Mandela was first elected president, as new opportunities opened up to blacks for the first time. Many artists and fans describe kwaito as being a representation of the lifestyles of black youths and a platform for political and social expression. Though some kwaito purists would argue that the genre is now being exploited by artists catering to foreign audiences and straying from political and social messages, many still see the art as a form of empowerment and self-expression that has a crucial place today.

Foreign influences can be seen more heavily in mediums like television, where shows like Takalani Sesame (the South African edition of America's Sesame Street) have become popular and well-known by a variety of audiences. Much like Sesame Street in the United States, Takalani Sesame promotes school readiness, literacy, numeracy, and health and hygiene, but it also has a specific focus on HIV/AIDS awareness. Some viewers both inside and outside the country have been critical of Takalani Sesame’s HIV/AIDS education programming including the introduction of an HIV positive character on the show, but producers and educators stress the need for tangible and detailed HIV/AIDS education programs, especially in light of the lack of education and prevalence of misinformation present in the country. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in comments of the country’s top leaders, President Thabo Mbeki and ANC President Jacob Zuma. Mbeki has been called an “AIDS denialist” for repeatedly stating that he did not believe there was a connection between HIV and AIDS. Zuma was the subject of intense mockery when he testified while on trial for rape that he had engaged in consensual sex with his accuser, whom he knew to be HIV-positive, but that he had showered afterwards to decrease his chances of contracting the disease. With these kinds of statements coming from the highest echelons of leadership, the need for increased HIV/AIDS education and awareness is clearly demonstrated, and groups like the producers of Takalani Sesame and others continue to confront these challenges.


South Africa first began a nuclear program in collaboration with the United States in the 1950s. With cooperation and supplies from the United States, the nuclear program developed into a weapons program by the early 1970s, and South Africa became the first and only African country to successfully develop a nuclear weapon. The country’s development and maintenance of a nuclear weapons program was based on its perception that it faced an imminent threat of attack on itself or its neighbors by the Soviet Union. As the Cold War began to wind down and South Africa negotiated better relationships with former enemies, it became clear that their justification for nuclear weapons was diminishing. By 1990, the South African government had decided to dismantle its nuclear weapon program, making it the first and only country in the world to successfully construct nuclear weapons and then voluntarily abandon their weapons program. Since that decision, South Africa has joined a number of disarmament and nonproliferation movements and has been an important player in the international nonproliferation regime.

However, despite South Africa’s leadership in disarming and refusing nuclear weapons, there are still concerns about the security of nuclear material that remains in the country. This vulnerability was demonstrated by a November 2007 attack on a South African nuclear facility. In this attack, four men broke into the Pelindaba nuclear facility and moved around inside for a little under an hour before being detected. Considering that this facility holds enough weapons-grade nuclear material to create approximately 25 bombs, the fact that intruders could not only successfully break into the facility but also move about undetected for such a long period of time raised some serious concerns.

The South African government has as one of its primary policy goals the promotion and pursuit of the “African Agenda,” which seeks to support peace, good relations, and development on the continent as well as unity in promoting African interests in international affairs. The African Union (AU) formed to promote continental integration in pursuit of these goals, and one of its primary tasks has been to take an active role in peacekeeping on the continent. South Africa has played a key role in peacekeeping operations in various African countries, while also stressing that they are seeking to move away from “strict notions of militarily-defined state security to a greater emphasis on human security and social justice.” South Africa has tried to build the AU’s ability to participate in activities that support long-term peace and stability, looking beyond the immediacy of regional conflicts to fighting pervasive issues, such as child soldiers, human trafficking, and illicit transfer and possession of weapons.

Still, the AU and South Africa have faced significant difficulty in progressing on these priorities. Though the African Union has set goals for itself that would eventually create a model of partnerships similar to the European Union, they’ve faced difficulty achieving even basic security goals as they find themselves lacking necessary funding, and often political will, to intervene successfully even in the most violent conflicts on the continent. The AU has structured itself to deploy forces when genocide or crimes against humanity are occurring, and forces have served in conflicts in Burundi, Sudan, and Somalia. However, in most circumstances, their presence has not been as successful as most would hope in curbing violence and protecting vulnerable populations, leading many to wonder what hope there is for a stronger African Union that is effective in achieving goals or demonstrating long-lasting leadership.

Most recently, the AU and South Africa specifically came under especially intense scrutiny for the passive role they took regarding the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. The 2008 elections in Zimbabwe raised a great deal of controversy since the ruling party refused to release election results that may have shown its defeat, and leaders around the world called for a peaceful resolution to the standoff and fair behavior by the current leadership. South Africa had a crucial role as mediator in the conflict, but failed to assist Zimbabwe in reaching any meaningful resolution. Many fear Zimbabwe is spiraling dangerously into violence and repression, and possibly even genocide—since current leader Robert Mugabe seems intent on remaining in power, whatever the true election outcomes. President Mbeki’s leadership in the conflict received negative reviews from the closest ranks in his own country, as Jacob Zuma, ANC president, harshly criticized Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” toward Zimbabwe. South Africa did stop a shipment of weapons from China that arrived at its borders en route to Zimbabwe, but many feel that it should use its position as mediator to push for transparency and significant change in the country, even if it means standing up to Mugabe, for the sake of peace and democracy in the region.

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Sources: Government of South Africa Web site; BBC News, Country Profile; The Economist, Country Briefings; Institute for Security Studies, and others

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