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Academic delivers inaugural lecture on South African foreign policy
2007-08-06

 

In her inaugural lecture Prof. Heidi Hudson from the Department of Political Sciences, focused on the impact that Pan-Africanist sentiments have had on South Africa’s foreign policy. She also put the resulting contradictions and ambiguities into context. At her inaugural lecture were, from the left: Proff. Frederick Fourie (Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS), Heidi Hudson, Engela Pretorius (Vice-Dean: Faculty of The Humanities) and Daan Wessels (Research Associate in the Department of Political Science).
Photo: Stephen Collett

Academic delivers inaugural lecture on South African foreign policy

“We are committed to full participation as an equal partner … opposed to any efforts which might seek to project South Africa as some kind of superpower on our continent. … the people of Africa share a common destiny and must therefore … address their challenges … as a united force...” (Mbeki 1998:198-199).

Prof. Heidi Hudson from the Department of Political Science referred to this statement made by president Mbeki (made at the opening of the OAU Conference of Ministers of Information in 1995) when she delivered her inaugural lecture on the topic: South African foreign policy: The politics of Pan-Africanism and pragmatism.

One of the questions she asked is: “Can the South African state deliver democracy and welfare at home while simultaneously creating a stable, rules-based African community?”

She answers: “South Africa needs to reflect more critically and honestly on the dualism inherent in its ideological assumptions regarding relations with Africa. South Africa will always be expected by some to play a leadership role in Africa. At the moment, South Africa’s desire to be liked is hampering its role as leader of the continent.”

In her lecture she highlighted the ideological underpinnings and manifestations of South Africa’s foreign policy. Throughout she alluded to the risks associated with single-mindedly following an ideologically driven foreign policy. She emphasised that domestic or national interests are the victims in this process.

Prof. Hudson offers three broad options for South Africa to consider:

  • The Predator – the selfish bully promoting South African economic interest.
  • Mr Nice Guy – the non-hegemonic partner of the African boys club, multilaterally pursuing a pivotal but not dominant role.
  • The Hegemon - South Africa driving regional integration according to its values and favouring some African countries over others, and with checks and balances by civil society.

She chooses option three of hegemony. “Politically correct research views hegemony as bad and partnership as good. This is a romanticised notion – the two are not mutually exclusive,” she said.

However, she states that there have to be prerequisites to control the exercise of power. “The promotion of a counter-hegemon, such as Nigeria, is necessary. Nigeria has been more effective in some respects than South Africa in establishing its leadership, particularly in West Africa. Also needed is that government should be checked by civil society to avoid it sinking into authoritarianism. The case of business and labour coming to an agreement over the HIV/Aids issue is a positive example which illustrates that government cannot ignore civil society. But much more needs to be done in this regard. South Africa must also be very careful in how it uses its aid and should focus potential aid and development projects more explicitly in terms of promoting political stability,” she said.

Prof. Hudson said: “It is also questionable whether Mbeki’s Afro-centrism has in fact promoted the interests of ordinary citizens across Africa. Instead, elite interests in some countries have benefited. But ultimately, the single most important cost is the damage done to the moral code and ethical principles on which the South African Constitution and democracy is founded.

“In the end we all lose out. More pragmatism and less ideology in our relations within Africa may just be what are needed,” she said.

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