South Africa’s Shrinking Sovereignty: Economic Crises, Ecological Damage, Sub-Imperialism and Social Resistances

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The development of contemporary South Africa political economy occurred within the context of a global capitalist order characterized by increasingly unequal political and economic relations between and within countries. Before liberation in 1994, many people across the world actively supported the struggle against apartheid, with South Africa’s neighbouring states paying the highest price. The ‘sovereignty’ of the apartheid state was challenged by three processes: first, economic, cultural and sporting sanctions called for by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress and other liberation movements, which from the 1960s-80s were increasingly effective in forcing change; second, solidaristic foreign governments including Sweden’s and the USSR’s provided material support to overthrowing the Pretoria Regime; and third, military defeat in Angola and the liberation of neighbouring Mozambique (1975), Zimbabwe (1980) and Namibia (1990) signalled the inevitability of change. But that state nevertheless maintained sufficient strength - e.g. defaulting on foreign debt and imposing exchange controls in 1985 - to ensure a transition to democracy that was largely determined by local forces. Since 1994, the shrinkage of sovereignty means the foreign influences of global capitalism amplify local socio-economic contradictions in a manner destructive to the vast majority of citizens. This is evident when considering economic, ecological, geopolitical and societal considerations.

About the authors

Trevor Ngwane

University of Johannesburg

PhD in Sociology, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Johannesburg, and President of the South African Sociological Association Johannesburg, South African Republic

Patrick Bond

University of the Western Cape

PhD in Economic Geography, Professor, School of Government Capetown, South African Republic


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