Gary M. Mersham
University of Zululand, KwaZulu Natal
|This article provides a broad overview the cultural, social and political issues that currently engage South African and Australian societies by referring to various fragments of the media and academic discourses of both countries. It suggests some of the commonalities and differences in issues such as race, identity and reconciliation, multiculturalism and ethnicity, and charts conservative and progressive trends in public opinion on these issues. It examines the emerging geopolitics of the south, with specific reference to the role that South Africa and Australia play in its political and economic formations, now, and in the future. Finally, it sketches the growth of information and communication technologies in Africa and indicates South Africa's growing role in these developments.|
The SABC-TV evening news clip narrated in Xhosa, showed Indonesian demonstrators with placards that read "Australians fuck off" (South African Broadcasting Corporation. 1999, September 8). The commentary and pictures described how Australian Prime Minister John Howard had placed 15 000 Australian troops on high alert (in fact, it turned out to be only 5000 troops on stand by).
Later in the week, SABC television repeatedly showed video clips of militant students burning the Australian flag, while radio reports from Jakarta described how Indonesian nationalist demonstrators were demanding that Australia must be excluded from any UN Peace-keeping force (South African Broadcasting Corporation, September 14). To my knowledge, this was the first time that Australia has been portrayed in an unpopular military interventionist role in the South African media. At the same time, dissent in Australia over the issue was obvious. Australian protestors were demanding that the Australian government immediately withdraw recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty of East Timor and send in an armed peacekeeping force - "if necessary without Indonesian permission or a United Nations mandate" (Sunday Tribune 1999:5).
From an outsider's perspective, this portrayal of Australia's biggest military deployment since the Vietnam War, triggers a number of questions around Australia's future relations with its fellow neighbours in the southern hemisphere.
|Commonalities and differences|
South Africa and Australia are neighbours in the South but have as many differences as commonaliites. For the large majority of Australians and South Africans, Australia and South Africa would seem to have little in common. For many Australians interest in Africa is an interest in the "cultural other" - what Lehtonen (1987:101) describes as an Euro-centric interest in "exotic phenomena, foreign nations and civilisations ". News from Africa in the Australian media is marginal, often about crime in South Africa and when the continent does appear it is presented as politically unstable or as an exotic destination for ecotourism and wild animal safaris (Schreuder 1999:22). Although Australians scholars are quick to point to the linkages between Africa and Australia that have been created by the long years of Australian opposition to apartheid (Gertzel 1998:14), ordinary South Africans are largely unaware of this. The initial findings from a long-term study that the author is part of, on South African reactions to the Sydney Olympics, shows that the majority of ordinary South Africans know relatively very little about Australia. South Africa appears to have featured on Australia's media and news agenda far more than the converse.
There are structural similarities that are commonly raised by scholars (O'Regan, 1998, Mersham 1997). Neither Australia nor South Africa are former imperial powers, or world superpowers. Both are medium-sized countries which compete against each other in areas like gold and coal mining, agriculture, wine production, offshore film production and long-haul tourism.
In addition, the economic restructuring problems Australia faced in the 1980s are those South Africa now faces. Both are peripheral countries. Both are located away from their major trading partners, of limited significance to the world's symbolic economy and off the world's main trading routes. Each has to work hard at being internationally connected, as too do their various industries.
Public opinion in Australia and South Africa are similarly characterised by both conservative and progressive trends, making for societies that are vociferously divided, although it may be a mistake to read "conservative" and "progressive" as having the same location or meaning in the two countries. South African media report on how a female politician, Cheryl Kernot, was labelled a "carcass the wind" and "poisonous" to Australia for crossing the floor to a rival party. Another, Pauline Hanson, is pelted with tomatoes for her right-wing beliefs and later goes into hiding following harassment after winning a seat for the ultra conservative One Nation party. Debates are fuelled by widespread sentiment that things are "deteriorating" (the often superficial taxi driver view, if you like). News stories carry pictures of the "more than 20 000 protestors" who took to the streets to demand that a "gutless Australian government" immediately withdraw recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty of East Timor and send in an armed peacekeeping force - "without Indonesian permission or a United Nations mandate" (Sunday Tribune 1999:5).
Both countries are experiencing rural/urban cleavages, but for different reasons. Rural hinterland Australians generally view city people as advantaged by government financial support for infrastructure development and maintenance. They say their economic contribution subsidises main urban centres. This rural sentiment was the key to the last election and the Labour party subsequently acknowledged it "lost touch" with rural areas.
Australian rural people see themselves as custodians of real "outback" culture and the Australian culture of the last few decades. They lay claim to being economically disadvantaged - they are key producers, but have to pay more and wait longer for services and infrastructure (Meinjies 1998:24). The South African farming sector no longer enjoys subsidies or other government assistance. In efforts to compete with highly subsidised farmers in the United States and the European Union, South African farmers have laid off hundreds of thousands of rural farm workers. In addition, spiralling farm murders and attacks characterise rural areas.
There is correspondence in the debate about the private sector's role in society in both countries. The role of Corporate Social Investment is a key concern on the South African national agenda (Mersham 1995). In Australia this is manifested by a generally healthy mix of cynicism, suspicion but sometimes stereotyped distrust of big business in general.
For example, record bank profits against the background of increased bank charges that impacted strongly on lower income groups, has opened what will be a long running inspection of corporate behaviour which does not balance the need for profit with social concern (Meinjies 1998:24).
Australia provides a useful example of structural adjustment achieved through consensus by a Labor government (1983-1995) with close links to .the trade union movement. By the early 1980s the need for structural adjustment in the Australian economy had become critical - just as it has in the 1990s in South Africa. During the 1980s, the Australian Labor government attempted to reduce public expectations, reduce real wages, secure changes in the structure and conduct of the trade union movement, facilitate development in technology and reduce local industry protection in an economic reform agenda. The very same issues now currently confronting South Africa as it tries to implement its Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy.
"Cultural policy" in Australia refers to arts, heritage (museums, the built environment, sites of cultural significance etc.), broadcasting, film, new media, libraries, education, tourism, copyright, language policy, gambling, sport, cultural planning and community development. (Department of Communication and the Arts, 1994). This broad definition of cultural policy is useful in the South African context where cultural policy is strongly focused on community development (Mersham et al, 1995).
Both South Africa and Australia have intense regionalisms supporting jealously guarded regional identities complete with xenophobic behaviors, competition among their principal centres, local histories of resistance to central government, and ongoing public debate about the ideal relationship between central government and the regions.
The problem facing both countries is one of how to make this federalism work productively and not destructively. In South Africa the powers of the Provinces ("states") have been reduced, while in Australia the states have much greater control over a range of portfolios.
Both Australia and South Africa share problems in race relations but they are starkly contrasted in terms of who are minorities and who has access to and control of wealth and resources. South Africa is a developing country whereas Australia is a developed country.
In the Australian context the emphasis is upon encouraging development among "indigenous people" who are a minority, hence "indigenous affairs". Australian policy in the area of indigenous affairs is characterised by a myriad developmental models, community-based models, innovative uses of new and existing technologies, diverse educational initiatives and so on (Rowse, 1996). Projects that attempt to make TV, video, CD-rom and satellite communications appropriate to indigenous cultural circumstance are well-documented (Langton, 1993; O'Regan & Batty, 1993).
In South Africa, the need for development is "on a mass scale" (Malan & Adanga, 1998:iv), that is, addressing the needs of the majority. In the development movement and debate in South Africa, it is Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) that figure most prominently as the "answer" and "means" to development. This came to the fore in the ground-breaking Symposium on Culture, Communication, Development hosted by the South African Human Sciences Research Council and UNESCO in 1996, with a follow up in 1997. There has been "an explosion of networking around the issues of culture and electronic communication" (Malan & Adanga, 1998:v). As Malan (1998:49) puts it "the focus has moved from DC (development communication) to IT (information Technology)" with "a digital C" added for Information and Communication Technologies. South African political decision-makers confirm this view, for example, in the government's COMTASK report and the White Papers on Science and Technology and Telecommunications Policy (South Africa, 1996a, 1996b, 1996c.).
Compared to South Africa, Australia has problems accommodating its indigenous population into its public ceremonies and its constitution. The formation in 1990 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) gave Aboriginal and Islander control over the designated budget for Aboriginal and Islander affairs. It created another tier of government (alongside local, state and federal government) which is reminiscent of the "own affairs" model of the apartheid government.
South African and Australian public discourse speaks consistently of political, economic and cultural failure, endemic structural weaknesses and of changed external and internal conditions requiring urgent policy reorientation (see Balseiro, 1997; Saks 1997; Gonski, 1997). Similarly cultural, media and development policy-making discussion and commentary is characterised by problematising of its organisation, operation and outcomes (see for example, Burton, 1998, Vervey & Crystal, 1998, Hawkins, 1993; Cunningham, 1992; Rowse, 1985; O'Regan, 1996).
|Australian interest in South Africa|
There is a growing Australian interest in Southern Africa, manifested in the holding of this conference and the steady stream of Australian academics and policy makers crossing the Indian Ocean, as Cherry Gertzel (1998) points out. This interest supports a variety of academic and intergovernmental agreements. For Australian researchers with an African focus, South Africa is more accessible, less costly and culturally familiar than are other African destinations. Post-apartheid South Africa draws "Africanists concerned with issues conflict, transformation and reconstruction" (Gertzel, 1998: 12) and perhaps one might add "reconciliation". Contemporary interest in structural adjustment and governance has also created an interest in African development just as did earlier models of dependency and development.
Others form part of Australia's business, trade, and security interests which, in the early 1990s, were officially extended to include a greater Indian Ocean regional focus besides the principal East and South-East Asian focus of the 1980s and 1990s. Scientific exchanges connect South African and Australian researchers as well as collaborative research projects such as comparative study of land, literature and history in Australia and South Africa (Darian-Smith et al, 1996). There have also been growing links between Australian and African labour movements. Some 15 Australian universities and 5 technical colleges (Technikons) now offer courses and programmes in South Africa (Australian High Commission 1999).
Others look to the South African experience to learn lessons for Australian national redefinition, reconciliation and public truth telling. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is sometimes held up as a model for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians.
Interest also stems from the inflow of South African immigrants to Australia, the so-called South African Diaspora (Ang 1996:xxiii), which is essentially a "white South African diaspora", colloquially known in South Africa as "Packing for Perth".
|Identity, Race, and reconciliation|
Perhaps the most significant threads to the Australian/South African relationship are the questions race, identity and reconciliation. Both countries face pressing issues in these areas. Australia is in what Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay has called its "age of redefinition". As a South African cultural commentator put it after a visit to Australia:
Similarly, South Africans are engaged in a fevered debate about "What is a South African" and whether they are first Africans or South Africans first (Saks1997:70-89; De Reuck 1996:139-155; Balseiro 1997:1-18; Garman 1999:20; Roome 1997: 66-94; Mulholland 1999:1).
From the external perspective, the Australian government appears to be unsure of how to manage its relationship with Aboriginal people. In a classic standoff, Prime Minister John Howard has publicly questioned the legitimacy of Aboriginal leaders and introduced legislation to reverse court decisions affirming aboriginal land rights. Despite the trend to conservatism, a large core of Australians hold the opposite view.
After agreeing with the Aboriginal reconciliation Council on the drafting of an "historic document" on the Aborigine question, it became clear that "Sorry" is still the hardest word for Canberra to utter.
In a formal motion of reconciliation, in August this year, the Australian Parliament could only admit to "deep and sincere regret that indigenous Australians suffered injustices of past generations" (Thornhill 1999:18). Significantly, Howard has argued that today's Australians should not be held responsible for the actions of their forebears, fearing that an apology would open the way to government compensation payouts. In simple terms, "saying sorry" and dealing with land claims and the process of reconciliation are issues in which South African policy makers and implementers are knowledgeable and competent. This expertise has been represented by Nelson Mandela's offer to act as a facilitator between Aborigines and the Australian Federal government.
The issue is raised from another angle by Jim Davidson (1998:25):
In many ways the South Africa became the world's "specimen" under the microscope, focussing the contemporary race issues facing the globe into a clear-cut battle between "good and evil". Events conspired to bring South Africa into the foreground as the laboratory for the resolution of issues such as reconciliation and cultural sensitivity.
As a well-known South African magazine editor put it in 1988:
Nelson Mandela had the moral largeness to try to promote a unified South Africa in which the former oppressors would not become the new oppressed. As Australian journalist Greg Sheridan argues, the white South African leadership was in a good position to make this judgement and was proven correct (Sheridan, 1999).
A part of the unification and reconciliation process, ironically, is also about defining who "we" are and who "they" are. In multiple identity societies like South Africa and Australia, racial, ethnic, provincial, local and other factors do generate identity. But the challenge is first to be able to acknowledge the race issue, then ethnic differences and then gather these strands of identity under a common cause of nation building which guarantees equal rights and non- discrimination.
Davidson (1998) says that the "completeness of the European occupation of Australia" has obscured an "imperially derived sense of entitlement" by English-speaking South Africans and white Australians. But one questions whether this has been the experience of white, English-speaking South Africans. Their reality has always included an everyday consistent experience a black majority - once suppressed and now liberated.
English speaking whites in South Africa have always seen themselves as a kind of powerless, disaffected minority, pigeon-holed into an ethnic box during 40 years of apartheid (Mersham 1990:343-349). White Australians, on the other hand, have up until now seen "white Australia as a complete society" (Davidson 1988:25), dominant and cohesively nationalistic in its outlook.
Older generation English speaking white South Africans once looked to the United Kingdom as their cultural home. Increasingly, however contemporary white South Africans, particularly younger South Africans, make claim to the "integrated white tribe" ethos, notwithstanding the view by a sector of the black intelligentsia that they are custodians of politically incorrect liberalism. Popularist media discourse consistently propagates the view that the majority of whites are comfortable "participating in the process" of nation-building (Insight 1999:1). There is the attractive quality of identifying with "the heady excitement of an historical moment of profound transition" (Saks 1997:iii).
Steeped in the discourses of the "miracle" of "bloodless revolution", South African whites, coloured people and Indians are exploring the position of "recombinant nationalism" (De Reuck 1996:152). They are trying to place themselves, somewhat imaginatively, as indigenous to the African soil on which they have experienced and lived through a social revolution. They thereby try to establish an authority that clearly separates them from the concept of colonial entitlement and from which they can dismiss the hypocrisy of other former colonial nations. Balseiro (1997:1) has called this discursiveness "unity speak", interrogating the authenticity of discourses of multiracial beer advertisements to a South African Broadcasting Corporation television channel's slogan Simunye ("We are one"), multilingual, multiracial soap operas such as Isidingo, Egoli and Generations.
Saks (1997:74) puts it this way:
Further research is required to interrogate the authenticity of this quasi-religious catharsis propagated in the "new" South African discourse.
It can be noted however that the cultural strand of colonialism lives on in a variety of mutant forms. As in Australia, South Africa has its suburban mock Casa-this and Villa-that, parodying South American or Mediterranean architectural forms. Cultural commentator Barry Ronge (1999:8) suggests that "the true die-hard colonialists" in South Africa "are our property developers". Every barricaded South African townhouse cluster or shopping centre complex is named after a corner of the British countryside. Willowbrook Downs, Morningview Manors, Carrington Closes and Barrington Mews abound in African environments that are radically different from the dales, dells, heaths, groves and glens they mimic in name. Where are the Moodley Mansions, Spaza Plazas, Khaya Complexes, Amandla Heights, Ubuntu Kraal, or for that matter the Inkopies Hemel?
To return to seriousness, in my view it is the reversal in the political minority/majority, white/black equation that tends to obscure what are striking similarities in social issues confronting both countries.
|Multiculturalism and ethnicity|
Davidson's (1998) call for Australians to form a more inclusive compact with their indigenous population appears in South African eyes as Australia's unfinished political business, characterised by attempts to cosmetically resolve it. Multiculturalism as an ethnically based concept rings warning bells for many South Africans. They are deeply suspicious of attempts to paper over the cracks of inequality and race through ethnically based terminology, discourses and structures that pretend to provide equality of access to power and resources.  There is a "central tendency of Australian multicultural discourse to subsume the issues and discourses of race to those of ethnicity" (Neilson 1996:25). South African scholars have long argued that the nationalist government's divide and rule strategy used ethnic labelling to sustain and legitimate apartheid polices by naturalising the concept of ethnicity through correlation with cultural integrity and independence (Tomaselli 1987:10; Mersham 1990; 1993).
As Neilson (1996:24) suggests, in Australia,
The discourses of multiculturalism nourish racial blindness. There is always the danger that "ethnically-based" programmes become the despoilers of a clear vision of human rights and equality.
It is clear that there is widespread support in Australia for forced repatriation of the Asian "boat people" (Neilson 1996:21). However, South African media commentators confuse this popular rejection of Asian "boat people" (i.e. illegal immigrants) with attitudes towards other Asian immigrants who have applied through the same channels as all other prospective immigrants.
For example, the following comments come from Frank Meintjies, a well known "coloured" business consultant and newspaper columnist, after returning from a business trip to Australia:
South African media commentators argue that it appears that public opinion has turned, and the government is moving towards restricting immigration, signalling a "remarkable reversal of the national will on this matter". It may have been this shift that prompted Victorian premier, Jeff Kennet, to tell members an elite girls' school that they "owed it to Australia to go out there and breed" (Penn 1999:10).
Neilson (1996:25) suggests that Australia's immigration policy, which regulates the demographic base of multiculturalism, constitutes "imagined attempts to redress the imbalances of the country's racial history" (Neilson 1996:24). Justified by economic rationalism the policy pretends to be "blind" to the discourses of race. As a result there is an uneven fit between Australia's economic and cultural aspirations. But the imperative to preserve and insulate the "island of plenty" in a sea of deprivation seems destined to be further challenged:
South Africa is experiencing a large inflow of legal and illegal immigrants from African countries to its north, and incidents of xenophobic behaviour are on the rise (Mersham 1999:67). The East Timor conflict resulted in 1 400 East Timorese refugees arriving in Darwin in September this year, bringing into sharp relief that fact that East Timor is closer to Darwin than to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.
Of particular interest to contemporary South African economists is how Australia avoided what has commonly been called the "Asian flu" or "Asian meltdown". Commentators ascribe this "miracle' to tough fiscal decisions, taken by the conservative liberal government that took over from Labour in 1996. Australia boasts indicators of a more resilient economy than the South African economy. While unemployment has increased - from an '80s base of 6%, it now approaching a 8.5% - it is trifling compared to South Africa's 30% to 40%. Pockets of severe poverty among the young in Australia is now a national concern as government toys with the idea of lowering the youth wage to promote jobs. In South Africa, some are suggesting that unions consider similar medicine to grow jobs, but this has been met with strong resistance.
The economies of both countries need to grow out of their strong reliance on exporting raw commodities. Calls for turning talk of "down stream processing" and "value adding" into co-ordinated state and corporate action characterise both nations.
In both countries, individuals and private enterprise feel they are paying for social services that suffer widespread abuse. South African media report that the "dole" syndrome has been blamed for high levels of youth unemployment in Australia. South African media report that youth homelessness in Australia had doubled since 1991, with about a fifth of about 10 000 homeless youth living on the streets. The same report indicates that more than 90 000 Australian families now live below the poverty line and the youth suicide rate is among the highest in the world (Penn, 1999:10).
In the past, the natural levels of trade and cultural contact between the two countries were retarded due apartheid. Also, only recently have both countries emerged from their island mentalities, seeking roles as global players and contesting the economic and geopolitical terrain outside of the northern trade and political blocs.
The traditional view was that business potential between the two countries was low because of similar economies. Increased governmental attention was paid to Southern Africa with the tabling of a parliamentary report on Australia's Relations with Southern Africa (Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, 1996). In July 1997 the first Australia/South Africa Joint ministerial commission was formed. Aims include growing bilateral trade, and developing ways to assist Australian and SA businesses to use each other's countries as a base for trading into the wider regions of Asia and Africa respectively. The double taxation agreement between SA and Australia was signed in Canberra on July 1 1999. This agreement ends the practice of imposing tax in both countries when income is derived in one country from a source in another.
While the Indian Ocean Rim initiative seems to be lacking impetus, the concept of three main players, the three corners of the IOR, Australia, India and South Africa, contains a central truth. Certainly, Australia and South Africa are strategically placed, respectively, on the edge of huge Asian and African markets. For South Africa, Australia has strategic experience in Asian markets and obviously the same is true of South Africa in respect to the unfolding African market. Geography makes the logic of Indian Ocean Rim initiative obvious, but the degree to which this is being effectively exploited is another matter.
Dennis Rumley, in his book The geopolitics of Australia's regional relations, argues optimistically that "Australia has created a geopolitical foundation for a secure regional future" (Rumley 1999:265). He depicts Australia's regional relations in terms of a "four front models", namely a cooperative security front to the north; environmental security to the south; an aid front to the east; and a trade front to the west.
What role will Australia ultimately fill in developing such a trade front within the context of The Indian Ocean Rim Initiative (IORI)? The IORI is part of the conception of the "New South" and South Africa is strategically placed to take full advantage of this new movement (Mersham 1997, Freer 1999:9). More than likely, the geopolitical influence of this movement will hinge upon its economic clout in the area of trade, most noticeably those states interested in the expansion of their markets, namely, South Africa, India, Australia and Mauritius (Freer 1999:9).
In general, South Africa's policy with regard to the IORI has moved closer to the Indian position and away from the Australian position. Disagreements have stemmed from the Australian desire to for an all-encompassing inclusive international forum as opposed to the Indian view that the initiative should be limited to the economic and development goals of the South (Freer 1999:10).
The principle of the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative, despite being founded on the ideals of development and improving trade ties, has developed a separate international political agenda. The Indian-South African Commission stated in 1996 that the two nations shared the perspective that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) now derived its cohesiveness from the need to change "the entrenched imbalance in the distribution of political and economic power (the domination of the North) which persists and has in many ways intensified" (Cornwell 1997:2).
During his visit to South Africa in 1997, India's Prime Minister Inder Gujral said that "Destiny has enjoined the peoples of India and South Africa to strive together for (that) goal of universal human freedom" (MacLennan 1997:18).
Rusty Evans, then Director of Foreign Affairs, stated that it was "necessary for the South to combine its resources in competition with and to break the domination and exploitation that the north has exercised over the developing world". Referring to the Indian Ocean Rim he went on to say that both India and South Africa see themselves as "being the two main economic poles" of the Rim (MacLennan 1997:18). India and South Africa are also set to conclude a defence cooperation agreement which includes joint research and production as a key element in the emerging strategic partnership between the two countries.
In addition, critics charge that the "shortsightedness of Australian leaders has blinkered any realistic assessment of the value of a sound relationship and partnership with India" (MacPherson 1999:7-8).
All of this begs the question of whether the original tripartite concept of three major players the Indian Ocean Rim, the "three corners of the Rim", of which Australia is one, is still one favoured by the other two players. And whether Australia should not be doing more to establish stronger relationships with India and South Africa.
The promotion of a bilateral South-South relationship between South Africa and India was reinforced by the visit of India's Prime Minister Inder Gujral in 1997 and South Africa's leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) from January 1998.
These positions feed into the broader South-South versus the North discourse. The NAM together with the other alignments such as UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and the G-77 (The Group of 77 is the largest Third World coalition in the United Nations) are seen by members states as bulwarks against the creeping disempowerment and disenfranchisement of the South. Since the world is no longer polarised between the East and West, the cleavage between rich and poor is now more pronounced than ever. The NAM "is therefore one of the primary arteries capable of infusing fresh blood into South-South cooperation (Le Pere 1997:5).).
Since the 1994 the South African government has joined many regional and international groupings, in some cases spurring "stagnant organisations into action" (Freer 1999:10).
Is South Africa is positioning itself as the leader of the South? It has positioned itself as a major voice in a number of international groupings, including NAM, UNCTAD, SADC OAU and the IOR-ARC. It is reasonable to suggest that many of the countries of the South are looking to South Africa to lead the way to a New World Order in which the South plays a stronger, unified geopolitical role (Mersham 1997). South Africa has openly led the call for the reform of the United Nations and the Security Council. In September this year President Thabo Mbeki in his address to the United Nations called the United Nations to protect the world's poor and for debt relief by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for underdeveloped and developing nations. His speech was interpreted as "batting for the developing nations around the world" (South African Broadcasting Corporation 21 September 1999).
Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said that South Africa would use its leadership of key international bodies to push for change at the recent meeting of the World Bank and the IMF. It has become a major voice in a number of international groupings, including Non Aligned Movement, which it chaired this year, and will soon take the helm at the Commonwealth heads of government group. It holds the presidency of the UN commission for trade and development, and is influential in the OAU, SADC and the IOR-ARC. It will also be participating in the G-20 group, playing an active role in lobbying to shape the international agenda on financial affairs and attempt to get a better balance between debtor and creditor nations.
The question arises: Where does this leave Australia and its influence in and with the south, "since all the countries in the Rim, except Australia, are part of the South"? (Sachdeva 1997:6).
At the same time South Africa clearly has its self-interest at heart in the benefits accrued from increased trade and economic development derived from such leadership. South Africa recognises its "desperate need" to open up broadly to a previously closed world if investment and trade are to grow (McPherson 1996:3). As part of this strategy, in 1997 Nelson Mandela led a large trade delegation to the "Asian tigers" establishing a number of trade cooperation agreements and strengthening political ties. Four of the countries, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines, are members of the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN).
Northern powers too have recognised the importance of South Africa's potential leadership role in the South. The binational commissions between South Africa and Germany and South Africa and the United States, for example, have led to diplomatic overtures towards Pretoria by the UK and France, both fearing dilution of their influence on the African continent.
In 1997 it was announced that South Africa would support Germany gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council while Germany reciprocated with support for a South African seat, a position echoed by Indian Prime Minister Gujral during his visit to South Africa.
South Africa continues to look for opportunities to exercise its voice in the developed world. Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aziz Pahad, has said it was important to for South Africa to take advantage of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership when the European Union committed itself to promoting regional security and free trade in the area (Qwelane 1999:15). It also has also engaged in hard bargaining to secure a favourable accord with the European Union. President Thabo Mbeki said at the 10th anniversary of the foundation for African Business and Consumer Services that intratrade relationships between Africa and the developed world - with its fiercely protective developed markets - would become even more important to the success of a powerful African economic bloc (Maharaj 1999:7).
South Africa has been criticised for its so-called "friends to all", unfocussed foreign policy. It walks a tightrope as the only nation that has formal relationships with the extreme ends of the geopolitical global continuum. While Nelson Mandela shares the Nobel Peace Prize with two East Timorese human rights activists, it did not prevent him as then South African president, paying an official visit to Indonesia during the week of the 21st anniversary (17th of July) of the invasion of East Timor, in 1997. While announcing that South Africa would sell Indonesia arms "without hesitation", he made no mention of the annexation and the ongoing repression that has followed it.(Sunday Tribune, 1997:20).
Speaking in Thailand later on a trade mission, Mandela cautiously acknowledged fellow Nobel Peace laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the opposition to the military dictatorship in Burma. He said "she is very courageous...but we should not develop an independent attitude toward Burma"(Sunday Tribune, 1997:20).
Soon after he was persuading Mr Blair, on behalf of African states to lift the sanctions on flights to Libya and awarding Order of Good Hope to Muammar Ghaddafi. Eyebrows were raised in London, Washington, Paris and Canberra. Since then, South Africa's continued friendship with Libya has continued to worry the West. However, South Africa's diplomatic initiatives did create a favourable climate for Libya's readmission into the international community. Its diplomatic efforts resulted in a breakthrough in more than 10 years of tension between Libya and the West over the alleged Libyan involvement in the Lockerbie bombing.
Of course, it has also opened up many opportunities for South African business. A South African multi-sectoral business delegation, led by the Ministers of Trade and Industry, and Energy Affairs, together with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, established a number of trade agreements in May of this year (Qwelane 1999:15). Since the resolution of the Lockerbie affair, in which Saudi Arabia played a substantial role in the negotiations together with South Africa, relations between Pretoria and Riyad have strengthened. As a result, joint projects worth more than R3 billion in investment in South Africa are expected, largely in the telecommunications, satellite and cellular sector. South African business leaders will be expected to pursue long term agreements with Mediterranean nations such as France. Italy and Spain that are geographically closer and who have had strong trading relations with Libya prior to the sanctions era. By extension of this new relationship, trading prospects with Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, have been strengthened (Qwelane 1999:13).
Such realignments may ultimately have significant implications for Australia.
Tom O'Regan (O'Regan, 1998:19) points out that Australia's Africanists are "very much in the minority" compared to their US and European based counterparts. But this conference shows that the interest is growing, in particular in the relationship between Australia and South Africa, where there are some nine presentations dealing with the subject. As Schreuder indicates, as a result of support for anti-apartheid movements and black liberation on the continent, Africans often speak well of Australia and are puzzled that such a history of support was not followed by an equally vigorous policy of continuing development of the continent (Schreuder 1999:22).
The information technology revolution has brought Africa closer to Australia and South Africa is accessible in new and vital ways, offering opportunities for partnerships never before possible. Certainly intratrade between South Africa and Australia seems to be gaining momentum. The following examples, not meant to be comprehensive or fully representative are, however, illustrative of some of the trends.
The South African organisation Mintek is participating in a bi-national collaborative project to minimize the environmental and economic aspects of cyanide waste in the gold-mining industry. By amalgamating the interests of Australian and South African contractors, the project will advance understanding of the environmental fate of cyanide in and around tailing structures, the reliability of analytical methodology, and provide better models for predicting cyanide impacts on risk management. The project is managed and administered by the Australian Mineral Industries Research Association (AMIRA), in conjunction with Mintek.
At the Southern Africa-Australia Mining Conference held in Canberra in March 2000, it was announced tthat South African and Australian mining groups are cooperating globally to develop other new technologies, including new seismic monitoring systems and disk cutters that provide an alternative to the use of explosives (Joffe, 2000:17).
An analysis of the 1999 South African-Australian trade profile by the Australian-Southern African Business Council reveals that Australia is largely exporting primary resources to South Africa, whereas South Africa is increasingly exporting beneficiated, technology-based and knowledge-based products to Australia (Arkley, 2000:3).
A new age South African company is Advanced technology systems (Advtech) is an investment holdings company involved with formal education from pre-primary to post-graduate level, and provides recruitment as well as related services in the fields of technology, finance and engineering. Its subsidiaries are involved in training services, information technology, end-user computing, adult basic education, business and professional development and custom multimedia applications and support systems. This combination of education and training, placement, and electronic business solutions makes it one of the South African "new millennium" export industries. It has an 80% interest in Crowe Associates, which has offices in all the major centres throughout Australia. The highly regarded Bond MBA has contributed greatly to Advtech's Tertiary Division that runs private Colleges.
|South Africa, Africa, power and communications|
As indicated earlier in this paper, Australian business is not fully apprised of South Africa's development role in the Southern African region, and the consequent business opportunities that this affords. The following thumbnail sketch may contribute towards filling this gap.
Eskom, South Africa's electricity generation and supply utility, already provides more than 60 per cent of the total consumed throughout Africa. Its existing and planned grid stretches throughout the SADC countries and beyond. Through joint projects and partnerships, Eskom is active in Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Rwanda, Kenya, Mozambique, Swaziland, Uganda and Nigeria. It is considering projects in Morocco and Algeria, and has an interest in outside of Africa here in Australia and Russia (Bennett 1999:11). Through the newly formed Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP), Eskom is the major driver of an integrated grid using the common currency of electricity.
In rural areas of Africa, energy is the key to achieving sustainable development (Khoza 1999). In fact electricity is one of South Africa's best assets - it is among the cheapest in the world and is produced in abundance with SA being the fourth largest in generating capacity and fifth largest in sales. Energy can do for Africa what iron and steel did for Europe to open up markets and act as a precursor to regional integration. In addition, the worldwide tendency to use large grids and networks such as Eskom's, for fixed line information technology platforms, is also being investigated.
The African market has been has been starved of communication technologies by African governments that have been unable to meet the promise of providing telecommunications services over the last three decades. But there is a growing recognition of the importance of high tech information-based economies. The current magnitude and speed of investment in cellular, satellite and Internet technologies in Africa reflect the growing realisation on the continent of the value of communications technology and private initiative.
Notwithstanding the problems facing Africa in joining the information society as it is defined by Western standards (see Van Audenhove 1998), African adoption of digital technologies has been spectacular against the background of the inertia of African governments in this respect. Four Years ago only six of the 53 African countries had access to the Internet. Today the figure is 51 (African Governments on the WWW http://www.gksoft.com/govt/en/africa.html). The demand for access is huge and the potential to provide relevant services is enormous.
Currently only one in 1 500 people in Africa is connected, compared to one in four in North America and Europe. Servicing such a backlog will provide huge opportunities for investment and leverage into other areas of African economies. Africa's growth rate in Internet Service Providers (ISP's), excluding South Africa is double the world average. Africa's population of 750-million has only 500 000 Internet users (excluding South Africa's nearly two million), while its hosting growth rate is twice the world average. Despite this rapid expansion, African ISP's constitute only 0.06% of the world's 43-million ISP's (Schoonakker 1999:5).
In one example that demonstrates the growth curve, Africa Online introduced a project this year that provides access to Internet and e-mail services to people who do not have telephones or personal computers using satellite and touch screen technology in Kenya. Before the project Africa Online had a client base of 6000 users (of Kenya's total of 15 000) built up over five years. In three months the client base increased 50 percent to 9 000 (Schoonakker 1999:5).
Patrons at the Internet Café in Luanda, or students in Accra and cocoa traders in Abidjan today all surf the web for local and international prices. Opposition members in Nigeria continue to converse with dissidents in exile over the democratisation process in the country and Benin lawyer and human rights activist Sadikou Alou monitors Amnesty International reports on African countries, which would otherwise never be accessible in the nations criticised. Rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda present themselves as an army of salvation on their website and Mbarouk Mwandora, head of the Tanzanian foreign trade chamber, monitors access to the organization's website that is aimed at potential investors (Sapa-DPA 1999).
In the last five years billions of dollars has been invested in cellular telephony in Africa. In 1990, only six countries, including South Africa, offered what were then mainly carphone based cellular phone services. Today, at least 65 vendors offer cellular services in 39 countries.
South Africa looks set to become the nation that is intimately involved in the new digital communications of its neighbours (Mersham, 1999:211). It has become the launch pad for significant convergent communication and information based technologies into Africa. This is largely a result of the fact that for decades, African governments invested very little in upgrading telephone networks and telecommunications (Herbert 1998:2).
Currently South Africa is the "most connected" African country, having the best Internet infrastructure and computer technology. Significantly it is the leading adopter of new cellular technology and the roll out of converging satellite, cellular and Internet technologies in other parts of Africa. In addition, South Africa looks set to lead the world in merging broadcasting and telecommunications at the level of the regulatory agency and design of the regulatory system (Braham (1998:75). The Universal Service Agency's experimentation with a range of types of telecentres, with the emphasis on providing it to some of the poorest of the population, is set to become an export industry. Because of the interlinkages between manufacturers of information infrastructure technologies, international development agencies and foreign aid, and the need of relatively inexperienced government agencies to find ways of implementing policy as quickly and affordably as possible, policy developers are right to examine its use by the South African government (Braham (1998:75).
South Africa has only 5.7% of the total population of Africa, yet has 31.2% of the total number of main telephone lines, and 81.4% of the total number of cellular subscribers. In contrast, North Africa, with 7.7% of the total population, has the greatest percentage of main telephone lines (47.4%), but a much lower percentage of cellular subscribers (5.8%).
Cellular transmitter coverage now gives potential access to 75% of the South African population (M-Cell 1999:5). The installation of more than 7000 community, public-use, cellular pay phones, a world first, has played a significant role in economic empowerment and social upliftment in township and shack settlement areas. The community assists with the siting, installation and first-line maintenance of the pay phones that offer subsidised rates.
The concept of community pay phones in mobile trailers allows entrepreneurs to take pay phones to public gatherings, including sports, cultural, political and religious events - or to set up a telecommunications facility at a semi-permanent site.
In the space of a few months this year, South African based cellular company, one of the two South African based cellular service providers, attracted 30 000 subscribers in Uganda, Rwanda and Swaziland (M-Cell 1999:6). These networks enjoy roaming agreements with South Africa. The pre-paid card systems allow sectors of the population previously unable to meet credit vetting criteria complete access.
South Africa is a key player in a global information society where the focus is on its use as a tool of the extension of capital (Braham 1998:74). Australian policy makers and industry commentators have accepted the importance of the new information technologies for the nation's economic prospects (Thomas 1997:1). Surely these synergies of outlook mean that South Africa and Australia should be working closely as partners in the development of information and communication technology among the nations of the South?
 Initial findings from a joint study currently in progress by the University of Queensland, University of Zululand and the Rand Afrikaans University reveals that urban blacks have a very low level of knowledge and insight about Australia. The few references to knowledge about Australia seem to come largely come from television images ("Neighbours", and sport). Not one respondent could name a contemporary or historically famous Australian and none could pinpoint Sydney on a map. Rural black South Africans were completely ignorant of Australia.
White English-speaking South Africans tend to be better informed about Australia. Many had family in Australia and/or were considering moving to Australia. In a sense Australia is part of "their Anglo world". White Afrikaners have a good "book knowledge" of Australia - have lots of information about it but had little or no understanding of the issues facing the country. This was also true of coloured Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. The study was conducted among a sample of one hundred South African students employing questionnaires, focus groups and open-ended interviews.
South African media coverage of Australia (prior to the events of East Timor this year) has tended to fall overwhelmingly into two categories. The first is the "sports", "human interest" or "cute" category - fireworks over the Opera House on New Year's Eve, cuddly koalas and kangaroos, big beer belly competitions, beating the heat wave on the beach and the like. The second is natural calamities - the impact of cyclones and bushfires. On the whole, race issues, unemployment, and other social concerns receive little attention - coverage of the Asian "boat people", notwithstanding. In the minds of many South Africans who contemplate immigration Australia is a paradise devoid of social problems.
 Australian Federal MP Pauline Hanson has received intense media attention for example in the Indonesian press with the result that there are more Southeast Asians who know who she is than who know the name of the Australian Prime Minister (Romano 1997:6).
 At this point I have to add a qualification to Tom O'Regan's position. He holds that when South Africa rejoined the international community it joined a "cultural policy club" that embraces English language countries like Canada, the United Kingdom (UK), Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America (USA).
Can one assume that the English language, an accepted ideological and cultural marker of world-view within the Commonwealth and North America, functions in the same fashion in South Africa. English speakers almost constitute a minority ethnic group in South Africa, and are commonly marked as the custodians of politically incorrect liberalism. The use and adoption of English remains controversial in many circumstances in a country that recognises 11 official languages in its constitution and where English is often at best a "second language". Much of the taken-for-granted ideological baggage that goes with the "cultural policy club" mostly does not apply in South Africa.
It is true that English is the language of business and the legal system is based on British mercantile law And when for example, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) began re-structuring in 1994, it followed changes in public broadcasting in Australia, and brought Australian broadcasting experts in to assist in the process, (O'Regan 1998:2).
 Minority rights, an issue common to many countries, is beginning to receive more attention in post apartheid South Africa. Freedom Front leader Constant Viljoen has called on government to heed a call by a group of prominent South Africans to provide a charter of minority rights as part of the constitution. He was reacting to a letter from a group including poet Breyten Breytenbach, political scientists Deon Geldenhuys and Herman Giliomee, film maker Katinka Heyns and academic Tony Links, to President Thabo Mbeki requesting such a charter (Business Day, 26 October, 1999)
 As far as Afrikaans-speaking whites are concerned, they would have difficulty with the "imperially derived sense of entitlement" thesis - seeing themselves as the descendants of the enemies of religious imperialism in Europe and later British imperialism in South Africa. In fact they see their "entitlement" as derived from the authenticity of membership of the "white tribe" of Africa (see, for example Harrison,1987; De Reuck, 1996). They argue convincingly that they have no other home. Their "entitlement" historically derived from "a set of relationships between family members, immediate neighbours and community groups sharing a common religion, common language and a common vision regarding their status in the land" (De Reuck, 1996:146). As De Klerk (1983:51) points out, early Afrikaner society was already "uncolonial (...) the Afrikaners had revolted against colonialism". Afrikaners positioned themselves "oppositionally" and "indigenously" against the European colonialism. Over a period of three hundred years emerged "a new idigene" (De Reuck 1996:152).
 The 1980's saw the rise of multiculturalism, based firmly upon ethnic categorisation, in Australia. Since then the government has made billions of dollars available in the form of state and federal grants to various ethnic groups in Australia. The programme, which has been described as "a federal policy of tribalism" by critics in Australia (Blainey 1988:42), encourages Turks, Greeks, Vietnamese, Lebanese and other ethnic groups to maintain their homeland loyalties as well as their ethnic cohesion and culture. Critics charge that such grants "expose the hypocrisy of a Government which claims to hate any form of racial or ethnic discrimination. The ethnic grants are loaded with discrimination" (Blainey 1988:42). The policy has remained controversial in Australia for other reasons. All migrants except British migrants are eligible for payments and grants of various kinds. British migrants are specifically excluded as qualifying in terms of ethnic origin. As "automatic Australians" they claim they are discriminated against, as do many non-eligible Australian-born citizens.
 A document issued by Johannesburg office of the Australian Trade Commissioner to Australian businesspeople wishing to do business with their South African counterparts states that it "is acceptable and commonplace to refer to the different groups as "blacks", "whites" and "coloureds" " (Austrade 1997). This perhaps indicates that Australians are uncomfortable with direct, racial labels.
 The essential points of the Action plan of Australia-South Africa Joint Ministerial Commission included:
. Double Taxation Agreement; Investment Protection Agreement
. Bilateral cooperation in Cairns Group, UNCTAD and WTO
. Standardisation and harmonisation of customs tariffs and their applicability
. Collaboration in health services
. Emphasis on joint ventures, particularly commercial mining projects
. Exchanges on standards issues
. Technology transfer across a range of manufacturing processes
. Intensification of technical cooperation in major infrastructure projects, involving Australian companies
A major obstacle to increased trade is a lack of first-hand information and up-to-date experience of South African market conditions in Australia. Australian media reports on South Africa tend to focus on high crime levels in South Africa little relatively little reportage on financial and business conditions (Austrade, Johannesburg, 1997).
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Professor Gary M. Mersham Ph.D., APR, is presently Head of the Department of Communication Sciences at the University of Zululand, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. An international scholar, he has taught and read papers in the USA, India, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Australia, Madagascar and Mauritius. He has published four books, is a contributing author to the first South African textbook on mass communication and is a co-author of the first comprehensive book on Corporate Social Responsibility in South Africa. His present research interests are in electronically mediated and digital communications, development communication and South African/Australian relations. His most recent publications include the books Public relations, development and social investment : A southern African perspective. Pretoria: Van Schaik, 1995 (with R. Rensburg & C. Skinner); . New approaches to communication and public relations - a Southern African approach. (with C. Skinner) Johannesburg: Heinemann Higher Education, 1999; and the article 1996. "Remote working environments: management and organisational policy". Equid Novi, 17 (1): pp.68-87.
|Paper presented at the African Studies Association of Australasia & the Pacific 22nd Annual & International Conference (Perth, 1999)|
New African Perspectives: Africa, Australasia, & the Wider World at the end of the twentieth century