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South Africa and the world

    What is in this guide?

    This guide deals with the relationship between South Africa and the world and the role we play in global and continental affairs.

      1. Development
      2. Conflict
      3. The Role of South Africa
      4. South Africa and Africa
      5. New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD)
      6. The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)

  1. Development

The world can be broadly divided into rich developed nations and poor developing nations. The average income and quality of life is improving in developed countries and staying the same or going down in most developing countries. The poor people of the world are concentrated in Africa, Asia and South America.

A few developing countries have fast growing economies, mostly due to their ability to use cheap labour to become manufacturing giants. Most important among these are China and India.

Most poor countries supply raw materials and cheap labour while richer countries concentrate on technology and export costly manufactured goods. The developed western world (USA and Europe), together with Japan, make up around 20% of the world’s population but have more than 80% of the world’s wealth.

The world used to be made up of  independent nation states, but now borders are becoming less important and the world is re-organising into trade blocks – for example the European Union, The Pacific Rim countries and SADC. Trade restrictions are being lifted so that all countries can trade freely with each other. The process of the world economy becoming more integrated is called “globalisation”.

Unfortunately free trade does not always mean fair trade and countries that supply raw materials and agricultural produce are at a disadvantage to developed countries. For example, South African fruit farmers cannot trade fairly with Europe because European governments pay their own fruit farmers huge subsidies to keep them going. They can then sell their fruit much more cheaply than the South African farmers.

Developed countries also have more powerful voices in international bodies like the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank. They tend to contribute more financially and this buys them more power. In the UN Security Council there are five permanent members and any one of them can veto (stop) a UN resolution. They are The United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia and China. The rest of the Security Council is made up of 15 non-permanent members who do not have a veto right. South Africa became a non-permanent member in 2006 and will remain in that position till 2008.

Developed countries have organised themselves into a powerful block called the G8 (Group of 8) – they are the United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. Until recently they were the eight richest nations with the largest economies. China and India are two developing nations that are growing very fast and China’s economy has already overtaken some of the smaller G8 countries like Canada and Italy.

The United States is seen as the only military super-power in the world. Until the late 20th century the Soviet Union was a second super-power that helped to keep a balance of power between east and west., but the USSR collapsed in 1989. The USA now has the power to do as it wishes without fearing the military might of another super-power. This has lead to the USA acting on its own, against the wishes of the majority of the members of the UN, in countries like Iraq.

Developing countries have also organised themselves and the G77 + China is one important forum for the poorer countries to unite around a common agenda so they can negotiate more effectively with the G8. Developing countries may be poor, but they have the majority of the world’s people (or markets) and raw materials. Without them, the G8 countries cannot thrive.
Within this divided world there are many progressive forces working to improve the lives of the poor. South Africa, India and Brazil (IBSA) have played a leading role representing and mobilising developing countries. Even in developed countries there are political parties and NGOs that support a more equal world and work against narrow national interests.

Recently the United Nations adopted a set of Millennium Development Goals that commit all countries to try and halve poverty and unemployment by 2014.

  1. Conflict

Weak government and armed conflict in many developing countries make them more vulnerable to economic exploitation. Local conflicts are often fuelled and supported by richer countries or large companies who want access to oil, minerals or other raw materials. When a country lacks a strong, democratic and accountable government, it is much easier to exploit its resources through bribery or military power. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a good example of a country that was torn apart by civil war, with more than 4 million people dying in the last decade, while large companies from many European countries carried on running successful mineral export businesses.

There are a number of international flashpoints, especially in the Middle East (Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Iran), Asia (North Korea, India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia) and a number of African countries (DRC, Burundi, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea).  Many of these conflicts are driven by a battle for control over wealth and natural resources like oil and minerals. The conflicts are made worse by the illegal trade in small arms and the continuing availability of weapons of mass destruction.

  1. The role of South Africa

Since 1994 South Africa has become a major player on the international stage. In spite of our size and location, we are at the centre of most of the global negotiations and forums. The developed world recognises South Africa as a major economic and political power within Africa. The developing world has accepted us as one of the leaders of the G77 + China. Within the United Nations we received an overwhelming majority of the votes to become a member of the prestigious and powerful Security Council between 2006 and 2008.

Southern Africa, Africa and the rest of the international community have repeatedly shown their confidence in democratic South Africa as a reliable partner in the global struggle for a just and peaceful world.

Among others, we have served as Chair of the South African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union, Chair of the Commonwealth, Co-Chair of the Africa-Asia Forum, President of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Chair of the G77 + China. We have also hosted various important international conferences, such as the founding conference of the AU, the Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the UN Conference on Racism, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

We have earned this position of respect and leadership because of our commitment to ending poverty, and to building democracy, peace and human rights. Our government has used its resources and influence to work for a better world where all nations prosper and live in peace with each other.

We see our development and prosperity as inter-related with those of our neighbours, the rest of our continent and the world. The concept of Ubuntu informs our international work and we will do everything in our power to work for a more equal world free from exploitation and oppression.

  1. South Africa and Africa

Our development as a country is closely tied to development in Africa as a continent. Africa is the source of much of the world’s raw materials and minerals and many developed countries exploit these resources without investing in the development of factories, human resources and social services. Africa is often viewed as a problematic continent because of war, poverty, corruption and weak governments and developed countries are hesitant to invest money in sustainable economic development.

South Africa cannot achieve prosperity on its own. Even if we develop as a country, we will always feel the impact of the problems our neighbours experience. When there is war in the Great Lakes Region or an economic crisis in Zimbabwe, it impacts on South Africa.

  1. New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD)

South Africa played a key role in helping to develop a vision and a plan for African development. This plan is called the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). It deals with issues like:

  • Peace and security, democracy and good governance
  • Economic development, improving agriculture and production  of exportable goods
  • Better corporate (business) governance and good management of public finance
  • Infrastructure development and communication technology
  • Human development and improvement of health, education and skills.

NEPAD is a programme of the African Union, a body that co-ordinates political and economic cooperation between African countries.

  1. The African Peer Review Mechanism

African countries, through the African Union (AU), have agreed that there is a need to improve governance in Africa. Governance means the way we govern ourselves and organise the relationships between government and the people, business and civil society (organisations like clubs, societies, religious groups NGOs and welfare organisations).

The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) has been developed by the AU as a way for countries to improve their systems of governance. It starts with a self-assessment where each country’s government and civil society assess their own progress and problems. A team from the AU then visits the country to check the accuracy of the self-assessment and to write a report on the country. The heads of African states in the AU then discuss the reports.

The South African review took place in 2006. Reports are reviewed every two years. The process is driven by a governing council that includes government and civil society. We chose to use a massive public participation programme to make sure we get the views of the people, business and civil society.

The review deals with four broad areas:

  • Democracy and good political governance – deals with fairness and corruption in the political system and issues like human rights and protection of special groups.
  • Socio-economic development – deals with poverty and service delivery.
  • Economic governance and management – deals with management of the economy, government finances and corruption.
  • Corporate governance – deals with business, laws that protect workers and shareholders, regulations and support for businesses, and honesty and corruption.

The APRM helps to identify shortcomings and problems and to improve government, laws and regulations and service delivery. It is coordinated by the Minister for Public Service and Administration.

Further information:

  • The Department of Foreign Affairs has additional information on NEPAD, AU and international relations that can be viewed on
  • The African Peer Review Mechanism was handled by the Minister of Public Service and Administration and information can be found on under programmes.


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