The Impact of Public Opinion and Civil Society on Foreign Policy

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Chapter 3: Narratives in South African Foreign Policy


Before examining the role various actors have played through the years in shaping South African foreign policy, one must first explain the various thrusts and narratives of South African— government and exiled ANC—foreign policy throughout the country’s history. While the detailed discussion will focus on the “how” and the “why,” one cannot delve into these discussions without an overview of the “what,” the broader external aims of both the South African Government and, pre-1990, the ANC in exile. To this end, this chapter is subdivided into six parts that will provide an overview of the foreign policy priorities of the South African Government and the ANC during the past century, albeit with a focus on the post-1948 period:
Pre-1948 Foreign Policy. This section will briefly discuss the origins of South African foreign policy, both pre-Union and in the 1910-48 period. This will cover South Africa’s involvement in the two World Wars and the impact of the Balfour Declaration on developing South Africa’s independent foreign policy competency.
The Diplomacy of Defiance, 1948-1990. The National Party’s rule until the unbanning of the ANC was characterized by South Africa’s efforts to counter its growing international isolation and find friends wherever they could be had. Key issues to be addressed include withdrawal from the Commonwealth; growing international isolation; strained ties with the United Nations; growing estrangement from the United States and traditional allies in Europe; growing ties with other global pariahs; clandestine propaganda and sanctions-busting efforts; and Pretoria’s efforts to build ties with African states.
ANC Foreign Policy to 1990. ANC foreign engagement goes back to the organization’s foundation in 1912, although this section mostly will focus on the ANC’s post-1960 attempts to seek international legitimacy as the true representative of South Africa’s people; establish representation around the world; raise money; raise awareness of and shift international opinion against apartheid; and increasingly isolate the government in Pretoria.
The Foreign Policy of Transition: Competition and Convergence. This section will discuss the dominant issues of the transitional period, particularly the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) discussions on South Africa’s future foreign policy priorities and diplomatic infrastructure. It will also examine South Africa’s reemergence on the global stage.
The Mandela Era: All Things to All People. Nelson Mandela’s 1994-99 administration saw the culmination of South African reengagement efforts and saw the country, still basking in the afterglow of its successful transition, play an active and outsized role in the international arena. However, South African foreign policy during this period also was marked by significant difficulties in balancing its idealist aims with more “realist” considerations. No longer a global pariah, South Africa was finally forced to make difficult geopolitical choices. South African responses to crises in Nigeria and Lesotho also will be examined here.
Mbeki and the African Agenda. Lastly, this section will examine Thabo Mbeki’s efforts to bring peace, democracy, and prosperity to the rest of Africa while positioning Pretoria as an influential actor both globally and on the continent. South Africa’s growing prioritization of the developing world; its global diplomatic expansion; Pretoria’s efforts to “punch above its weight” in the international arena, on such issues as reform of global governance structures; and its shift from a human rights focus in the early period to more “pragmatic” policies in the late 1990s all will be scrutinized here. South Africa’s policy toward Zimbabwe, probably the most prominent foreign policy issue since 1994, will merit particular examination, both here and in chapters to come.

South African Foreign Policy to 1948

Although the Boer republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State from the 1840s signed treaties with other countries and sent diplomatic representatives to Europe and the United States, South Africa had no independent foreign policy decision-making competency until the Balfour Declaration of 1926 granted Great Britain’s Dominions equal and autonomous status under the new Commonwealth (Vandenbosch, 1970:58). Although the Declaration stated that most foreign policy responsibility would remain in London, it allowed for autonomous Dominion diplomatic services; South Africa’s Department of External Affairs was set up later that year. External affairs were generally a low priority for South Africa for most of the 1920s and 1930s, but this changed with the coming storm in Europe. The march to war raised questions about the country’s autonomy in the event of war, with the two main governmental leaders—Prime Minister JBM Hertzog and Deputy Prime Minister Jan Smuts—divided over South Africa’s obligation to back Great Britain in a conflict with Germany (Spence, 1965:8-9).
Matters came to a head with Germany’s 1 September 1939 invasion of Poland, which brought Great Britain into the war two days later. A neutrality motion put forth by Hertzog was defeated by 80 votes to 67, while a Smuts motion urging cooperation with Great Britain passed by the same margin. South Africa was at war. Despite inheriting a tiny Defense Force totally unprepared for conflict, Smuts—who emerged as Prime Minister—turned the South African force into a valuable partner for the Allies. In all, 334,000 men volunteered for service in the South African Army (including 123,000 non-white members of support units); nearly 9,000 were killed in action. At war’s end, Smuts served as South Africa’s representative at the San Francisco conference that established the United Nations, drafting the preamble to the UN Charter. Smuts’ heightened international profile, however, did him few favors at home. In the run-up to 1948 elections, the National Party attacked Smuts and his United Party for being soft on racial segregation and more focused on global statesmanship than problems at home. Although the NP and its Afrikaner Party allies only took 42 percent of the vote to the United Party’s 49 percent, their support in smaller rural constituencies allowed them to win 79 of 153 seats. DF Malan assumed the Premiership, and the era of apartheid and isolation began.

The Diplomacy of Defiance, 1948-1990

The National Party government’s resistance to international pressure to reform or abolish its system of apartheid underscored South Africa’s foreign policy between 1948 and 1990; maintenance of white rule in South Africa (and Southwest Africa) was the overarching goal. As a former director of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) succinctly observed, “the South African Government’s policy abroad is to seek to maintain apartheid at home” (Quoted in Stevens, 1970:32). To this end, Pretoria engaged in an increasing sophisticated, multi-headed approach that at first utilized legalistic tactics, diplomatic overtures, and economic incentives to win friends and rebuff enemies. However, as anti-South Africa attitudes hardened by the mid-1960s, these policy options expanded to include covert action, the development of a nuclear deterrent, and the use of conventional and unconventional military force—all elements of the “Total Strategy,” which will be explained below—to show its opponents that South Africa had no intention of capitulation. The Nationalists effectively played up the communist threat to South Africa from the Soviet-backed ANC to maintain consistently high levels of domestic support and win anti-Communist friends abroad.

The Foreign Policy of Malan and Strijdom: The Balancing Act

South Africa’s foreign policy during the Premierships of DF Malan (1948-53) and JG Strijdom (1953-58) was characterized by attempts to maintain close ties with the West, not alienate Great Britain, and establish South Africa as a player in a rapidly decolonizing Africa, all the while showing voters they would not be cowed by external pressure (Barber and Barratt, 1990:1). Pretoria had some luck with the former two. The escalation of the Cold War helped South Africa maintain good standing with the West, as did the South African Air Force’s participation in both the 1948 Berlin Air Lift and the Korean War, although Malan’s efforts to make South Africa an “auxiliary” of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the southern hemisphere came to naught (Barber and Barratt, 1990:1; Steenkamp, 1980:34). For avowed republicans, Malan and Strijdom also retained surprisingly strong relations with Great Britain and dismissed calls for withdrawal from the Commonwealth. Economics was key to this; Commonwealth trade preferences, security cooperation, and access to British capital all made continued membership highly desirable (Henshaw, 1996:223).
Efforts to improve South Africa’s standing in Africa, however, had less luck. In the run-up to decolonization, Malan was taken with the idea of an “African Charter” aimed at preserving colonial rule by stopping Asian immigration, keeping out Communism, and ensuring the continent remained non-militarized (Southall, 1999:7). South Africa would play a central role in this charter, offering assistance and cooperation to colonies across the continent, but European colonial powers paid it no heed (Geldenhuys, 1994:252-253). Malan’s attempt to acquire control from Great Britain of the British Protectorate states—Bechuanaland, Basutoland, and Swaziland—on South Africa’s borders, the independence of which he found abhorrent, similarly found no success. Strijdom, on the other hand, took a more pragmatic approach to the continent, with a focus on maintaining white rule where tenable but recognizing that independence for much of the continent was a reality. He emphasized the need for cooperation and the “hand of friendship” between South Africa and black-ruled states, and to that end established several organizations to advance technical and agricultural cooperation (Barber and Barratt, 1990:3). Strijdom even sent senior diplomats to Ghana’s independence ceremony, although he drew the line at exchanging diplomats with a black-ruled country (Barber, 1973:7). Unsurprisingly, Ghana and other new states showed little outward enthusiasm for close ties, although Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah was slow to cut trade ties with Pretoria, stating in 1957 that Ghana would not interfere in a South African internal matter (Barber, 1973:7).

Acknowledgements and Thanks 
List of Acronyms 
Chapter 1: Introduction
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Rationale for the Study
1.3 Why Examine the Mbeki Period?
1.4 Defining “Democratic” Decision Making in a Foreign Policy Construct
1.5 Literature Review
1.6 Key Research Questions
1.7 Research Methodology
1.8 Ethical Considerations Taken Into Account
1.9 Challenges and Limitations of This Study
1.10 The Structure of the Thesis
1.11 Conclusion
Chapter 2: Analytical Framework for Assessing Foreign Policy Democratization
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Public Opinion as an Influence on Foreign Policy
2.3 Civil Society
2.4 The Media
2.5 Academics
2.6 Business
2.7 Legislatures
2.8 Ruling Parties
2.9 Government Bureaucracies
2.10 The Executive
2.11 Conclusion
Chapter 3: Narratives in South African Foreign Policy
3.1 Introduction
3.2 South African Foreign Policy to 1948
3.3 The Diplomacy of Defiance, 1948-1990
3.4 ANC Foreign Policy to 1990 67
3.5 The Foreign Policy of Transition: Competition and Convergence
3.6 The Mandela Years: All Things to All People
3.7 Mbeki and the African Agenda, 1999-2008
3.8 Conclusion
Chapter 4: The Impact of Public Opinion and Civil Society on Foreign Policy
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Pre-1994 Public Apathy on Foreign Policy and Government Disinterest in Public Views
4.3 Civil Society’s Pre-1994 Involvement in Foreign Affairs
4.4 High Hopes for Greater Public and Civil Society Impact During Transition Period
4.5 Public Opinion After 1994: More of the Same
4.6 More Active, but Similarly Powerless, Civil Society
4.7 Conclusion: Why So Weak?
Chapter 5: The South African Press and Foreign Policy
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Government-Press Relations to 1994
5.3 The Press and Government Since 1994: All Gloves Off
5.4 Conclusion: Press Never a Foreign Policy Player
Chapter 6: Academia’s Impact on South African Foreign Policy Making
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Academic Impact on Foreign Policy Until 1990
6.3 Foreign Affairs Experts’ Newfound Influence During the Transition
6.4 1994 and After: Back to Earth
6.5 Conclusion: Did Academia Matter in the Mbeki Years…or ever?
Chapter 7: South African Business and Foreign Policy
7.1 Introduction
7.2 The Origins of the South African Business Community
7.3 Business and Foreign Policy, 1994-2008: Frustrated Ambitions
7.4 Conclusion: No Greater Post-1994 Impact on Foreign Policy
Chapter 8: Parliament’s Impact on South African Foreign Policy
8.1 Introduction
8.2 Foreign Affairs Legislative Powers Before 1994
8.3 Parliament’s Impact on Foreign Policy Since 1994
8.4 Conclusion: An Impotent Parliament, Past and Present
Chapter 9: South Africa’s Ruling Parties and Foreign Policy
9.1 Introduction
9.2 The National Party and Foreign Policy
9.3 ANC Decision Making Structures in Exile
9.4 The ANC and Foreign Policy Making Since 1994
9.5 Conclusion: ANC a Notable, Independent Foreign Policy Role Player
Chapter 10: How South African Government Departments Influence Foreign Policy
10.1 Introduction
10.2 The Influence of Government Departments Before 1994
10.3 The Post-1994 Bureaucratic Realignment
10.4 Conclusion: The Ebb and Flow of Departmental Influence
Chapter 11: The Head of State and Foreign Policy Making
11.1 Introduction
11.2 DF Malan (1948-1953)
11.3 JG Strijdom (1953-1958)
11.4 Hendrik Verwoerd (1958-1966)
11.5 John Vorster (1966-1978)
11.6 PW Botha (1978-1989)
11.7 FW De Klerk (1989-1994)
11.8 Nelson Mandela (1994-1999)
11.9 Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008)
11.10 Conclusion
Chapter 12: Conclusion
12.1 Analysis of Actors’ Influences
12.2 Post-1994 Dispensation Cracks the Door to More Democracy in Foreign Policy Making, But South Africans Yet to Walk Through It
12.3 Areas Deserving Additional Study
Appendix: List of Interviews

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