The concentric circles of South Africa’s foreign policy under Jacob Zuma

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South Africa’s foreign policy could be viewed as a set of concentric circles which define the Republic’s international priorities. In an attempt to bring coherence and predictability to them, the Zuma government has tried to learn from its predecessor, the Mbeki government (1999–2008), by putting emphasis on key international relations and concerns, and the idea was suggested that these different layers reinforced each other. According to stated policy, pursuit of the national interests lay at the heart of the Republic’s international strategies and came to be regarded as the new glue that holds it together, albeit it is four years into Zuma’s government and the ‘national interest’ remains poorly developed and in need of expansion and implementation. A set of wider foreign policy concentric circles informs foreign policy, championed as ‘Pursuing African Advancement and Enhanced Cooperation’. This agenda was to be pursued under a series of sub-goals or sub-categories, for our purposes concentric circles, namely (a) closing the gap between domestic and foreign policy; (b) continued prioritisation of the African continent—the Mbeki government called it African Agenda, or Africa first policy; (c) strengthening South–South relations; (d) strategic relations with strategic formations for the North; (e) participating in the global system of governance and (f) strengthening political and economic relations. While these six pillars were clearly developed on paper, and self-standing, how they all relate to the epicentre of the national interest and overlap one another is not so clear. More serious effort is needed on the part of government to close this lacuna, and the idea of coherence between them should not be assumed if there is to be consistency between them and the stated annulus of national interest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-172
Number of pages20
JournalIndia Quarterly
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • African advancement
  • Concentric circles
  • Jacob Zuma foreign policy
  • National interest driven foreign policy
  • Participate in global system of governance
  • South-South relations
  • Strategic relations with the North
  • Strengthening political and economic relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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