The foreign policies of Mandela and Mbeki : a clear case of idealism vs realism?

Youla, Christian (2009-03)

Thesis (MA (Political Science. International Studies))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.


After 1994, South African foreign policymakers faced the challenge of reintegrating a country, isolated for many years as a result of the previous government’s apartheid policies, into the international system. In the process of transforming South Africa's foreign identity from a pariah state to a respected international player, some commentators contend that presidents Mandela and Mbeki were informed by two contrasting theories of International Relations (IR), namely, idealism and realism, respectively. In light of the above-stated popular assumptions and interpretations of the foreign policies of Presidents Mandela and Mbeki, this study is motivated by the primary aim to investigate the classification of their foreign policy within the broader framework of IR theory. This is done by sketching a brief overview of the IR theories of idealism, realism and constructivism, followed by an analysis of the foreign policies of these two statesmen in order to identify some of the principles that underpin them. Two case studies – Mandela's response to the ‘two Chinas’ question and Mbeki's policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’ towards Zimbabwe – are employed to highlight apparent irregularities with the two leaders’ perceived general foreign policy thrusts. It takes the form of a comparative study, and is conducted within the qualitative paradigm, with research based on secondary sources. The findings show that, although the overarching foreign policy principles of these two former presidents can largely be understood on the basis of particular theoretical approaches, they neither acted consistently according to the assumptions of idealism or realism that are ascribed to them. The conclusion drawn is thus that categorising the foreign policies of presidents Mandela and Mbeki as idealist and realist, respectively, results in a simplistic understanding of the perspectives that inform these two statesmen, as well as the complexity of factors involved in foreign policymaking. More significantly, it is unhelpful in developing a better understanding of South Africa's foreign policy in the post-1994 period.

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