Let’s be candid — the historical shift to democracy in South Africa in 1994 has not only elevated the country’s global standing but also completely reshaped it. This transformative transition has been a powerful force for change, marking a new era in South Africa’s history and its relationship with the world, a change that is hard to overstate. 

As we commemorate the 30th anniversary, it is evident that South Africa has undergone a significant transformation from its previous pariah status to becoming a respected global player. This milestone is a testament to the country’s journey and the resilience of its citizens.

This transformation has been facilitated by truth and reconciliation initiatives, reintegration into the global community, and notable achievements such as hosting and winning the African Cup in 1996 and securing victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Undeniably, the democratic system has played a pivotal role in bringing about this notable shift in global recognition.

The 30th-anniversary celebrations are not just a milestone but a testament to South Africa’s citizens’ unwavering resilience and collective triumph. Their steadfast pursuit of political, social, and economic self-determination has driven this democratic transition. 

The celebratory atmosphere of these events has sparked meaningful discussions about the present condition of our democracy, which has historically served as a beacon of hope for nations striving for democratic ideals.

The powerful emotions that surface during this celebration are a moving reminder that the 1994 political transition feels as fresh and relevant today as it did when it first occurred. This steadfast conviction is a powerful testament to the enduring legacy of Mandela’s vision and leadership, which continues to ignite hope and inspiration for the present and future generations.

As these discussions unfold in public discourse, it becomes increasingly clear that South Africa’s democratic transition has not only elevated the country’s global recognition but also offered a beacon of hope to nations yearning for freedom. The actions undertaken since the political transition have resonated globally, instilling a sense of hope and optimism in conversations worldwide. 

Thus, as we mark the 30th anniversary, it is crucial that we take a moment and ponder Nelson Mandela’s profound words on the eve of South Africa’s transition to democracy in 1993. He stated that South Africa is ready to take its rightful place in global affairs, an assertion that not everyone comprehended at the time of his utterances. 

Mandela reminded us of the importance of resilience as he maintained: I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. However, I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” 

At this juncture of our democracy, it is befitting to revisit Madiba’s proclamation, which is crucial and pertinent, encapsulating a pivotal moment in our nation’s pursuit of freedom. This denotes an opportunity to commemorate another significant milestone in our country and reflect on the accomplishments, challenges, and prospects that lie ahead. To reflect and tribute is not just a formality but a chance for us to express our gratitude and humility for the sacrifices and struggles that have brought us to this point and to reaffirm our commitment to the continued growth and prosperity of our democratic brand.

The thirty-year evolution of our democratic dispensation is not just a political system, but a reflection of shared values guided by the fundamental principles of unity, fairness, democracy, non-racialism, and non-sexismenshrined in the democratic Constitution, Act 108 of 1996. 

These core values are not just on paper; they pragmatically shape democratic South Africa’s domestic policies and significantly influence the orientation and execution of the country’s foreign policy through the diplomacy of Ubuntu in engaging with the world. This should make us all proud of our country’s global influence, rooted in our democratic values, as, since 1994, South Africa has asserted its standing and presence globally. 

In striving to achieve its objectives, South Africa has fortified its position by steadfastly upholding the principles of multilateralism, human rights, development, partnerships, and cooperation, thereby leveraging soft power to exert considerable global influence. The nation’s active participation in key international organisations reflects its steadfast dedication to championing a more equitable and just world and its unwavering commitment to pursuing shared prosperity for the betterment of Africa and the world. South Africa’s role in multilateral institutions and regional partnerships needs no binoculars as it is well exhibited in the international public gallery. The country’s engagement with the European Union, IBSA, BRICS, IORA, Group of G77, Commonwealth, and G20 bears testimony to a thriving global brand aided by the democracy marking its 30th anniversary.

Through active engagement in the international arena, South Africa is strategically redefining its global standing. This effort provides crucial insights into the influence of democracy on the country’s foreign policy decisions, which have played a pivotal role in shaping its global reputation. In this regard, the words of  Martin Roll – Business & Brand Strategist, are relevant and remind us that, given the strategic importance of country branding and the benefits it can bring to the nations, thus important for countries to be very aggressive and proactive about building their country brand. 

It’s important to highlight that South Africa’s global agenda is shaped by an independent foreign policy that prioritises collaboration over competition, informed and influenced by the African philosophy of Ubuntu, which translates to humanity “umuntu ngumntu ngabantu”. This philosophy is dominant and central to the country’s global engagement efforts to advance its national interests. Therefore, aligning with Ubuntu, South Africaconsistently extends support in response to unforeseen humanitarian catastrophes, earning recognition globally.

We have noticed that South Africa’s presence on the global stage is not solely reliant on government representation but is also driven by the impactful efforts of organised organisations like the Gift of the Givers. This organisation has fearlessly extended its support to even the most challenging and complex environments, embodying the spirit of Ubuntu and reflecting the impact of the country’s public diplomacy in asserting itself globally.

South Africa’s proactive public diplomacy efforts have significantly elevated its global standing since the country’s transition to democracy. Edmund Gullion articulated this approach, a key component of international relations in 1965. Gullion, a respected career diplomat and dean of the School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University emphasised public attitudes’ crucial role in shaping and implementing foreign policies.

The above assertion gains strength from Professor Joseph Nye’s views on public diplomacy in a changing world at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. When considering the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy and its influence on its global position, it is imperative to recognise scholarly perspectives as they have significantly shaped our country’s decisions. Professor Nye underscored public diplomacy is crucial in helping nations achieve their goals in global politics, especially in today’s rapidly evolving world.

Professor Nye’s insights, shared 18 years after South Africa’s transition to democracy, continue to carry weight. They offer a valuable foundation for contemplating how the introduction of the democratic system propelled South Africa onto the international stage, solidifying its position as a significant global leader and acknowledging the undeniable disparities between pre- and post-1994 South Africa is important. The symbolism of the rainbow colours representing unity has substantially impacted the democratic South Africa brand.

Professor Nye’s proposition that a nation can achieve positive outcomes in international relations by promoting its standard of prosperity, openness, and values resonates with the emphasis on democracy as the cornerstone of South Africa’s current global standing. This underscores the significance of presenting a favourable image to other nations. As South Africa commemorates the 30th anniversary of its democracy, it is crucial to acknowledge Nye’s assertion, which also underscores Nelson Mandela’s resolute statement in 1993 that ‘the time had come for South Africa to claim its rightful place in global affairs’. Mandela’s vision and determination underscore the global significance of post-apartheid South Africa. It remains crucial to consider that her brand has thrived pragmatically since then, not just rhetorically, to please the public. 30 years later.

The transition to a democratic society has firmly established South Africa as a powerful brand, reflecting the realisation of Mandela’s vision for global leadership. Moreover, South Africa has been seen as a symbol of hope and unity, representing a wonderfully diverse nation that inspires worldwide. The country’s role in the African continent since democratisation cannot be emphasised as it influenced other countries to be associated with the brand South Africa in seeking solutions to the challenges impacting their developmental aspirations. South Africa’s involvement in promoting democracy and good governance in Africa saw the continent leading initiatives to transform and redefine its outlook, followed by the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) into the African Union (AU) in 2001. Credit to South Africa as such transformation of the OAU occurred under its AU chairship and being the host of the AU Summit in Durban. 

As the Chairperson of the African Union, South Africa became influential in the developmental trajectories of the newly transformed African Union, placing itself in a better position to advance national interests through its structures, as demonstrated by her role in the establishment of critical initiatives. Here, we witnessed South Africa’s contribution to peace missions and conflict resolution to steer the continent toward good governance and economic development.


South Africa’s democratic system has made incredible progress over the past 30 years, showcasing its resilience and resolve. Despite facing numerous challenges, the country remains steadfast in its commitment to creating a better future. South Africa continues to serve as a symbol of hope, and its efforts in promoting good governance and tackling corruption, poverty, and inequality further cement its positive reputation on the global stage. 

As Nelson Mandela remarked: “You can see that there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintops of our desires.” The power of democracy has been instrumental in elevating South Africa’s global standing, significantly enhancing its recognition worldwide. It’s clear that the democratic system has played a pivotal role in shaping South Africa’s impressive progress, contributing to its positive global image.


Curtis Singo

He is a South African diplomat stationed in Bern, Switzerland, and has substantial expertise in government communications, public diplomacy, and the promotion of trade and investment. He holds a Master’s Degree in Governance and Political Transformation from the University of the Free State, complemented by two Honours Degrees in International Relations and Governance, as well as an undergraduates in Communication Studies. Notably, he has authored several insightful opinion pieces on South Africa’s political landscape and its international engagements, thereby contributing to the enlightenment of the populace.