South Africa's growing economic presence across the African continent has sparked a debate in public and scholarly circles as to its intentions. While some have been quick to see South African business and parastatals as part of a larger hegemonic project pursued by Pretoria, the authors’ more structured analysis of economic ties with Africa reveals a more complex picture. Institutionalised forms of regional cooperation, such as SACU and SADC, must be contrasted with the activities of South African multinationals and parastatals on the wider African stage to understand the possibilities and limitations of hegemonic practice open to South Africa. Beyond its own region, a key determinant will be its relations with the other leading African power, Nigeria, as well as its ability to compete with other external actors. Finally, the role of ideology is a crucial measure of South African hegemony, and while certainly its ‘soft power’ is evident at the societal level, some African elites actively resist the pull of South Africa-based ideas.