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Understanding Globalisation

What is in this guide?

This guide is meant to provide an understanding of globalisation. When people talk about “globalization” they are usually referring to technological, political, and economic changes which they believe make the world function in a different way from the way it did twenty or thirty years ago. Different opinions exist about origins, driving forces and implications of globalisation for the South African society. This guide looks at the following aspects of globalisation:

  1. What evidence exists of globalisation?
  2. Are all countries equal actors in a globalised world?
  3. Do we have a choice about whether or not South Africa should participate in globalised world?
  4. Creative responses to globalisation

4.1 Regional Economic and Political Formations
4.2 uilding South Relations
4.3 Reforming international agencies
4.4 Reforming international agencies
4.5 The Struggle for multilateralism

  1. What evidence exists of globalisation?

There is a widely held view that we live today in a world in which economic, political and technological relations have changed substantially. The changes they are referring to are:

  1. Government’s achievements since 1994

Over the last thirty years some countries have not only successfully adapted to globalization but they have become the key drivers of the process. The United States, Western Europe and Japan are today the key beneficiaries and leaders of the globalised world. Their historical status as colonial powers, with industrialized societies gave them a significant edge.   Countries of the South, many of which were former colonies, face enormous challenges of poverty and under-development. Many African, Asian and South American countries have not been in a position to respond as favourably to globalisation.

Over the last twenty years, the United States, Western Europe and Japan have come to own and control:

This means that the rest of the world put together shares only 20% of its major corporations, technological advancements and investment. 

Throughout the 1990s, countries in Africa, Central South Africa, Latin America and Asia were forced to impose structural adjustment policies designed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in order to secure loans to support their weak economies. The effect of these policies has been dramatic cutbacks on government spending on education, health services and welfare in these countries. The result is that ordinary people are poorer and have less access to government services than they had a decade ago.

The recent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by the United States and Britain are a brutal example of the inequality that exists at a political level in a globalised world.

  1. Do we have a choice about whether or not we participate in a   globalised world?

Some people have argued that South Africa should resist the effects of globalization and refuse to participate in the globalised world.  This position assumes that countries can choose whether or not to participate in the new world order.  In the previous section we gave some examples of the inequalities which exist in the world order and some of the ways in which developing countries have been forced to implement policies and strategies not necessarily of their choosing.

In this sense we need to understand globalization as a fact of life, much in the same way in which people in the last century had to accept the industrial revolution. The challenge we face is how to respond to globalization and its impact.

  1. How to get your name on the housing waiting list?

The challenge for a small nation like South Africa is how to respond creatively to the challenges posed by globalization in an environment in which we understand that we are not an equal player.  There are a number of ways in which our government is already responding creatively to this challenge:

4.1 Regional Economic and Political Formations

Throughout the world, national governments are entering into political and economic alliances with neighbouring countries to protect their interests.  A well known example of such an association is the European Union which has consistently protected the rights of European farmers against competition from the developing world.  In Africa, the South African government and our President have played a key role in the formation of the African Union and its strategy the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  This strategy acknowledges that poverty, underdevelopment and inequality are the key challenges facing Africa.  The African Union will attempt to overcome these problems by drawing on Africa’s rich natural resources and undermining dependency on the former colonial powers.

4.2 Building South Relations

It is not only important to build relations with other countries in the same geographic region of the world, it is also important for South Africa to build relations with other countries of the South that face similar challenges as a result of globalization. Through these relationships it is possible to argue for better terms of trade on a global scale, challenge intellectual property rights in relation to things such as cheaper medicines and resist strategies to enforce privatization of core government services from international agencies.  The Non-Aligned Movement is an important forum for the development of such relationships as are international conferences such as the Anti-Racism Conference and the World Summit on Sustainable Development both of which were hosted by the South African government.

4.3 Reforming international agencies

In addition to lobbying international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation to adopt policies more friendly to the South, it is important to struggle to reform these institutions. The South African government is working hard to push for reforms within these institutions so that they are accountable to all the countries of the world rather than being dominated by the interests of the United States, Western Europe and Japan.

4.5 The Struggle for multilateralism

One of the biggest dangers facing the world at present is that the dominance of the United States and Britain will express itself as political unilateralism.  By unilateralism we mean a situation where one or in this case two nations on their own, outside the context of the United Nations, take it upon themselves to interpret and enforce international law.  A good example of this is the recent war against Iraq.

After the Second World War, the United Nations was formed to develop, interpret and implement international law with the aim of preventing the dominance of one nation over others.  All nations agreed that in the interests of world peace it was necessary to prevent a situation from developing in which one or two powerful countries took it upon themselves to exercise authority in the world.  Such a mutual process of self-regulation through the agency of the United Nations is called multilateralism.

South Africa’s stance on the invasion of Iraq is that the United States and Britain have operated unilaterally outside the mandate of the United Nations. Their actions are a threat to the principal of multi-lateralism which has been in place since the end of the Second World War.

It is important to struggle for the principal of multilateralism and the authority of a body such as the United Nations.  Without it there is a significant threat to world peace and to the security of every nation.

Read the land and housing chapter in the paralegal manual for more information.


Understanding Poverty and Development  |   The Millennium Development Goals   |  Understanding Basic Economics   |  Sustainable Development   |  Understanding Globalisation  |  Understanding Research  |  Project Management Guide PDF  |  How to achieve Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) PDF  |  Government spending and income [PDF]

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