This article is the first part of the synthesis report of a conference which took place on November 22nd, 2013 at Ifri, Paris. The event was jointly organized by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the French Institute in South Africa (IFAS), and the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). It was part of the South Africa – France Seasons 2012 & 2013, www.france‐southafrica.com.
Despite a very intricate context at the end of apartheid, South Africa was successful in its transition through the iconic figure of Nelson Mandela and on the basis of a liberal and progressive Constitution. Today, while the country is widely recognized as a stable democracy and economy, South Africa is still facing important challenges such as the persistence of strong inequalities, unemployment and, consequently, social tensions. In this regard, it is necessary to consider the existence of noticeable opposition among political parties and civil society.
On the international scene, even if the country’s influence must be seen in the light of its achievements in a very competitive context, the role of South Africa as a mediator in numerous African conflicts, the recent election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as Chairperson of the African Union Commission, or the affiliation to the BRICS group are all signs of South Africa’s assertion as an emerging power.
A few months before the general elections and after two decades of democracy and freedom, 2014 can be viewed as a turning point for South Africa. With the participation of specialists from the best universities and think tanks in South Africa and France, this conference presented an overview of the social, economic and political context of the country, and discussed its contemporary challenges.
Dominique David, Vice-President, Ifri
Dolana Msimang, Ambassador of South Africa in France
Véronique Vouland-Aneini, Deputy Director for Africa and Indian Ocean, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Laurent Clavel, General Commissionners of the South Africa – France Season 2013
Dominique David introduced the conference reminding the audience how South African transition twenty years ago, leaving behind a bipolar system, is still considered a model today. At the time, it made the international community dream of a world of peace and negotiations, governed by the United Nations. The disillusion came soon and a totally new architecture of international relations emerged, built both by old and new actors. South Africa is playing a key role in this new architecture, both for Africa and for the world.
Her Excellency Dolana Msimang recalls that many achievements were realized since April 27, 1994, among which the Truth and Reconciliation process, painful but necessary, the building of democratic institutions and South Africa’s insertion into the world. Symbols of the new democracy were adopted, a flag and an anthem embracing both the diversity and unity of South Africa. However, challenges remain, as the legacy of apartheid is still hard to overcome, in terms of education, housing, health, security, inequalities and poverty. Despite strong efforts to manage the economic and financial policy, the international crisis worsened the situation. Large investments still need to be done in rural areas and to restructure the economy; they can build upon the transportation, telecommunication and banking sectors as solid bases. After many years of isolation, South Africa joined the international community. The organization of the 2010 Soccer World Cup was in this regard a success, and the country met all the world expectations. Military and diplomatic interventions promoting the resolution of conflicts are based on the idea that the country’s faith is bound with the African one. South Africa relations with France are ancient and have strengthened steadily along the years. The past two years and the South Africa Seasons in France have in this regard truly provided a platform of exchanges and put South Africa on the center stage.
Véronique Vouland-Aneini underscores that the President François Hollande’s visit in South Africa opens a new phase in their bilateral relations, building upon a long partnership begun with Nelson Mandela and François Mitterrand. In many areas (military, cultural, political and economical), South Africa is emerging as a strong power, both on the African stage and at multilateral levels (involvement in the BRICS, G20 and Security Council), positioning itself as a possible bridge between the North and the South on global issues such as climate change or the gay rights. Many challenges still lie ahead, especially on social issues such as unemployment and inequalities, direct consequences of a heavy past. France sees South Africa as a strong emerging partner that still needs support. The French Development Agency (Afd) thus invested in the country 1.5 billion € over the last five years, mainly in capacity-building and training projects. South Africa is to play a decisive part in the coming Sommet de l’Elysee pour la Paix et la Sécurité en Afrique (6-7 December 2013).
Laurent Clavel underlines that the idea of the South Africa France Seasons 2012 – 2013 was launched at the highest political level by both Presidents. Last year, South Africa hosted a French Season, and in 2013 France organized in turn many events related to its South African partner. This season was extremely successful, with 50 French cities organizing related events. There was a real need to better know and understand South African current challenges, aesthetics, social situation, etc. We can rely on South Africa’s new ideas to help us shape a new world.
Coming soon: synthesis of rountables 1 & 2