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Commodifying Oppression: South African Foreign Policy towards Zimbabwe under Mbeki

By Dale T. McKinley (March 2003)

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Since the late 1990s onset of what has been called, the Zimbabwean 'crisis', virtually all attempts at explaining (or rationalising) South Africa's foreign policy towards Zimbabwe have been dominated by a one-dimensional focus on the political context of policy-making. In the few instances where economic considerations have come into play, the arguments have focused on altruistic motivations to avert a complete 'collapse' of the Zimbabwean economy and prevent any associated domestic and/or regional contagion. 1

In contrast, this article argues that South Africa's foreign policy towards Zimbabwe has been, and continues to be, driven by the combined, and in this case complementary, class interests of South Africa's emergent black and traditional (white) bourgeoisie (whether located in the public and/or private sectors). Put another way, South African policy can best be understood, and explained, by critical reference to the political economy of a renewed South African sub-imperialism.

  1. Other than a few discussion documents emanating from think tanks (e.g. The Africa Institute, IDASA) and the ANC, there has been precious little analysis of South Africa's contemporary foreign policy towards Zimbabwe on offer. Descriptive journalistic and/or advocacy articles have dominated public discourse on South Africa's involvement with the Zimbabwean 'crisis'. The overwhelming focus of the books and academic journal articles dealing with Zimbabwe, that have appeared since the late 1990s, has been on the internal character of Zimbabwe's political economy.

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