A Guide to South Africa’s Place on the World

This article will focus on a number of factors concerning South Africa’s relations with the rest of the world and how these play out on the world stage.


It is possible to describe the world as being made up of two kinds of nations. Those that are rich and developed and those that are poor and underdeveloped.   Generally speaking, the quality of life and income in developed countries is continually improving whereas the same cannot be said for those underdeveloped counties, where the quality of life seems to be on a downward path.  Most of these poorer nations are located in Asia, Africa and in South America.     

However, there are some developing countries, like India and China for instance, where the use of cheap labor has helped to produce fast moving economies and have enabled these nations to become leading manufacturers.

But the majority of the poorer nations rely on providing raw materials and use cheap labor.  The richer nations rely more on technology and on exporting expensive manufactured products.  These countries have more money to spend, their citizens enjoy a higher standard of living and can enjoy some of the benefits this offers, even playing online poker.  Developed countries like the United States, Japan and those in Europe receive about 80% of the world’s wealth but make up only a fraction of the world’s population, a mere 20%. 

At one time the world was considered to be a conglomeration of independent nation states but now the situation has become far more fluid. Today the world works more in terms of trading groups, like the European Union for instance. Borders are less rigid. There is also the Pacific Rim, those countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, including Australia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand, to name just a few and, also the South Africa Development Community, SADC.  

Globalization has become the way forward with the relaxation of trade restrictions and the idea that all countries are able to trade with each other freely.  However, this free trade does not necessarily translate into a fair- trade situation.  Those countries trading in raw and agricultural produce don’t do as well as the more developed countries.   European governments give their own fruit farmers big subsidies in order to help them which means that, for example, South African fruit farmers cannot compete with then as they are able to sell their produce much more cheaply.

These developed countries also have an advantage in that they can make their voices heard in high places, like the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.  Owing to the fact that their financial contributions tend to me more than those of developing countries, they also have more clout.  

There are five permanent members of the United Nation’s Security Council and any one of these are able to block or stop a UN resolution.   Fifteen other countries make up the rest of the Security Council but are not permanent members and are unable to veto resolutions. South Africa is a non- permanent member.

A number of highly industrialized countries, called the Group of 8, consisting of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Russia and Japan wield a lot of power.  However, two countries, India and China, are becoming more and more developed with China’s economy already surpassing that of Italy and Canada.

The developing countries have also joined together to form the G77 plus China which gives them more leverage when negotiating with the G8 block.   The majority of the world’s population reside in these developing countries as does most of the world’s raw produce.  These G8 countries need them in order to prosper.

Much is being done to improve the situation of poor people, particularly by  countries like South Africa, Brazil and India.  There is also support from some developed countries who see the importance of creating a fairer world, one that doesn’t support only the interests of particular national interests.

Conflict and Wars

The ongoing problem in many developing countries is that of armed conflict. This often leads to economic abuse. The richer more developed nations and big companies often support or aggravate these conflicts in order to benefit from local resources or oil. 

Without a strong government in place, bribery, exploitation or even military action is more likely to gain access to resources.  For example, a civil war that raged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and saw millions lose their lives, also saw many European countries carrying on “business as usual” in the exporting of minerals. 

There are quite a few conflict spots around the world and these are generally caused by a struggle for control over the natural resources and wealth of the particular region or country.

South Africa’s role

Today South Africa, notwithstanding its size, plays an important part in international affairs.  It is recognized in the developed world as an important player economically and politically in Africa. South Africa is recognized and accepted as one of the members of the G77 + China and is a member of the United Nations Security Council.  South Africa is recognized by the world community as a partner in the quest for peace in the world. 

South Africa has played a pivotal role and Chaired many important events and forums from SADC and the African Union to Chair of the Commonwealth, Chair of the G77 + China and co-Chair of the African Asia Forum, to name just a few. It has also hosted many very prominent international conferences, two of which are the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the UN Conference on Racism.

South Africa is respected for its ongoing commitment to solving the problem of poverty and promoting human rights and world peace.  South Africa is continually working to help all nations experience a better life. South Africa’s ongoing development is connected to the prosperity of its neighbors and to all the nations of the world.

South Africa and its relationship with Africa 

Many of the world’s natural materials and minerals are found on the African continent and South Africa’s development is closely connected to the development of Africa in general.  More developed countries will exploit these resources but fail to invest in ways that will develop the region further. 

One reason for this is that owing to the many wars, corruption and ineffective governments, investors are less willing to invest here.   This situation impacts South Africa and its development.  South Africa is tied to Africa and cannot prosper in isolation.

NEPAD – New Partnership for African Development 

This is a plan for the future development of Africa.  It is a body that has been formed to co-ordinate and allow for cooperation between all African countries and South Africa played a central role in its formation. It will cover a wide number of issues from Peace, democracy, economic development, better management of public funds, development of infrastructure, and a focus on improving education and health.

The (APRM) – African Peer Review Mechanism 

The APRM is a system put in place in an effort to improve the way Africa is governed.  It was developed by the African Unionand calls for each country’s governors and those leaders in civil society to assess the situation in their own government and country.  

This is followed up by a visit by members of the AU to ascertain whether their self-assessment is correct and to ultimately offer help in reviewing or advising on the situation. South Africa is involved in this review process.

The African Peer Review Mechanism is proving to be an excellent forum for locating and identifying problems and for making real improvements in government, laws and regulations.


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