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Patrick Bond (2013) Sub-imperialism as Lubricant of Neoliberalism: South African ‘deputy sheriff’ duty within brics. Third World Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 2: 251-270.

South Africa’s role in global economy and geopolitics was, during the apartheid era, explicitly sub-imperialist, as the West’s ‘deputy sheriff’ in a tough neighbourhood But, with democracy in 1994, there arose a debate surrounding the difference between the liberation government’s (leftist) foreign policy rhetoric and its practice. Defining the sub-imperial standpoint at this stage is important in because of the extreme economic, social and environmental contradictions that have worsened within South Africa, for which anti-imperialist rhetoric is sometimes a salve. However, the explicit strategies for global engagement chosen by Pretoria, including joining the Brazil–Russia–India– China (BRIC) alliance in early 2012, have not proven effective in reforming world power relations. The degree to which BRICS has recently accommodated imperialism—especially in matters related to economic and ecological crises— suggests that critics should more forcefully confront the general problem of sub-imperial re-legitimation of neoliberalism. That problem requires a theory of sub-imperialism sufficiently robust to cut through the domestic and foreign policy claims made by the BRICS regimes, of which South Africa’s are among the most compelling given the ruling elite’s ubiquitous ‘talk left, walk right’ tendency and the extremely high levels of social struggles against injustice that result.

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