In This Review

Inside South Africa's Foreign Policy: Diplomacy in Africa from Smuts to Mbeki
Inside South Africa's Foreign Policy: Diplomacy in Africa from Smuts to Mbeki
By John Siko
I. B. Tauris, 2014, 288 pp

This sharp investigation into the factors that shape South Africa’s foreign policy is well worth reading for anyone interested in the country’s politics. Through a number of remarkable interviews with South African elites, Siko examines the impact that interest groups, the press, big business, political parties, and the legislative branch have on foreign policy. He finds that although all those players exercise some influence, the executive branch has historically maintained a considerable amount of autonomy, as presidents and their collaborators have pursued their own sense of the national interest. Siko further argues that the emergence of majority rule in the mid-1990s did little to alter this culture of executive dominance, despite much rhetoric about the democratization of policymaking. He explains this continuity by pointing out that the South African public is generally uninterested in foreign policy; there is little pressure to change the way things have normally been done. Apartheid also played a role, by encouraging the fragmentation of nongovernmental groups, which even today rarely collaborate to advance common interests. Siko’s analysis is largely focused on process, but along the way he does discuss some specific cases of policy in action, such as South African President Thabo Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” toward the crisis in Zimbabwe during the first decade of this century.