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South Africa in Africa: Promoting Constitutionalism in Southern Africa, 1994 - 2004

David Monyae1

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The founding leaders of post-apartheid South Africa's democracy enthusiastically seized the opportunity of promoting a culture of constitutionalism at home and abroad. As shown by the final product of protracted negotiations, the South African constitution stands as one of the best in the world today. There is no doubt that the molders of this constitution believed in promoting a culture of constitutionalism, sustainable democracy, peace, continuous development, and stability for South Africa and the continent. South Africa's transition occurred at a critical moment, where the cold war was in its dying stages and there was rising hope for the spread of democracy across the world. It is in this context that South Africa entered the family of nations in 1994, as both a strong believer and champion of constitutional democracy and the rule of law. This meant that the postapartheid South Africa was foundered on,

    "The belief system of government, laws and principles according to which a state is governed, controlled or limited by the constitution".2
In this short contribution, we look at how South Africa in its first decade of freedom 1994 - 2004, has attempted to extend the entrenched culture of constitutionalism at home in its Africa policy, particularly within the Southern African subregion. We shall pay special attention on South Africa's Africa policy, and specifically focus on its interventions in Lesotho and Zimbabwe during mid 1990s and early 2000.

South Africa's foreign policy evolved gradually in its approach to African issues from Nelson Mandela to Thabo Mbeki in the period 1994 to 2004. While there were no fundamental shifts in foreign policy from Mandela to Mbeki, there was however, a wide and visible gap in their focus, strategy, style, and indeed tactic towards matters concerning the African continent. There was also a sense of division of labor thus Mandela concentrated on the fundamental question of internal (South Africa) nation-building, while Mbeki championed the same initiatives continentally. Therefore the arguments that South Africa was reluctant to play a leading role in Africa during Mandela's rule, fail to appreciate let alone, understand the strength and weaknesses of both leaders. In short, President Mandela 1994 - 1999 focussed extensively on nation-building projects; such as the consolidation of the peaceful transitional arrangements, constitutionalism, reconciliation process, Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), and a smooth re-entry of South Africa to the family of nations. On the other hand, President Thabo Mbeki creatively extended Mandela's domestic projects in Africa. This can be seen in Mbeki's led foreign policy vision of an African renaissance and the New Partnership for Africa's Development Programme (Nepad) which to a larger extent has propelled and positioned South Africa as an emerging leader in Africa.

The postapartheid South Africa's foreign policy-makers realised that their success in peace building initiatives in the southern African region depends on their country's foreign policy to align itself with regional and continental institutions' objectives. South Africa's Africa policy relied heavily on regional multilateral structures to create a harmonious relationship between and among member states. The main reason for taking such an approach was because South Africa believed that regional democratic norms and values were critical to peace and security. For the African National Congress (ANC) the governing party,

    "There are two ways that South Africa can meaningfully contribute to the African renaissance: (a) it can "bully" others, whether they like it or not; or (b) it can work through existing continental, multilateral structures to advance and support the defense of progressive principles and ideals that have collectively been agreed to. It is the latter role that South Africa will have to consider; deploy its resources and political experience to advance and accelerate the implementation of the African Union and NEPAD. The realization of Africa's renaissance will be difficult to achieve without South Africa's commitment to play its role in the continent".3

  1. David Monyae, lectures in International Relations, at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. This chapter forms part of the PhD. Thesis entitled; Learning to Lead: South Africa’s Foreign Policy Towards Southern Africa, The Case Study of the Zimbabwe Intervention – 1994 – 2004. First and foremost, I would like to express my deep thanks to Prof. John Stremlau, my supervisor for guidance and support, Lindiwe Myende and Dr. Abdul Lamin for enduring the pains of the many drafts.
  2. Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1974, London, pp. 182
  3. Ibid.

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