In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Politics of Southern Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Southern African News
  • Journals
  • Identity Politics
  • Traditional Authorities and Customary Law

Political Science Politics of Southern Africa
Carolyn M. Somerville
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 November 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0114


Southern Africa comprises the ten countries of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The region shares many of the same experiences of precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial rule as other regions in sub-Saharan Africa. Along with other countries across the continent, the countries of Southern African experienced colonial history. At the same time, Gretchen Bauer and Scott D. Taylor, in their book Politics in Southern Africa (Bauer and Taylor 2011, cited under General Overviews), describe Southern Africa as having a quality of “regionness” that makes it distinct from other African regions. European settlement in Southern Africa tended to be more entrenched and lasted longer than in the rest of Africa. European settler colonies existed in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique, and, consequently, these African countries were among the last to achieve independence (Angola and Mozambique in the 1970s, Zimbabwe in 1980, and Namibia in 1990; South Africa became a minority-led republic in 1961 and achieved majority-rule in 1994). And where Europeans settled, the end of white minority rule required armed struggle on the part of Africans in order to achieve independence. After independence, the countries that fought wars of independence implemented socialist or redistributionist policies, which made them targets of external interference and destabilization. Angola and Mozambique experienced punishing retribution from South Africa and the United States for turning to the Eastern bloc for support. Moreover, whether a country committed itself to socialist policies or not, they all found themselves confronting the South African apartheid state, which was determined to maintain economic and military hegemony in the region at any cost. Finally, the countries of the region have a long history of economic interdependence. Because of South Africa’s dominance, neighboring countries were dependent upon South Africa for trade, transportation (especially the land-locked countries), and communication. In addition, migrants from neighboring Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Lesotho historically journeyed to South Africa to work in that country’s agricultural, mining, and manufacturing industries. The earnings that migrants made became crucial to the survival of families left behind back home. Eventually, Southern African countries created regional integration schemes, among them the Southern African Customs Union and the Southern African Development Community, to improve their economic fortunes and develop cooperative security regimes.

General Overviews

For an introduction to the region, a number of books provide an excellent historical background. Two recommended books are Bauer and Taylor 2011, which covers more contemporary events in the region, and Denoon and Nyeko 1984, which examines precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial history up to the mid-1980s. For a different perspective on the region, Love 2005 examines Southern Africa in the context of world politics and the forces of globalization.

  • Bauer, Gretchen, and Scott D. Taylor, eds. Politics in Southern Africa: Transition and Transformation. 2d ed. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2011.

    The political, economic, and social conditions of Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa Zambia, and Zimbabwe as well as chapters covering regional issues (HIV/AIDS, women, and foreign relations). The book is an important introduction to the region and excellent for undergraduate students.

  • Denoon, Donald, and Balam Nyeko. Southern Africa since 1800. London and New York: Longman, 1984.

    Discusses precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial history of the region and the impact of South Africa on neighboring countries.

  • Love, Janice. Southern Africa in World Politics: Local Aspirations and Global Entanglements. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2005.

    An examination of the forces of globalization broadly defined (military, political, economic, cultural, migration, and environmental). The author examines the interactions of local, regional, and global actors and forces and their impact on peoples, states, and societies in Southern Africa.

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