In the space of just two decades, South Africa has gone from being a international pariah, shunned because of its apartheid policies, to being an influential player in world affairs and a powerful advocate for global political and economic reform.


This is according to the government’s 20 Year Review, a report reflecting on South Africa’s progress in reconstruction and development since 1994, and on the challenges facing the country as it enters its third decade of democracy.


The report, released by President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria on Tuesday, notes that South Africa has sought to improve north-south relations while pushing for reform of the global economy and global governance, better market access for developing countries, more favourable terms for debt relief, and new forms of partnership for development.


Growth in missions at home, abroad


“South Africa’s reintegration into the global community has seen its diplomatic, political and economic relations expand rapidly to include countries with which it previously had no relations,” the report states.


By 2012, the number of foreign diplomatic missions and international organisations in South Africa had increased to 315 – the second-largest number of diplomatic offices accredited to any country after the US.


Over the same period, South Africa’s missions abroad increased from 36 to 125, with the increasing importance of Africa in South Africa’s foreign policy reflected in the growth of South African diplomatic missions in Africa, from 17 in 1994 to the current 47.


Pushing for peace, global reform


The country has served on the United Nations Security Council for a two-year non-permanent term, become a member of influential emerging economy blocs BRICS and Ibsa (the India, Brazil, South Africa Dialogue Forum), and is still the only African country on the G20.


To promote the interests of developing countries, South Africa has pushed for a rules-bound international political and economic order, and sought to transform north-south relations through dialogue while consolidating south-south collaboration by participation in groupings like the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).


South Africa also works with other African states and multilateral organisations like the UN, African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) to promote international respect for human rights, democracy and good governance.


It has helped Madagascar, Zimbabwe and South Sudan resolve their problems and assisted with peacekeeping in Ethiopia/Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Burundi, among others.


The country has also hosted numberous major international conferences and events since 1994, including the Non-Aligned Movement Summit (1998), Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (1999), UN Aids Conference (2000), UN World Conference Against Racism (2001), World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP17) which delivered the landmark Durban Platform that rescued the Kyoto Protocol in November/December 2011.


The democratic South Africa has prioritised the development of political and economic relations with African countries. Since 1994, it has signed 624 agreements and established 40 bilateral mechanisms with countries on the continent. The 20 Year Review does note, however, that there have been challenges with the implementation of some of these agreements.


Expanding, shifting trade relations


South Africa’s export markets have changed considerably over the past 20 years, with new markets emerging at the same time as the country’s share of exports to some traditional markets, such as the United Kingdom, Japan and Europe, has declined.


According to the report, China has emerged as South Africa’s most important export trading partner since 2009, with its share of non-gold merchandise exports measuring 12.9 percent in 2012 compared with 0.8 percent in 1994.


India is now South Africa’s fifth-largest export destination, having overtaken both the United Kingdom and Switzerland, and African countries have also become increasingly important export markets, especially for manufactured goods.


“Exports to the entire African continent increased from 10 percent in 1994 to 17.6 percent in 2012,” the Review states. “SADC countries claimed most of these exports, accounting for 12.9 percent of overall exports in 2012, up from 8.3 percent in 1994. Africa accounts for around a third of South Africa’s exports of more advanced manufactures.”


South Africa has also benefited substantially from the United States’ African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000 (Agoa). Bilateral trade between South Africa and the US grew from R15.9-billion in 1994 to more than R129-billion in 2013, with the trade balance in South Africa’s favour.


Between 1994 and 2013, South Africa’s fiscal and macro-economic policies helped to boost trade between South Africa and European countries, while stimulating foreign direct investment (FDI) and tourism.


From 1994 inward, FDI stock increased significantly as South Africa experienced a continuous upward trajectory, from R44.7-billion to R1.38-trillion in 2012 in nominal terms. Over the same period, exports in goods and services increased from R106-billion to R892-billion (in nominal terms).


Looking to the future


Looking forward, the report says South Africa’’s foreign policy should continue to be shaped by the interplay between prevailing diplomatic, political, security, environmental, economic and regional factors.


“It should remain cognisant of global power shifts, the stratification of regional groupings, threats to human and state security, internal and external sovereignty and natural resources, and the need to promote South Africa’s national interests.”


The report notes that regional and continental integration are important for both for Africa’s socio-economic development and political unity and for South Africa’s prosperity and security.


“The country will strengthen its support for regional and continental institutions that work towards achieving peace and resolving security crises, and it will take further steps to strengthen regional integration, promote intra-African trade and champion sustainable development on the continent.”


The review states that cooperation between state institutions that deal with international relations policy and cross-border issues should also be strengthened.


“Closer collaboration and partnerships between government, business, civil society and labour must be pursued to ensure that the country operates holistically in the competitive and unpredictable international arena.”