Ideas and practices of South Africa's post-apartheid leadership role in Africa pivot around two perspectives. First, there is the triumphalist position that invokes South Africa's hegemony during the apartheid era, squandered in the regional destabilisation wars; proponents suggest that this hegemony should be recaptured for noble leadership purposes. This perspective posits leadership as the reclamation of place and space in articulating and shaping Africa's destiny. As a hegemon endowed with the economic and military muscle, South Africa is bound to lead in setting the norms and rules that would undergird security and economic cooperation in Africa (McGowan and Ahwiren-Obeng 1998; Habib and Nthakeng 2006; Alden and Le Pere 2009). The second perspective is less sanguine about hegemonic pretensions, proposing that years of isolation alongside the escalating demands on the South Africa economy furnish profound limits to Pretoria's capabilities for projecting soft and hard power in Africa. Besides, these limits to hegemony are compounded by the complexities of African conditions, particularly the geographical and cultural diversities, and the problems of galvanising leadership in African issues. Given these constraints, South Africa's role in promoting security, prosperity and stability has always proceeded cautiously and modestly through multilateral rather than unilateral approaches (Bischoff 2003; Schoeman 2003; Daniel et al. 2003; Barber 2005).
This chapter examines South Africa's policies in Africa on the basis of vigorous debates about the depth and breadth of its leadership in Africa, and proposes that South Africa's recent role in Africa has amounted to a frantic search for leadership that balances unilateral and multilateral perspectives. In a departure from Thabo Mbeki's penchant for collective and multilateral policies, Jacob Zuma has veered toward unilateralism that amounts to a quest for effective roles in Africa. Zuma has groped for leadership in Africa because of two major factors. First, since the mid-1990s, South Africa's ability to project itself in Africa hinged primarily on issues that galvanised the coalescence of collective leadership captured in the alliance of Mbeki, Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, Algeria's Mohammed Bouteflika, and Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade.