How the Policy of Quiet Diplomacy Impacts South Africa’s Democratic Consolidation

Alex Laverty

INTL 190: Williams

9 June 2008

How the Policy of Quiet Diplomacy Impacts South Africa’s Democratic Consolidation

            After the first elections that extended franchise to all South Africans in 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected president of the Republic of South Africa. One of the key objectives of the new government was to articulate an image of the Republic as a progressive world citizen. As such, the diplomacy conducted by the new government was to imprint South Africa’s image as a mid-level power broker between the economic North and South. In this role it sought to bring development to African countries still suffering the legacy of colonialism and globalization by assuming the role as spokesperson for the Developing World.

            At the conclusion of the Mandela government in 1999, Thabo Mbeki, the former Deputy President, came to power and began to imprint his strategic and technocratic vision on the Republic’s foreign diplomacy. A pragmatic Pan-African, his rise to power saw an important shift in policy based on his views on race and Africa’s place in the world order. As a behind the scenes negotiator, what he lacked in aura he made up for through calculated political maneuvering and negotiations. He has since linked South Africa’s future to that of the entire Southern Africa region (Landsberg 159).

            In comparison to Mandela, who attempted to promote the culture of human rights and an ethical approach to diplomacy, Mbeki sought to create a rules-based global order that was aimed at the redressing of injustices from the colonial and apartheid past. While Mandela pursued a foreign policy that stressed bridge building between the developed and developing world, Mbeki took this policy further in developing a south-south solidarity that translated into cooperation on foreign policy between this group of nations (Landsberg 159).

            South African foreign policy has recently been a major issue for Southern Africa as well as the world as the economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe deepens. The recent presidential election has thrown the country into full economic and political meltdown, where the respect for law and order has been trounced by Robert Mugabe’s regime. The abuse of opposition leaders and their followers have drawn worldwide criticism, with one notable exception: the Republic of South Africa. To ever realistically solve the issue of Zimbabwe, a consolidated democracy must exist in South Africa. The Republic’s policy towards Mugabe must be examined in a way to determine whether it is currently helping or hurting prospects for consolidation in the Republic. To understand South Africa’s current policy towards Zimbabwe, a historical account must be examined. Secondly, the reasons behind the continued adherence to the so-called quiet diplomacy must be discovered. After these answers are ascertained, a breakdown of how the foreign policy of Pretoria affects democratic consolidation will give an answer to those who wonder how South Africa can ever consolidate its democracy while at the same time supporting the world’s number one thug, Robert Mugabe.

South Africa’s African Engagement History

            In the course of promoting democracy throughout the world from 1994 onwards, Mbeki as deputy president proclaimed, “one party system and military governments will not work”. He advised that Africans must ‘rebel’ and ‘resist all tyranny’, while also putting forth the idea that governments derive their authority and legitimacy to govern from the will of the people. (Landsberg 162).

            The first attempt by the ANC and the post-apartheid South Africa to flex their foreign policy muscle was in dealing with the Nigerian Dictatorship. This first political test for Mandela and his ANC was of a particular importance because many had seen Nigeria as the vanguard of the anti-apartheid movement. Following the annulled election in 1993 by an army general, widespread unrest followed in the country. Another military leader, who detained the frontrunner of the election, who had subsequently declared himself president, replaced the first army general. Mandela soon dispatched Desmond Tutu to start diplomatic negotiations for the release of the political leaders. This failed as the party leader with 39 others were convicted on coup-plotting charges. Included in the convicted was world-renowned environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa. He and nine of his followers were singled out and sentenced to death. Mandela came into personal contact with the military leader of Nigeria, Sani Abacha, and believed that there would be a stay of execution as he jetted off to attend the Commonwealth Summit in 1995. However, Mandela would seemed to have been “led…up the political garden path” by Abacha who let Mandela falsely believe that he would back down (Landsberg 177). Saro-Wiwa was executed while Mandela was flying to the Summit in Auckland. This enraged Mandela who personally pushed for the two-year suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth and withdrew the Republic’s high commissioner from the country in protest. This situation was complicated by the fact that the majority of the Organization of African Unity members disagreed with the ANC government’s stance of isolation. This is a key turning point according to Landsberg in South Africa’s diplomatic policy development post-apartheid. Pretoria came to realize that the ‘go it alone’ strategy in Africa would fail, and that it would need to build partnerships with members of the OAU (and subsequently the AU) and the regional bodies of the continent in order to be diplomatically successful. Additionally, Mandela and Mbeki were criticized for only engaging the military junta of Abacha and not engaging the broad democratic moment in the country (Landsberg 177-178).

            After the royal coup by King Letsie in Lesotho in 1994, events were set in motion to bring about coup d’état by belligerents who were supported by rebel Lesotho soldiers. After disputed elections in 1998, violence erupted when a mutiny was stage by members of the army. The under siege Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle requested the intervention of the regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC). While Zimbabwe and Mozambique, who had been part of the original SADC preventive diplomacy mission to Lesotho, refused to send troops, South Africa and Botswana deployed 8,000 troops to the land-locked nation (Landsberg 164).

            The intervention was bungled by South Africa, with Mbeki making a speech shortly after the intervention claiming the reasoning behind the military action was a report in the Lesotho newspapers, and not on any study of the situation on the ground (Southall 71). Subsequently the military intervention did provide for the stability and peace that was necessary for further efforts to create a diplomatic solution (Southall 78). However, in the eyes of the media, the intervention was portrayed as a blunder with headlines reading, “The Incursion that Went Wrong”, “A City Ruined by Bungled Intervention” and “Lesotho Incursion Tarnishes SA’s Peacemaker Image”.

            The outcome of the Lesotho crisis showed that it was only after South Africa’s failed shuttle diplomacy did military intervention follow, and then only at the behest of the elected government. The Republic also demonstrated that when its ‘vital’ interests were threatened, military force would be used. The ‘vital’ interest of Lesotho was the Lesotho Highlands War Programme. Additionally had the coup been successful, a massive flight of refugees may have spilled over into South Africa. According to Landsberg, Pretoria wanted to prevent this contingency by intervening militarily to contain the coup by the military (Landsberg 164-165).

            Mandela launched South Africa into Africa’s first World War by initiating peace efforts in the Great Lakes area in 1997. An invitation was extended to Laurent Kabila, the chairmen of the rebel faction, and the dictator of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko. Mandela had convinced Kabila that a negotiated settlement that would accommodate Mobutu was needed to end the conflict. This negotiation, which was supposed to lead to a transitional government, was supported by international powers, France and the United States. However, during the peace process Kabila rejected the idea of a ceasefire and eventually prevailed in defeating Mobutu and taking control of the country, renaming it the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A rebellion against the new leadership quickly sprung into action, and Mandela and Mbeki attempted to end this insurrection against Kabila. By offering to help support the effort of rebuilding the country, South Africa attempted to use the carrot and stick approach to bring about a resolution to the conflict. However, Kabila wanted South Africa military intervention, which Pretoria refused. This was complicated by the intervention into Lesotho in September 1998, as this was interpreted by the DRC and its alliance as a double standard. By this time, leaders of Namibia, Angola, and Zimbabwe had given their support to Kabila. The alliance accused South Africa of “promoting ‘regional apartheid policies’” (Landsberg 166).

            With the election of Mbeki in 1999, he took a hands-on approach to the situation. Just two months after his election he alluded to a major policy departure when it was announced that South Africa was prepared to send peacekeeping forces to the DRC.  The conflict seemed to reach a climax in 2002 when in the presence of Mbeki and an assortment of world and regional leaders, the DRC’s Kabila and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, primary supportive of the new rebels, signed a Memorandum of Understanding. By 2003 South Africa had clearly developed a two-pronged approach to the conflict: one focused on the military aspect while the other concentrated on the political. In 2003 South Africa had by then committed 1,000 troops to the destabilized eastern part of the DRC. In the middle of that year Mbeki confirmed to Parliament that he was sending an additional 1,200 soldiers to the DRC as fulfilling the Republic’s obligation to the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC) (Landsberg 168).

            This crisis was the primary foreign objective priority in the first Mbeki administration. On the political side of the solution to the conflict, South Africa attempted to create a transitional government that incorporated all stakeholders, much like the Republic attempted in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). Landsberg sums up the role of South Africa’s intervention in the DRC as “an independent line by refusing to side with any of the two blocs of the conflict, and instead opted for the role of peacemaker” (Landsberg 169).

Zimbabwe Takes Center Stage

            The crisis and Mbeki’s strategy towards in Zimbabwe came to the fore in 1998 as Zimbabwean forces intervened in the conflict in the DRC to support Laurent Kabila. This intervention coincided with the start of mass political and economic crisis in the country. Acts of sporadic violence and land invasions on white Zimbabweans land, dubbed by the Mugabe government as ‘fast track’ land restitution, the disputed presidential elections of 2002 and 2008, voting discrepancies, and numerous human rights violations have become part of the Zimbabwean political scene. A virtual meltdown of the economy has commenced since the seizing of white farms, leading to high inflation, unemployment, and poverty levels (Landsberg 172).

            In response quiet diplomacy has been used by Pretoria, instead of taking a hard-line approach towards Mugabe. Mbeki has strived to bring about a negotiated settlement between Mugabe’s liberation party ZANU-PF and the opposition, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). All this while balancing “historical considerations, regional balance of power politics, inter-personal dynamics, self-interest calculations, and implications for Pretoria’s geo-strategies in engaging Harare” (Landsberg 172). However, various actors abroad, including the United States, the United Kingdom, have criticized quiet diplomacy, while think tanks, the Democratic Alliance, newspaper editors, and Zimbabwe lobby groups have voiced their displeasure of the Zimbabwe policy in the Republic. In the face of this criticism, Mandela has come out in support of quiet diplomacy, stressing that through diplomatic channels a positive result is more likely (Landsberg 172-173).

            Quiet Diplomacy is the best technique to bring about change in Zimbabwe according to Mbeki. This manner was based logically on the fact that because Mugabe is a “proud and stubborn man and any public criticism of him would have deepened his stubbornness and provoked a denunciation of Mbeki as a tool of the imperialists” (Sparks 28 May 2008). This condemnation would have been difficult on a political level, as well as personal, for Mbeki to accept. His desire to press for south-south solidarity and his African Renaissance relies on the bond between South African and her neighbors to remain politically strong.

            According to Landsberg, quiet diplomacy is essentially a trade off between Zimbabwe and South Africa. In exchange for helping rebuild Zimbabwe’s economy and helping construct an acceptable strategy for Mugabe to step down from power, Mugabe is expected by Pretoria to commit towards creating free and fair elections, and mapping out a political strategy to end the stand off, which incorporates negotiations with the MDC. Pretoria does this while saying that isolating Mugabe and imposing sanctions would only accelerate the meltdown of the economy and create greater politically instability in their neighbor (Landsberg 173). However, based on current facts that will be discussed later, this definition of the situation seems to be incorrect.

            Landsberg places this conflict in the unique perspective of South Africa’s regional goals. As stated before, South Africa’s desire to see a resolution of the conflict in the DRC ranked as its primary foreign policy goal in the region.  In this regard, Rwanda and Zimbabwe were key allies in keeping the peace. Mugabe had been one of the African leaders who had sent forces into the country on the side of President Kabila and was also a strong ally of Rwanda. The reasoning out of Pretoria thus went that Zimbabwe must be engaged in order to make progress in the DRC. Landsberg says that Pretoria could either engage Zimbabwe and Mugabe as a partner in the broader geopolitical landscape or apply punitive actions against the country, but it could not do both. Additionally, Pretoria has still found it difficult to distance itself from the actions of the Apartheid government and a confrontation with Mugabe and the enforcement of sanctions could draw further comparisons between the ANC and Apartheid governments according to Landsberg. This would have put Pretoria in isolation, and while South Africa is said to have much latitude in its approach to Zimbabwe, the possibility of isolationism and disengagement was not a realistic one for Pretoria to consider according to Landsberg (173).

            This can also be seen in the context of Mbeki’s African Renaissance. Seen as the “calling for African political renewal and economic regeneration”, Mbeki needs support for this policy (Ajulu 1). Mbeki hopes that South African will be seen as the leader of this regeneration, but for this to happen South Africa must have a higher profile in the region and the world, thus without the support of regional states it is bound to fail. Ajulu points out that the events in the Great Lakes, Nigeria, and Lesotho have not enhanced South Africa’s image on the world stage, so one could make an argument that South Africa must first sacrifice world prestige and stand by their fellow Southern African nations (who support Mugabe) to ever have a chance of leading the African Renaissance (Ajulu 15).

            As the crisis continued, Landsberg reports that behind the scenes in Pretoria there was growing skepticism of the Mugabe regime, but knowing that these concerns could not be voiced publicly while engaged with Harare. Land reform seemed to be the main cause of the economic crisis in the view of insiders, but there was much confusion over why a skillful politician like Mugabe would not have seen the potential outcome of the repossessing of large white, and profitable, farms by poor and uneducated blacks. Some believed he could have achieved his goals by simply following international law and procedure. However, for Zimbabwe at least, land reform has become tied intrinsically to violence and the violation of human rights (Landsberg 175).

            By 2004, Mugabe was beginning preparation for the 2005 Parliamentary elections. His strategy by this point was clear. He would attempt to re-legitimize is administration through apparent free and fair elections. However, if staying in power was not possible through these means, he would resort to any and all means of producing a favorable electoral outcome. While this is underway, democratic movements in the country claim to have been discredited by Pretoria and feel as though they have been ignored by quiet diplomacy (Landsberg 176).

            This paper will not delve much into the one-dimensional focus of the policy-making by the South African government in response to the Zimbabwe crisis. Instead it will articulate less prominent, but more rational explanations for why the South African government’s policy of Quiet Diplomacy is favored over more aggressive and punitive means. Christopher Landsberg looked at Pretoria’s global and regional objectives and places their initial response to Mugabe’s administration in this geo-political perspective. However, the second, by Dale McKinley, argues that South Africa’s foreign policy is driven by the class interests of the country’s emerging (black) and traditional (white) bourgeoisie. He claims that this is a renewed form of South Africa sub-imperialism. This argument will be used as the basis for discussing South Africa’s prospect of democratic consolidation as the Landsberg argument, while at one time seeming possible, now seems to either be outdated or out of touch with the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe.

            The public opinion, as well as scholarly analysis, in South Africa on the Republic’s policy towards Zimbabwe, has been generally divided along racial lines. This is due to the primary perception that the land ‘reform’ policy of Mugabe is “fundamentally defined by issues of race” (Southall 86). This reform policy is the component of the Zimbabwean crisis that has become central to the South Africa debate on Zimbabwe. For Mbeki and many black South Africans, Mugabe’s land policies are representative of an attempt to address one of colonialism’s enduring legacies. Domination by white ownership of the land in Zimbabwe is just as enduring in South Africa. However, white South African political opposition have seen Mugabe’s policies as politically motivated in an attempt to keep power and appease black Zimbabweans at the expense of white Zimbabweans, and to an extent, the black Zimbabweans who do not support ZANU-PF. Since Mbeki’s inauguration, the divide over race has been fueled by the “constant playing of the race and ‘liberation struggle’ cards” by Mbeki and the ANC when it came to domestic political and economic discourse (Southall 86). This has predictably created the liberal white, and ‘victim’ response. McKinley calls this the discourse of “the arrogant and the deaf that has only served to cloud meaningful debate/analysis of South Africa’s post-1994 political economy” (Southall 86).

            This divide along race is also reflected in the international forum. The majority of nations that have positioned themselves against the Mugabe regime are principally Northern and white, while those on the other side of the debate are largely Southern and not white. The Mugabe regime has taken full advantage of the discourse by relating land distribution programs as an integral part of post-independence reform in the Third World: an ‘anti-imperialism’ platform designed to set Zimbabwe ‘free’ from the Western (white) interests that still chain Zimbabwe in its poverty (Southall 86). Mugabe has found a willing and active partner in pursuing development world solidarity in Thabo Mbeki at the regional and global level. As discussed before, there are geo-political reasons for Mbeki’s stance, but McKinley will provide a more reasonable explanation for Mbeki’s continued adherence to quiet diplomacy (Southall 87).

            The racial polarization that has predictably emerged has plagued much of the debate on Zimbabwe’s crisis’ historic origins and the current dimension in which they exists.  McKinley provides an example of what he calls the “very narrow analytical approach” of explaining factors behind the foreign policy of South Africa towards Zimbabwe (Southall 88). His classic example is that of Dr Sipho Buthelezi, who says the primary factor is the desire on behalf of the South African government to make sure that the Zimbabwean economy does not collapse and thus prevents civil war. McKinley writes that Aziz Pahad, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, has repeated this explanation. McKinley says that this argument is underlined by fears of Pretoria creating a South African hegemony in the region and on the continent. The argument says that there is great desire to see a consensus reached by the regional bodies, SADC and the AU, in order to be respectful to national sovereignty. This creates the reasoning for why the region and South Africa have refused to come down hard on Mugabe’s policies of repression and the regime’s poor human rights record as a way of preventing the collapse or the start of a civil war.

            McKinley exposes the shortcomings of this explanation by pointing out that this argument makes the assumption that a collapse of the Zimbabwean economy has not already occurred, as well as the fact that a de facto and low intensity civil war does not already exist. McKinley says that according to the realities of factual information out of Zimbabwe, this argument is intrinsically flawed. The worry of becoming a political hegemon on the continent is only raised by Pretoria when it suits the “political and economic interests of the ruling class (encompassing both the public and private sectors)” (Southall 89). This in parentheses is very important to understanding the rationale behind McKinley’s explanation of Mbeki’s Zimbabwe Policy (Southall 89).

            In 2000, just before a parliamentary election in Zimbabwe, South Africa sent a rescue package worth nearly one billion rand to the Mugabe government. The explanation behind this package given by Mbeki loyalists went that it was a preemptive move by Pretoria in order to curtail the decline of the economy in Zimbabwe and its effects on neighboring countries. However, when McKinley focuses our attention on the targets of the relief, the beneficiaries are seen to be the government parastatals of the South Africa government, not the Zimbabwean. By 2000 many of the governmental organizations and infrastructure authorities in Zimbabwe were heavily reliant on South African loans to keep what little remained of the economy afloat. Much of the debt was owed to their South African counterparts, including the Electricity Supply Commission and the South Africa Coal, Oil, and Gas Company (SASOL). In addition to what equated to debt relief, which consequently went back to South African capital, there were 20 joint investment projects started in Zimbabwe under the package. These were primarily in the areas of tourism and exploration for natural gas. The funding for these ventures came from corporations such as the Development Bank of Southern Africa, which just happens to be owned by the South African government (Southall 90).

            McKinley starts to tie all of this together by examining how Mbeki expands a black bourgeoisie, who are tied to the ANC, “through the direct and/or indirect manipulation of state resources and power” (Southall 90). Sizable stakes in South African parastatals have been attained through the government’s promotion of black economic empowerment and the connections with ANC leaders in government who provide financial backing for the launch of private corporations. Continued privatization of public assets and organizations has made many former politicians reliant on government contracts for their continued economic success. It should now be evident that the so-called rescue package given to the Zimbabwean government was in fact a stimulus packaged directed at black capital in South Africa. McKinley sees this as a race against Mugabe and the time ticking on his regime to secure a foothold, through debt, in Zimbabwe by emerging black South Africa capital. While McKinley says all this is done under the a smokescreen of foreign policy, the real political support given to the Mugabe regime has consequences that could effect this take over by South African capital of the Zimbabwean economy. If the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was to come to power, there is a factor of uncertainty to the what would happen to South African capital in the country. As of right now it would appear that Mugabe is willing to ‘sell’ off, through increased indebtedness, his country to South Africa as a way of maintaining power. However, the MDC might not be so willing to allow their economy to rest in the hands of black South Africans and may take steps to reverse this course plotted by Mbeki. As should be evident by now the South African government and black capital would rather deal with the dictator they know and can control, than take their chances with a democratically elected party of which they have little knowledge and control. Giving legitimacy to the Mugabe regime protects the economic investments made by the black capital of South Africa, while at the same time, handcuffing any future Zimbabwean capital to their patrons in South Africa (Southall 90-92).

            This policy towards Zimbabwe has benefited Mbeki by providing political cover from all sides of South Africa capital. The initiatives taken by the government in Zimbabwe has given space to the white capital within the Republic to continue expanding, while the support for the Mugabe regime has played to the black constituency of the ANC. This support is given to ZANU-PF at the same time that Mbeki is assuring white capitalists that Mugabe’s policies of nationalization and land ‘reform’ will never be undertaken by the ANC government. This support is often given in the form of a racialized defense of Mugabe by Mbeki saying that the “clamour over Zimbabwe reveals the continuing racial prejudices in South Africa” (Mbeki 2001).

            As Mbeki has provided political cover for Mugabe at the international level by providing legitimate backing of the regime and staunchly defending Zimbabwe against sanctions or condemnations by international organizations, Mbeki has drawn more and more criticism from domestic and international groups and individuals calling on him to change his course and his policy. However, what many have failed to grasp, according to McKinley, is that Mbeki has little concern for the rights of ordinary Zimbabweans and the abuses against them. As emphasized before, Mbeki looks as this from a purely capital-centered perspective. So while he may tour the continent and the world promoting the Republic’s foreign policy of respect for human rights and everything democratic, he allows the Mugabe regime to carry out systematic abuse, torture, vote-rigging, and the passing of legislation that basically bans everything not approved by ZANU-PF (Southall 96). These facts severely discredit Landsberg’s idea that quiet diplomacy is a tradeoff in which Mugabe is supposed to reform while South Africa ‘gives’ him economic assistance. Clearly no reform on the political level has occurred, especially when facing the facts of the current state of the country when the recent winner of the presidential election can be held for nine hours on charges of “drawing a big crowd” (Dugger 5 June 2008).

            Mbeki responds to criticism leveled against him by wondering what all the fuss is about. After defending Mugabe against the ‘white world’ that tells Africa how to act with the race card, Mbeki has faced opposition at home with the story of how South Africans “occupied the same trench of struggle with the people of Zimbabwe” and how they “battled to end white minority rule” and thus “we have no choice but to lend a hand to the effort of the people of Zimbabwe to enjoy the fruits of their hard-won liberation, of independence, freedom, democracy, peace and stability, and prosperity.” (Mbeki) This was made in an Mbeki speech in 2003, after a the crisis was well underway, but grew worse in 2004 as more and more Zimbabweans crossed the Limpopo to escaped the oppression in their country. However, the liberation struggle comradeship card carries little weight, as when a COSATU delegation went on a fact finding mission in Zimbabwe in 2004, it was labeled as “irresponsible games” by the ANC, saying that the trip contributed nothing towards solving the crisis. If attempts to discover the well being of their ‘brothers in arms’ are lambasted such as this by the ANC, one can only wonder what an actual attempt to bring about upliftment of regular Zimbabweans would be labeled by Pretoria (Southall 96-99).


Affects on Democratic Consolidation

            This brings up the question of how have these policies affected democratic consolidation in the Republic of South Africa. As any map can show, it is possible to have a rich and consolidated democracy next to a poor and undemocratic state. In the cases of the United States of America and Western Europe, they have in fact benefited economically from the suffering of their neighbors. Thus should South Africa not be able to carry out the exploitation of their neighbors as well as consolidate their democracy? My answer to this question is that South Africa should be able to continue to consolidate their democracy through the current policies towards Zimbabwe. However, this must be prefaced by the fact that these policies themselves do not help the consolidation, but it is the consequences and reactions to Pretoria’s foreign policy that will help South Africa secure its democracy. The explanation of Dale McKinley will be taken as the most reasonable based on the facts that he has presented and the current state of affairs of Zimbabwe. His breakdown of quiet diplomacy will help show how democratic consolidation can be achieved in South Africa.

            According to many sources, including Williams, Mattes, and Mottiar, democratic consolidation is a process of creating a society in which democracy has been internalized behaviorally as well as constitutionally. This occurs through a growing economy that reduces inequality, creates political institutions that are stable and predictable, produces a political culture that is supportive of these institutions, and a creation of a political identity, also known as a national identity. On top of all of this according to Williams is the performance of each of these areas in terms of efficiently and legitimacy. Important for the study of South Africa’s foreign policy is the economic success created by the policy, but also the byproducts of dissension of the policy which influences, and possibly creates, a stronger political culture inside of civil society.

            According to Mottiar, democracy is consolidated constitutionally when government and non-government services submit to the resolution of conflict through the limits of the institutions, and their laws and procedures, which have been set in the formation of the democratic process. Unfortunately for South Africans there is no institutional format for citizens to express discontent through their government other than the ballot box. There is no feasible way for a resolution of the conflict over the Zimbabwe crisis to emerge from the current institutions. As it is difficult to effect policy change mid-stream when the ANC has such a hold on parliament, in this case a near 2/3 majority in the National Assembly, there is no other legitimate party for black South Africans to channel their dissatisfaction of the ANC (Mattes 3). A now apparent flaw in the constitution in this regard is the lack of a direct link between the constituency of the ANC and its Members of Parliament. Mattes says that “constitutional provisions also eject from Parliament any member who leaves or is forced out of a political party”, which reduces the motivation on the part of MPs to represent public opinion that run counter to the ANC party line because it jeopardizes their political careers (3). An ability to address the shifting changes in voter’s perceptions and desires by the ANC and the government must be created in order to consolidate democracy. A constitutional amendment would seem to solve this issue and thus appropriate legislators to represent certain districts. However, this would disable the South African constitution from holding elections that are some of the most inclusive in the world, which Mattes says “induced virtually all parts of political society to play the electoral game” (2).

            A change must be made though if the ANC will maintain its Tripartite Alliance. Although a recent study by Ipsos Markinor suggests that fewer than 10% of all South Africans would support a worker’s party should COSATU and like-minded ANC MPs break away to form a new party, there are calls from the South Africa Communist Party (SACP) for Mbeki to resign. Some see this as disappointment by the SACP for Mbeki’s failure to back Morgan Tsvangirai in the recent election outcomes in Zimbabwe (Netshitenzhe 6 June 2008). As such, the SACP has expressed a desire for the reconfiguration of the alliance once the new ANC government comes to power in 2009 (SAPA 12 May 2008). Additionally, the SACP has voiced some of the same concerns as the Democratic Alliance and the media over the situation in Zimbabwe and the government’s response. However, the SACP has been quick to distance themselves from any relation to these other dissenters (they do this only by saying that since the DA does not make the same plea for the case of Swaziland they obviously do not share the same argument with the SACP over Zimbabwe). Still the SACP has voiced their concern over the “very weak stance taken by [the South Africa] government”  in regards to Zimbabwe (Nzimande 21 March 2007). While this division over issues is nothing new to the Tripartite Alliance, and its dissolution is far from near, issues that continually crack the alliance can only be seen as beneficial in the long run for the consolidation of democracy. This must be considered a controversial view, but one that would see democracy consolidated in the country. Habib and Taylor recommended the break up of the Tripartite Alliance as a way of facilitating the establishment of a “viable non- racial opposition party, thereby enhancing the prospects for democratic consolidation” (Habib and Taylor 7). That their original case was made for the benefit of COSATU members is inconsequential in the case of Zimbabwe, but their frank analysis of the consequences for democratic consolidation plays a major role in predicting the potential outcomes over the debate within the Alliance over Zimbabwe. As a political entity, the writing may not be on the wall for the Tripartite Alliance, but one must easily gather from the debate over Zimbabwe, as well as other domestic issues, that cracks have formed within the alliance that can only be smoothed over through political compromises on policy. However, the SACP’s and COSATU’s stance on Zimbabwe seems to be in direct opposition to the ANC’s policy. While the ANC refuses to face the facts on the ground, impatience and frustration can only grow within the rest of the Alliance. COSATU has said that they, along with the majority of South Africans, have lost confidence in the President and his Cabinet. This was after lambasting the entire government’s handling of the Zimbabwe government, from Department of Home Affairs to the government legitimizing the elections in Zimbabwe (Central Executive Committee May 28 2008). Thus an analysis can be formulated from these facts that the current policy of quiet diplomacy by Mbeki in fact helps democratic consolidation in the area of accountability to civil society. In a paradoxical way, Mbeki does this by threatening democratic consolidation because his policies show a “rapid abandonment of principles of political freedom” that shows the likelihood of the ANC’s unwillingness to tolerate an electoral defeat (Butler 7). Thus, the more Mbeki and Pretoria ignore the discontent of the voters in the way they handle the Zimbabwe issue, the more that discontent will be channeled through other avenues of the government. Thus the break up of the Tripartite Alliance would signal that civil society was able to effect policy change to such an extent that opposing viewpoints were able to surface within the Alliance to the point that they would serve as viable alternatives to the current policy of quiet diplomacy.

            Arguments that would suggest that the policy of quiet diplomacy has hindered democratic consolidation would no doubt point to the tone taken by opposing sides of the Zimbabwe issue. The race card played by Mbeki, while seemingly criticizing elements in the Republic for the colored view on the Zimbabwe issue, simply reinforces the perception that racialization of issues for political gain is an acceptable political technique in South Africa. Fears would logically abound for what effect this could have on an impressionable electorate who faithfully follows the ANC. However, a report out in 2002 in the Mattes article would seem to show that racism or discrimination is increasingly becoming a non-issue in the ‘new’ South Africa. In 1994, 1 in 5 citizens polled cited problems of the removal of apartheid and its discriminatory policies as one of the top three problems that need to be addressed by the new government. Since then however, less than 5 percent have spontaneously mentioned these problems. Mattes cites a study by the South African Institute of Race Relations that found racism was ranked only ninth on a list of unsolved problems, with just 8% saying the matter was a priority. The study even found that nearly half of the sample said that race relations improved in recent years, while only a quarter said they had deteriorated (Mattes 7). A publication by the same Institute published just three months ago in March says that great “majority of violent crimes have no racial content” (Kane-Berman 20 March 2008). Thus concerns over the radicalization of the issue of Zimbabwe do not seem to have trickled down to the citizens of the Republic.

            However, recent events suggest that an overflow of xenophobia has struck the southern tip of Africa. Based on frustration of being jobless because of their South African citizenship, many feel foreigners are hired because they do not demand the same rights as South Africans. Many readily claim that this is after many years of being dislodged by immigrants from Malawi, Mozambique, Somalia, and of course Zimbabwe (Bearak and Dugger 20 May 2008). This is a direct result of the policy of quiet diplomacy. While many Africans are attracted to the better wages and possible improved standard of living in South Africa than their home country, it was only after the many years of political repression and utter collapse of the economy that Zimbabweans fled across the Limpopo en masse (Bearak 19 May 2008). Proof that the enormity of the problem is only recent, are reports by the International Organization for Migration in The New York Times that say that in 2006, South African officials were expelling six times the number of Zimbabwean illegal immigrants than in late 2003. This equates to nearly 4,000 Zimbabweans every week. Another rise in statistics were the number of Zimbabweans claiming political asylum in South Africa. Just six sought it in 2001, but nearly 20,000 sought asylums in 2006 alone (Wines 23 June 2007).

            As the situation has built towards the climax of xenophobic attacks, there were signs of South Africans attempting to show their support behind the people suffering under Robert Mugabe. Previous studies of South African political culture that compared South Africa to other countries in Southern Africa, showed that South Africans are among the most likely to resort to protest given the opportunity and right reason to participate in protest action. Mattes says that this rules out any notion of an apathetic culture of the citizens of the Republic. However, as discussed before, South Africans have low rates of participation between elections because there is no mechanism that provides a connection between parliamentarians, and these is little incentive for the MPs to reach out to the public in a non-election year (Mattes 3).

            Protest marches about the human rights abuses taking place in Zimbabwe have taken place as recently as May, when activists marched on the Union Building in Pretoria. Many of the participants were part of the Treatment Action Campaign, of HIV/AIDS policy implementation fame (Stewart 26 May 2008). COSATU has organized weekly marches of those who disagree with the current political policies taken in Zimbabwe and were meant to be Anti-Mugabe (The Zimbabwean 15 May 2008). All of these actions taken by South Africans must be seen as a good sign for the prospects of democratic consolidation. It must seem ironic that the ANC’s refusal to listen to the ground swelling of emotion on the Zimbabwean issue has in fact helped create a more involved society that is willing to take action against their government, in a peaceful manner, to express their displeasure on issues. As discussed earlier, there is little reason for the ANC to respond to this outburst (even when it takes the form of violence) other than to curtail its effects on South Africa’s world image. For one, the benefits of continuing quiet diplomacy are great for the ANC and its black bourgeois, plus there is not challenge to their rule of government. Thus, as the ANC becomes more out of touch with the grass roots movements of its base, there must come a day when demands are made for constitutional change, or a new group emerges, in order to create the connection necessary between the electorate and the government. This would be beneficial for democratic consolidation because it would show that civil society has enough power to affect political policy change and a create institutions, in this case political parties, that will respond to their demands. While this process may take another decade, real discontent with the policies of the ANC have begun to foster. While no ANC-card holding member is willing to abandon the liberation party, if a non-racial alternative emerges that has a greater propensity to listen to its constituents emerges, there is a possibility for great democratic consolidation. This alternative may emerge from within the ANC, or from without, but it must be said with some degree of certainty that the ANC cannot continue with policies that do not benefit and are not supported by a growing part of their constituency and hope to remain in power at the same time.



            South Africa’s experience in engaging the rest of Africa has left its mark on Pretoria’s dealings with Zimbabwe. In Nigeria, the ANC learned that it would find little success in a go-it-alone strategy. In Lesotho, an experiment in military intervention provided mix results. In the DRC, South Africa is learning that regional solidarity comes at a cost to their other foreign policy goals. Thus the current policy in Zimbabwe draws from all of theses experience, however, this situation is unique in how it serves the interests of the black bourgeoisie of South Africa to keep Robert Mugabe in power. Quiet diplomacy has served as a strong point of debate on the world stage as well as in the Republic. The consequences of this policy have impacted the possibility for democratic consolidation.

            Quiet diplomacy has created the possibility for a civil society to realize that their desires for change, both domestically and internationally, have not been realized by the current ANC administration. How the electorate and the government resolve these lines of communication are paramount in the chances of consolidation. However, the most likely of choices, the rise of a powerful alternative political party or a constitutional amendment resulting in direct accountability of MPs to the electorate, would create increased democratic consolidation.  Additionally, Thabo Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy has also served the nation in a creating the economic stability that is necessary for the consolidation of democracy. Thabo Mbeki is nothing, if not politically savvy as well as indoctrinated in the belief of neo-liberal economic policies. While this paper has created a sharp critique of his policies and the response created by his constituency, no effort has been made to say that the policy of quiet diplomacy is incorrect or wholly flawed when it comes to creating an environment beneficial to the consolidation of democracy. In the description by McKinley, one can clearly see Mbeki’s thought process behind the ‘stay the course’ attitude when it comes to quiet diplomacy. While his black economic empowerment programs have only benefited the black bourgeois that are linked to the ANC so far, the growth of black and white capital in the country can only provide a substantial possibility for growth of the South African economy, domestically and regionally, that will no doubt create benefits for the population as a whole. The suffering of the Zimbabwean people must be taken into an account when assessing the prospects for democracy in the region, but when looking solely at the prospects of South Africa’s democracy, it has been demonstrated that the effects on civil society and the economic foundation created by quiet diplomacy will be favorable for the consolidation of South African democracy.

Works Cited

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1 thought on “How the Policy of Quiet Diplomacy Impacts South Africa’s Democratic Consolidation

  1. Pingback: The Interconnected Socio-Economic Factors of the Collapse of Apartheid in South Africa | The African File

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