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The Role of South Africa’s Ruling Class in the Rest of Africa


[i][ii]When walking down the streets of any town or city in sub-Saharan Africa one of the most striking things is the dominance of South African linked businesses. On almost every corner the neon lights and billboards of companies like MTN, Stanbic, Shoprite, Mr Price, Pick ‘n Pay, Nando’s etc. loom large. Some places, such as the southern coast of Mozambique, have become virtual ‘little South Africas’ – with beer-bellied rich South Africans tearing around in 4X4s and flaunting their wealth in the form of luxury holiday homes and speedboats. Likewise, South African troops can be seen patrolling in countries such as the Sudan – supposedly keeping the peace!
 
All of these are the outward symbols of South Africa’s economic and state power in the region. In most southern African countries, South African based private and state-owned companies have become one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment.  In some places this has even seen them surpassing the investments from the UK, US and EU[iii]. It is no exaggeration to say that South African linked corporations have come to play a huge role in the mining, financial, retail, services, telecommunications and leisure sectors in southern Africa[iv]. Coupled to this, South Africa runs a major trade surplus with the rest of Africa: it exports five times more than it imports with regards to the continent[v]. The South African state also has a colossal presence in the region, whether as the head of ‘peacekeeping’ missions, the driver of trade and investment agreements, or the leader of the African Union (AU).
 
In this article, using an anarchist analysis, it will be argued that this lopsided trade, expansive investment and projection of state power by the South African ruling class are signs of the imperialist role they play in southern Africa. In undertaking this, it will be outlined how the South African ruling class, as an integral part of their imperialist role, are conducting a class war against the workers and the poor across sub-Saharan Africa. Through examining this class war, it will hopefully become clear that the South African state is being used as a key instrument by the ruling class – made up of capitalists and high-ranking state officials – to further their own interests in southern Africa. The consequence of highlighting the imperialist nature of the South African state also has implications for the strategies and tactics that should be used in struggle. It will be strongly argued that due to its hierarchical centralising and expansionist ambitions, the state cannot be used as a tool for liberation in South Africa or in the region.
 
Before outlining an anarchist analysis of imperialism, and discussing why the South African ruling class should be considered imperialist, it is important to highlight some of the main debates on the left around the nature of South Africa’s role in the rest of Africa. In doing so, it will become clear why and how an anarchist interpretation differs from these.   
 
Differing positions on South Af

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