Written evidence submitted by Mr Keith
SOUTH AFRICA IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
South Africa is the dominant military and economic
power in southern Africa and the most influential nation (in global
and continental terms) in sub-Saharan Africa. In the nine years
since the election of Nelson Mandela as president of a post-apartheid
South Africa, the country has outstripped Africa's stumbling giant,
Nigeria, on the world and African stage.
The moral force of Mandela and of the reconciliation/Rainbow
Nation message from South Africa as a whole, the power of a developed
and diverse economy, the sophistication of its politics and the
potential of its armed forces have all contributed to this position.
But commentators, opinion-formers and critics
of the ANC within and outside South Africa have expressed disappointment
with the lack of engagement and positive results which have characterised
regional and continental policy since 1994. Greg Mills, director
of the South African Institute of International Relations, has
pointed to the "controversy and confusion" which has
surrounded the country's foreign policy since 1994.
While he says that this to an extent is a result
of unrealistic international and domestic expectations of the
role that South Africa could play in the short-term, it is clear
that foreign policy has not been clear, consistent or effective.
In southern Africa, Pretoria has veered from
the rather precipitate and clumsy intervention in Lesotho in 1998
(in concert with Botswana and Zimbabwe) to "quiet diplomacy"
and non-intervention in Zimbabwe's political/civil unrest problems
and little if any ovious role in Angola (either before or since
the death of Jonas Savimbi in February 2002).
This inconsistency has a number of sources but
sits uneasily with South Africa's foreign policy rhetoricas
the leading force in Nepad and given President Mbeki's views on
the African Renaissance.
When South Africa's Foreign Minister in an annual
address to the SAIIR declared rather pompously that "South
Africa, together with its partners, has made remarkable progress
in preparing the groundwork for the revitalisation of Africa and
prevention of the further marginalisation of the continent",
but was unable to prevent its partners in the Southern African
Development Community (SADC) from active and partial military
involvement in the DRC (not to mention the looting of DRC resources
that accompanied this) and played no meaningful role in supporting
democracy in Zimbabwe, then you know that the rhetoric bears little
relation to the reality of policy implementation.
Similarly, South Africa has declared its support
for the UN, international peacekeeping efforts and multilateral
approaches to conflict resolution, but has declined to provide
personnel for UN operations (in Bosnia, for example), has acted
unilaterally or in combination with one or two other states in
some cases (Lesotho) and has been non-existent as a player in
regional crises in which it could have had a major and positive
It is fair to say that South Africa's regional
and continental failures have been due partly to entirely understandable
The priorities for the country in 1994 were
reconciliation, economic redistribution but also continued economic
growth and the building of a non-racial defence force.
This inhibited concerted action on the foreign
policy front in the first few years of ANC governmentthe
Mandela government quite rightly and understandably declined a
military role post-genocide in Rwanda when this was being suggested
within days of the ANC's election victory in 1994.
The country was also made cautious regionally
by the role of the country, its armed forces and intelligence
services during the apartheid era. South African forces had carried
out raids against or intervened militarily or in support of rebels
in Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana and Zimbabweas
well being an occupying power in Namibia.
Robert Mugabe has been quoted as saying that
with the end of apartheid in South Africa, countries in the region
did not want to swap being victims of apartheid aggression for
being treated by the new government as a province of South Africathis
has inhibited Pretoria's willingness and ability to exercise influence
regionally. Some have described it as leading to a situation of
Pretoria being damned if it does something and damned if it doesn't.
As member of SADC, South Africa has wanted to
act multilaterally, but SADC, as a report from the Centre for
Africa's International Relations at the University of Witwatersrand
points out, has no real history of multilateral action and its
members have generally opted for unilateral or bilateral action.
This made things difficult regionally and led to South Africa
acting with Zimbabwe and Botswana in its clumsy military intervention
after a coup in Lesotho in 1998.
The ability to act in a military capacity regionally
or in global UN operationsto restore or maintain peace
or as part of a multilateral forcehas been reduced by the
declining power, cohesion and funding of the armed forces. Greg
Mills of SAIIR has said that South Africa is now far less able
to act in those capacities than it was seven years ago.
While denying that the South African army is
in crisis and is able to field only small units for limited operations,
South Africa's military chiefs have admitted major problems in
the integration of the armed forces, continuing racism, a poor
command structure, major issues with the health and age structure
of the army and poor maintenance of weaponry and support equipment.
A leaked SA Department of Defence document in July 2002 indicated
the following as among the major problems:
Only 3,000 of 76,000 troops can be
Only four out of 168 tanks are operational.
The air force usually runs out of
fuel in September.
Seven out of 10 deaths in the army
Training has been stopped.
Defence Minister Lekota denounced the publication
of the leaks but was able to provide little or no evidence to
refute the details published in South African newspapers and by
BBC News Online (links to the reports at the end of this paper).
Detailed studies have shown that operational
spending in the SANDF has dropped to disastrous levelsthe
defence budget has declined by more than 50% in real terms in
the last 13 years; less than 40% of helicopters are available
for deployment; less than 10% of armoured vehicles are deployable
and less than 50% of military units could be available for operational
use at short notice (http//www.global-defence.com/2001/RSpart4a.html).
This low-level of readiness has meant that barely
1,200 South African troops could be available for regional or
international peacekeeping and logistical support is almost non-existent.
South Africa's small military role in the Burndi peace process
has only been made possible by external logistical help and funding
for medical support for its troops.
This situation explains why despite its vocal
role in support of the Liberia peace process and pledges to assist
with peacekeeping operations, it has not been able to send troopsLekota
had to decline requests from West African states to send troops
to support the peace agreement.
The lack of readiness of the armed forces results
from budget cuts, slow and poorly implemented integration of ANC,
PAC and former SADF personnel and the lack of support for South
Africa's peacekeeping capability from the developed worldtypified
by the suspension of US military aid to South Africa because of
South Africa's differences with the US administration over the
operations of the International Criminal Court.
South Africa's declining military capabilities,
lack of major logistical capacity and cuts in the military budget
have led to the SANDF being a declining asset in SA foreign policy.
In DRC, South Africa, along with SADC members
Mozambique, Tanzania and Botswana, favoured negotiations and diplomatic
means to end the civil war, but other SADC members (Angola, Namibia
and Zimbabwe) became involved militarily in support of the Kabila
government and its allies and also used involvement to gain lucrative
access to diamond, mineral and timber resources. South Africa
stuck to the diplomatic path and tried repeatedly to forge agreement
between the government and rebel groups. This was partially successful
with the Pretoria agreement of 2002, but the lack of any strong,
neutral African Union or SADC presence on the ground and the inability
to deter Uganda and Rwanda from continually meddling has meant
that however constructive Pretoria's role on the diplomatic side,
the situation on the ground remains fluid and unsupportive of
reconciliation and reconstruction.
Pretoria seemed unable to influence its SADC
partners (Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe) over Congo and having
failed to influence them would not criticise them publicly over
military intervention in the Congo.
In Burundi, South Africa supported Tanzania
and Botswana in seeking a solution to Hutu-Tutsi violence and
has committed some 750 troops and some civilian personnel but
has not had any great success in achieving real progressbut
that might be too much to ask any outside mediator. This has been
the only major South African commitment of forces to peacekeeping
(apart from the short-lived Lesotho operation). At one point,
the problems within the SANDF flared up in its force in Burundiresulting
in the death of a soldier during a violent row within the South
African peacekeeping force.
In Angola, South Africa has not been an open
player since 1994. Its history of direct military involvement
and support for the UNITA rebels makes this difficult as does
the Dos Santos government's pre-1994 support and provision of
bases for the ANC.
In the mid-1990s, South Africa failed to prevent
the private military company, Executive Outcomes, from direct
military involvement on both sides of the conflict, was unable
to mediate effectively between the government and UNITA and seemed
to play a wait and see role, hoping that as the government gained
the upper hand in the late 1990s, the situation would resolve
Since the defeat of UNITA and death of Savimbi,
South Africa appears to have played little open role in assisting
with reconciliation, humanitarian work or economic reconstructionalthough
South African commercial interests, such as the electricity giant
Eskom, have extensive plans for energy and water utilisation involving
resources in DRC and Angola to create a regional power and water
gridmainly to meet an expected growth in demand for power
and water in South Africa in the coming decades.
When it comes to Zimbabwe, South Africa has
disappointed many domestic opinion-formers as well as major western
and Commonwealth countries. Mbeki's stress on quiet diplomacy
has gone down badly with the USA, UK and EU, its non-Agfrican
partners in the Commonwealth, put it at odds with its neighbours
Botswana and Mozambique and appeared in stark contradiction to
the aims, principles and rhetoric of Nepad.
South Africa has been critical of the declaratory
policy of opposition to Mugabe's land and political policies emanating
from the UK, the USA, the EU and non-African Commonwealth members
and has opposed criticism of Zimbabwe that has come from Botswana's
The SA Foreign Minister's comment in March this
year that under an ANC government there would "never"
be criticism of Mugabe and his policies let alone pressure on
him to resign or hold new elections made clear the lack of common
The strong South African stand on this has been
criticised not just by Western governments (even though Bush bowed
to it during his visit to Pretoria in July and left the field
open for South Africa's version of diplomacyperhaps more
an indication of Bush's lack of real interest in Zimbabwe than
of his willingness to listen to Mbeki's arguments) but also by
international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International
and domestic groups such as the Helen Suzman Foundation.
The HSF said in an editorial comment on its
website criticising the Mbeki stand on Zimbabwe that "African
Renaissance is nothing if it is not built on human rights, democracy
and the rule of law". The Foundation says Mbeki has made
a huge error in his policy on Zimbabwe. The Foundation accuses
the President of concentrating too much on the land issue and
putting himself in a position where any criticism of Zimbabwe
would appear to be "a sell out to white interests".
The South African stance and its effective role
as an international voice opposing intervention and repeating
Mugabe's line on the land issue, has also been criticised by the
business community, tourist operators and others who see the Zimbabwe
crisis as a major obstacle to regional economic development, foreign
investment in the region as a whole and investment in and trade
with individual countries.
One problem for South African policy is that
criticism of President Mugabe's policies from the UK in particular
have often seemed to concentrate on the land issue, the protection
of white farmers and to have been too obviously pro-MDC rather
than efforts to protect the rule of law and freedom of speech
per se. This has then put South Africa in the position of appearing
to support such a stance if it criticises Zimbabwe and backs any
western sanctions or other means of putting pressure on Mugabe.
But, crucially, South Africa has failed to support
the principled stand in support of democracy, the rule of law
and the general economic well-being of the region taken by Botswana
and is believed by many in Botswana to have put pressure on President
Mogae to tone down his public criticism of Mugabe.
South Africa has disappointed as a regional
political/diplomatic player, failing to punch its weight in Africa.
While understandable in the years immediately following the end
of apartheid, this is less understandable now given Mbeki's very
public championing of Nepad and the African Renaissance.
Domestic pressure and the sensitivity of the
land issue have led to a position of effective support for the
Mugabe government in Zimbabwealienating South Africa's
friends in the West, angering those inside South Africa who want
an ethical foreign policy supporting human rights and democracy
and disappointing the business community and neighbours such as
Botswana and Mozambique who see Zimbabwe as an obstacle to regional
South Africa's own military problems, budget
cuts and ambivalent attitude to regional policy have rendered
it surprisingly weak as a diplomatic and military force in its
own region and sub-Saharan Africa as a whole and prevented it
from taking a lead in regional or continental peacekeeping efforts.
Globally, it is in the bottom ten contributors to UN peacekeeping.
Keith Somerville is currently Training Editor
(News) with the BBC World Service. He has worked as a programme
editor, producer, reporter and documentary maker for the BBC World
Service and BBC News Online, specialising in African military
and political affairs. A long-time member of the now defunct RIIA
Southern Africa Study Group, he has published four books on African
political and military issues and been a contributor to other
authors' collections on these topics and to academic journals
on African affairs. The views expressed in this short paper are
his own and do not represent the views of the BBC.
Web sources used:
Mr Keith Somerville