South Africa first: State initiatives towards the creation of regional economic networks in the interwar period

Martin, Bill
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SANCTIONS! COUNTER-SANCTIONS! Behind the screaming headlines of local papers stands the stark reality of economic interdependence. On the one hand South Africa's dependent position vis-a-vis core areas is sharply etched, notwithstanding the state's bravado. On the other hand, and more pertinent for us here, lie the relationships that tie together economic activity from the Copperbelt to Cape Agulhas. In relation to the latter it is not, of course, simply the burgeoning weight of South African productive activity that underpins the struggle over the resources and wealth of southern Africa. For as is all too apparent to even the casual observer, highly unequal exchanges within production labour, capital, and transport networks pivot on the South African heartland of southern Africa. Even as South African capital and the South African state stand in a subordinate relationship to core areas of the world-economy, South African domination of southern Africa remains no less evident and no less powerful. ... This paper represents a modest attempt to redress this state of affairs. In the following pages an examination is made of what is claimed to have been a critical epoch in the emergence of southern Africa as a region of the capitalist world-economy, namely the interwar period. Clearly this period marked out the beginning of South Africa's industrial drive. Yet to construe this as the natural creation of a national economy misses both the driving forces that succeeded in effecting this transformation as well as its meaning for southern Africa as a whole. In this latter area our basic claim may be simply stated: it was during this phase of world-economic depression and rivalry in the interstate system that initiatives by the South African state succeeded in breaking the relationships that bound South Africa within the peripheral zone of the world-economy. Out of this process would emerge the basis for unequal exchange within southern Africa itself. Paradoxically this process entailed a lessening of ties with surrounding territories, a pattern to be reversed in the expansionary post-World War II years.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 13 October 1986
South Africa. Foreign economic relations