n Journal of Public Administration - South Africa's twenty years of "civilizing missions" for Africa : faded continental posture and agenda

Volume 49, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



This article uses the nuance imperial paradigm to examine South Africa's twenty years of conduct of international relations to demonstrate that this country's continental "civilizing missions" have faded over time as it drifted towards extraterritorial non-state global actor, BRICS. There is a growing search for nuance paradigm for the conceptualisation of the emerging global settings wherein the conduct of the USA, China, European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Russia resembles the "geopolitical self-imaginary" of contemporary empires. The resurgence of imperial paradigm seeks to make for inadequacies of the concepts of global or pivotal states, great powers and hegemons in explaining governance of contemporary international relations. For example, the Al-Qaeda polity became a global actor shaping governance of international relations virtually overnight, post-9/11. Concepts of states, great powers and hegemonies are criticised for not accounting for the roles played by "pride, glory, morality or religious zeal" in international relations. Conversely, empires are conspicuous by their "civilizing missions", which account for analysis of moral and ideological aspects in international relations. Together with their "geopolitical self-imaginary", "civilizing missions" are recognized for giving purpose and moral meanings to imperial policies in extremes of guises such as global security, fight against barbarism and terrorism, resistance, spreading enlightenment and reason, as well as protecting human rights and freedoms. Civilizing missions, atrocious or otherwise, can serve integration purpose, legitimization of democratic and autocratic policies, or even justification of the empire's global objectives. A democratic South Africa's conduct of international relations in Africa and globally has remained elusive for cognitive analysis through the dominant explanatory paradigms reliant on concepts of pivotal states, great powers and hegemons. The period 1994-2009 was dominated by puerile nationalistic sentiments of post-apartheid polity leading African Renaissance, continental recovery and renewal. Post-2009, South Africa appeared to overtly peddle the notion of Africa's sole emerging market that would become the future engine of global growth, by using desperate measure to be accepted in BRICS. The article concedes that acceding membership of BRICS, South Africa proved that its engagement of international relations has increasingly become a rudimentary nominal attempt at governance of global geopolitics with "nonplaces". The article concludes that South Africa's Africa agenda faded over the past twenty years as the puerility of its "civilizing missions" was increasingly exposed and largely detested.

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