From state security to human security: South-African military effectiveness since 1994

Abel Esterhuyse


During the apartheid era South Africa had a surprisingly comprehensive understanding of security which was founded on theoretical papers by Andre Beaufré and was put into terms such as “total attack” and “total strategy”. The government white paper on defence of 1977 stated that the protection and preservation of a state’s sovereignty had turned from purely military into extensive national affairs. Here the irony was that this national security strategy turned South Africa into a security state and militarized the entire society. A closer look on the apartheid military, and especially on the way how the anti-guerrilla campaign was led in Namibia, shows detailed knowledge of human aspects which were applied in the course of these missions. Finally, after the end of the apartheid era, human security became the central idea in the security concept of the new South African government. The acceptance of human security by the government after 1994 was increased by the necessity of de-militarizing the society of South Africa. The ANC-government’s defence approach was mainly anchored in the principle of a non-offensive and non-impending defence. Thus South Africa turned from an (over-) militarized into an (extremely) de-militarized society. At the moment South Africa in many respects represents an example of Richard Betts’ warning concerning the acceptance of a wider definition of security. Betts points out that military strength keeps on playing an important part and that countries ignoring this fact do this at their own risks. Betts also offers the argument that extensive definitions of security quickly become synonyms for “interest” and “well-being”. This creates the risk that security is too widely fanned out to have any practical value. This article aims at describing the results of the turn from national security to human security in terms of the South African military effectivity since 1994. The South African armed force was not only confronted with the concept of human security which was to be unravelled. It had also to find out what the military was supposed to do about all the non-military aspects of human security. At the same time the South African Military had to turn into an organisation which is justified and which largely represents South African society. Instead of missions at home peace missions in Africa became the main military centre of gravity. This article offers a short survey of different views on military effectivity and focuses on the analysis the South African military effectivity during the Mandela and Mbeki administrations.