Why South Africa’s Commitment to Nonalignment Endures

Why South Africa's Commitment to Nonalignment Endures
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sergei Lavrov (L) and South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor (R) speak during a press conference in Pretoria on Jan. 23, 2023. PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

New Difficulties Await South Africa’s 30-Year Democracy

After 30 years of democracy, South Africa is still finding its way. For the first time since1994, the country’s historically dominant political party, the African National Congress (ANC), which spearheaded the country’s independence from apartheid, has been unable to achieve a simple majority. The ANC can’t rule on its own anymore; it needs allies to establish a government, thanks to this major change.

Disputes over foreign policy and coalition negotiations

An increasing potential source of disagreement as the negotiations for a national unity government or another governing arrangement near their conclusion is South Africa’s foreign policy posture. The second-most-popular party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is strongly opposed to Russia and in favor of the West. One of the DA’s main platforms is fostering stronger links between South Africa and the West.

The newly founded uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party is one possible coalition partner that is keen on severing ties with the West in favor of greater ties with Cuba and Russia. Fourth place went to the anti-Israel and pro-Russia Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Debate on Domestic Issues vs. Foreign Policy

The majority of South African voters were more concerned with local matters than with the foreign policy arguments that were taking place in prominent magazines such as the Daily Maverick, which were focused on Gaza and Ukraine. Creating jobs, delivering services, and raising living standards were important priorities. Three of the six major political parties failed to mention foreign policy in their platforms. There was a complete lack of foreign policy engagement from the DA, IFP, and PA.

ANC’s Long-Term Dedication to Nonalignment

The ANC’s nonalignment stance is deeply rooted in its history of liberation struggle. It allied with organizations like the PLO and the Irish Republican Army during apartheid and got backing from Cuba and the Soviet Union. Prior to 1986, when international pressure prompted a policy shift, the West—especially the United States and Britain—had classified the ANC as terrorists.

A key component of the ANC’s current foreign policy agenda is a focus on BRICS and other organizations that aim to bolster the global south. The idea that developing nations are at a disadvantage in the current global system is the basis for this strategy. Among the many goals of the African National Congress (ANC) in its quest to improve world government is the promotion of multilateralism rather than unilateralism by powerful states and the abolition of Africa’s current UN Security Council seat.

Disputes with Western Powers

Despite the ANC’s lengthy history of backing the Palestinians and Cuba, ties with Western capitals were never severely tested. Nevertheless, tensions have escalated due to Pretoria’s nonaligned position in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The media pounced on U.S. Ambassador Reuben Brigety’s contentious accusation that South Africa sent weapons to Russia in May 2023, even though there was no public proof to support the charge.

Coalition Movements and International Relations

With the DA’s pro-Western and free-market views in the government, there’s a chance that things might change in a more Western direction. As an alternative, the MK party’s anti-Western stance and plans to forge closer links with Russia, Cuba, and the BRICS could lead to a shift away from Western influence abroad. As part of its efforts to link itself more closely with Russia and China, the EFF—which is notoriously pro-Russian and anti-NATO—suggests the elimination of all foreign military bases in Africa.

Changes that Could Occur in the ANC’s International Relations

Even as it searches for coalition partners, the ANC is unlikely to give up control of its foreign policy. The goal of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s moderate stance is to keep relations amicable with both Western friends and partners in the global south.

What Lies Ahead

South Africa has a chance to improve its economic situation and global reputation by hosting the G-20 in 2025. Maintaining cordial ties with both long-standing Western business partners and important allies in the global south will be crucial in light of this.

Finally, a lot will be watching South Africa’s foreign policy trajectory as its political climate changes. For South Africa’s future in international politics, the ANC’s capacity to control coalition dynamics while remaining nonaligned is critical.


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