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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.


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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

This page is part of Rising Powers: The New Global Reality, a project from the Stanley Foundation.

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The global order is changing. The 21st Century will be marked by many competing sources of global power. Across politics, economics, culture, military strength and more, a new group of countries have growing influence over the future of the world:



South Africa
European Union

South Korea


Other Countries

Big issues are also playing a cross-cutting role in this changing global order:


Nuclear Nonproliferation
Nonstate Actors

Global/Regional Systems

And this changing global order has implications for the United States.

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