Since the advent of democracy in 1994, domestic and international expectations have steadily grown regarding South Africa’s new role as a responsible and respected member of the international community. These expectations have included the hope that the country will play a leading role in a variety of international, regional and subregional forums, and that it will become an active participant in attempts to resolve various regional and international conflicts. Such notions have been strongly reinforced by international efforts to build indigenous peacekeeping capacities and the ill-conceived slogan of ‘African solutions to African problems’.
The South African approach to conflict resolution has hitherto been strongly informed by its own recent history and experience in the peaceful resolution of seemingly intractable conflicts. Thus, while Pretoria may be compelled to participate in peace missions to alleviate the plight of other peoples who are struggling to resolve similar conflicts, it would prefer to do so through diplomacy rather than through resort to the military instrument. However, it seems that the current crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may precipitate an atypical intervention by South Africa.
It is clear that the conflict in the DRC will not ‘go away’ in a hurry, and that South Africa, among others, will remain subject to multiple pressures to ‘do something’ to help put an end to the fighting. The military situation points to a stalemate, rather than to major battles and decisive victories by one side or the other — at least until such a time as there is a major shift in the balance of forces. This ‘not real war — not real peace’ situation militates against a genuine will for compromise at the negotiating table, as have been witnessed in the proliferation of unsuccessful attempts to broker or negotiate a cease-fire agreement.
South Africa clearly prefers the role of peacemaker to that of peacekeeper. However, the outcomes of the Lusaka ministerial meeting of 16 January and the Windhoek mini-summit of 18 January 1999 would indicate that Pretoria has been ‘upstaged’ as peacemaker by those who are directly involved in the conflict. It seems that one increasingly has to put one’s troops where one’s mouth is to be taken seriously as a peacebroker in Africa.
Mark Malan, Peace Missions Programme, Institute for Security Studies