Global South Powers in Transition

A Comparative Analysis of Mexico and South Africa

by Deon Geldenhuys (Volume editor) Humberto González (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 514 Pages


Employing a novel collaborative transnational methodology, this ground-breaking book presents the first comprehensive and systematic comparison of Mexico and South Africa. Although geographically, historically and diplomatically far apart, Mexico and South Africa are ambitious and influential powers in the Global South and also experience wide-ranging domestic transitions. A binational team of 26 researchers from the two countries, all specialists in their respective disciplines, probe the transitions that Mexico and South Africa are undergoing in areas such as socio-cultural diversity, domestic politics, economic development, labour dynamics, social and territorial inequality, food security, crime and violence, and foreign relations. The detailed country studies allow the authors to identify striking similarities but also profound differences between the two societies. In so doing, the book helps to explain Mexico and South Africa to each other but also to the world at large.

Table Of Contents


Indispensable and generous support from many quarters enabled us to take this book project from inception to completion.

The RISC research consortium served as incubator for the project: the idea of the initiative was born at a RISC conference and we could from the outset count on the steadfast support of Prof. Harlan Koff, co-founder and President of the consortium. Apart from offering sound advice, Harlan obtained funds for our research project and gave us the opportunity to have the study published in the RISC book series produced by Peter Lang (Brussels). Financial support was also provided by South Africa’s National Research Foundation; the National Council for Science and Technology of Mexico (CONACYT), and Prof. Chris Landsberg’s SARChI unit for African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg. Thanks to these contributions we could hold two meetings of the authors involved, one in Guadalajara and the other in Johannesburg. Professors Virginia Garcia, Guillermo de la Peña and Robert Melville, all attached to Mexico’s Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS), deserve our appreciation for their support and encouragement as we steered a rather extraordinary research endeavour through its various phases.

We are deeply indebted to the colleagues from Mexico and South Africa who participated in the project. All experts in their respective fields, they gave generously of their time and energy to contribute to the book. It was a protracted journey to complete the study, but they all stayed the course. If the book helps to explain Mexico and South Africa to each other and to the world at large, the credit is due to these authors. As editors we were privileged to work with such a dedicated and capable binational team of researchers.

Humberto González and Deon Geldenhuys

Foreword by Professor Harlan Koff, University of Luxembourg and President of RISC

The Consortium for Comparative Research on Regional Integration and Social Cohesion (RISC) has fostered dialogue between world regions on the human and environmental impacts of regional integration since 2007. RISC was founded with the aim of assembling scholars from different world regions, who normally would not interact, in order to question social cohesion processes and promote solidarity. In short, the consortium aimed to re-orient debates over regional integration away from institutions and economies and move them towards people and communities. RISC has proudly carried out this mission for twelve years through various initiatives supported by scholars from all over the world.

Mexico and South Africa have been represented in RISC’s activities since the consortium’s beginnings. Many of RISC’s edited volumes included chapters on important themes that affect these countries, which indirectly highlighted numerous similarities between them. In Perspectivas comparativas del liderazgo / Comparative perspectives on leadership (Maganda and Koff 2009), the chapters by Deon Geldenhuys and Maria de Lourdes Dieck Asad and Jacobo Ramirez juxtaposed South Africa and Mexico’s international leadership on themes related to human rights and democratic governance with their respective domestic shortcomings in these fields. Two of RISC’s Stephen P. Koff Prize winners, Felipe Hevia (2011) and Victoria Graham (2015), examined issues related to the quality of democracy in Mexico and South Africa and their impact on social conditions in these countries. Other RISC volumes have analysed salient questions in Mexico and South Africa, such as social cohesion (Moore, 2013), governance, accountability and social vulnerability (Affolderbach, Du Bry, Gonzalez and Parra 2012), and urban violence (Espinosa and Fazio 2016).

In fact, Mexico and South Africa are important cases for comparison because they are emerging countries in global political and economic affairs and as such, they are characterised by expanding opportunities for social mobility and increasingly menacing threats to social cohesion, including the growth of socio-economic inequalities and widespread ←9 | 10→crime and violence. Most importantly, both countries are addressing serious governance issues related to transparency and corruption that dominated their respective 2018 presidential elections, won by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Mexico) and Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa).

The innovative comparative discussion of Mexico and South Africa presented here is both timely and original. It builds on the indirect comparisons mentioned above by explicitly comparing historical developments and contemporary trends in Mexico and South Africa. Humberto González and Deon Geldenhuys have been leaders in the RISC Consortium since its beginnings and through this project, they have both made an invaluable contribution to the content and spirit of RISC’s intellectual mission. The content of the book examines fundamental issues in emerging countries and in doing so it questions the value of such “emergence” through discussion of its consequences. Simultaneously, González and Geldenhuys assembled an impressive group of national experts on political and social issues in Mexico and South Africa and opened a forum for comparative dialogue that offered an opportunity to question analytical frameworks utilised in each country. The spirit of this exchange is present in this volume as well and it contributes to the project’s originality.

RISC is proud to support this book because it is the first systemic comparative study of Mexico and South Africa of its kind. This comparison sheds an original light on the current state of affairs in these countries, which opens new avenues for debate on development processes and their results. The book’s impact, however, surpasses its geographic focus on two states because the sections presented here comparatively address important themes in regional development, such as governance and democracy, management of strategic resources, demographic and social trends (such as population movements, urban crime, etc.) and the social impacts of expanding economic markets, within the above-mentioned context of “emergence.” In doing so, this volume makes an important contribution to our understanding of the human and environmental impacts of regional integration throughout the world.

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Affolderbach J., Du Bry T., Gonzalez O. and Parra C. (2012). Reinforcing governance perspectives on development, poverty and global crises – RISC 2010. Brussels: Peter Lang.

Espinosa S. and Fazio A. (2016). Globalization, violence and security: Local impacts of regional integration. Brussels: Peter Lang.

Graham V. (2015). Pass or fail? Assessing the quality of democracy in South Africa. Brussels: Peter Lang.

Hevia F. (2011). Poder y ciudadanía en el combate a la pobreza. El caso de Progresa/Oportunidades de México. Brussels: Peter Lang.

Maganda C. and Koff H. (2009). Perspectivas comparativas del liderazgo / Comparative Perspectives on Leadership. Brussels: Peter Lang.

Moore C. (2013). Regional integration and social cohesion. Perspectives from the developing world. Brussels: Peter Lang.

Foreword by Professor Chris Landsberg, SARChI Chair in African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg

Here is an original, comparative study that grew out of a conference of the RISC research consortium. At a time when we are flooded with analyses of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping, it is refreshing to see scholars from Mexico and South Africa conducting comparative work identifying the convergences and divergences between two unique countries. While both Mexico and South Africa qualify to be dubbed emerging powers (or pivotal states), very little scholarly work has been done about the two in a comparative fashion. This is definitely an area that merits expanded research and inquiry, something the book does in admirable fashion.

As gleaned from the title of the book, the editors depict Mexico and South Africa as powers from the Global South, suggesting that they are powers in relation to states in their respective near-abroad and to some other states. Mexico and South Africa indeed have reason to regard themselves as regional anchor states or pivots – based on their population size, relative land size and gross domestic product, as well as the roles they play in their respective sub-regions. Both countries are members of the G20 and feature in the NationMaster inventory of 25 “emerging markets”. There is much interest in their role orientations in the global arena, and whether or not they punch above their weight, or whether the scholarly and policy hype about them is warranted.

From a South African vantage point, its position in the Southern African sub-region is especially apposite. The Republic is an economic hegemon in the area, its economy is three times the size of the rest of the 14 SADC (Southern African Development Community) member states put together, and it accounts for 80 % of the bloc’s trade. South Africa has the most diverse and advanced economy in Africa, yet at home it struggles with “two economies”, one advanced and globally competitive, and the other underdeveloped in which the majority of the population struggles to survive, and it grapples with an unprecedented unemployment crisis.

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While many a scholar shies away from comparative work, this book embraces the challenge openly. Relying largely on a qualitative, case-oriented analysis, the study makes room for quantitative, variable-oriented research. The team comprises authors with in-depth knowledge of niche areas in the political, social and economic domains of the two societies and in their external relations.

The book’s novel collaborative transnational methodology should be welcomed as a bold exploratory achievement. It anchors the book theoretically, and shapes the rich empirical data and analyses.

The editors and researchers use a variant of the diplomatic concept of bilateralism in this volume, namely binationalism. This is achieved by paring researchers in binational groups as they specialise in various issues, from the economy, social cohesion and race relations to crime and of course foreign policy and diplomacy. The 26 researchers from the two countries give the inquiry a depth and reach that unearth new perspectives and fresh analyses. I was privileged to participate in the South Africa leg of the authors’ meetings and learned a great deal from the debates, discussions and discourse about these two dynamic and complex states.

A key theme running through Global South powers in transition is that the two countries see themselves as emerging powers from the Global South and both harbour ambitions of enhanced South-South cooperation, and they also face many comparable domestic and international challenges. Paradoxically, though, Mexico and South Africa still have very little engagement with each other.

A fascinating aspect of the collection is how the researchers grapple with the multiplicity of internal and external challenges confronting the two states from the points of view of societal shifts and multifarious political and economic changes. Thus, a rich part of the book is that it considers wide-ranging issues spanning socio-cultural diversity and social cohesion, demographic features, labour dynamics, political democratisation, economic liberalisation, social and territorial inequalities, food security and food sovereignty, violent crime and criminal justice systems, as well as the international roles and foreign policy orientations of Mexico and South Africa in a globalised world.

By presenting a systematic comparison pf Mexico and South Africa, the book will hopefully spark great interest in pivotal states and emerging powers beyond the BRICS constellation.

Table of illustrations

List of illustrations (by chapter and country, in order of presentation)

Chapter 1 (Socio-cultural diversity: the struggle for nation and citizenship)


Map 1: Geographic distribution of Mexico’s indigenous population by municipalities, 2015

Table 1: Indigenous linguistic families, languages, and number of speakers (< 3 year old), 2010

Table 2: Estimates of the population of Mexico, 1823–80

Table 3: Census during the Diaz dictatorship, 1895–1910

Table 4: Total population and indigenous language speakers, 1921–90

Table 5: Categories of indigenous population, 2000 and 2010

South Africa

Figure 1: Languages according to mother tongue, 2011

Table 6: Provincial variation in languages according to mother tongue, 2011

Figure 2: Religious affiliation

Chapter 2 (Demographic dynamics: transitions, heterogeneity and mobility)


Table 1: Selected demographic indicators, Mexico, 1970–2050

Table 2: Selected demographic indicators of Mexico and South Africa, 2010

Figure 1: Main causes of death by gender, 2010

Table 3: Demographic indicators by indigenous language

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Figure 2: Age dependency ratios, 1970–2050

Map 1: Old-age dependency ratios by state, 2010

Table 4: Population annual growth rates by urbanisation level of locality, 2000 and 2010

Map 2: Percentage of rural population by state and main metropolitan zones, 2010

Table 5: Total population and domestic migration, 1900–2010

Figure 3: Net migration rates by state, 2010 (percentage)

Figure 4: Estimated annual flows of Mexican immigrants to US, 2000–13 (based on the year of arrival, average of 2–3 years before)

South Africa

Table 6: Population estimates by population group and sex, 2016

Table 7: Population estimates by province, 2016

Map 3: Map of South Africa, showing the 9 provinces

Table 8: Poverty headcounts, 2006, 2009 and 2011

Table 9: Demographic indicators, 2002–16

Table 10: Population in urban areas per province, 2011 census

Chapter 3 (The political dynamics of democratisation)

South Africa

Table 1: General election results, based on a majoritarian electoral system

Table 2: National election results, 1994–2014

Chapter 4 (Labour dynamics and insertion in the global economy)


Table 1: Index of the labour tendency of poverty (ILTP), 2005–18

Table 2: Employment indicators in Mexico, 2018

Table 3: Size and composition of informal labour and the informal sector, 2018 (%)

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Graph 1: Evolution of the real minimum wage (index, base 2000=100)

Table 4: Real minimum wage and IMSS real wage

Table 5: Union membership and unionisation rates, 1992–2017

Table 6: Labour strike petitions and strikes in federal jurisdiction in industries, 1989–2018

Table 7: Labour representation in Mexico’s Federal House of Representatives, 1979–2012

South Africa

Table 8: Architecture of labour market institutions

Table 9: Occupations of the employed

Graph 2: South Africa’s labour market structure

Table 10: Trade union density levels

Graph 3: Workdays lost due to strikes

Table 11: Real wage growth rates; formal sector employees

Table 12: “COSATU has entered into an alliance with the ANC and South African Communist Party to contest the 2014 election. What do you think of this arrangement?”

Table 13: Key points of comparison

Chapter 5 (The quest for accelerated economic development)


Table 1: Mexico’s main macro-economic indicators, 1960–2015

Graph 1: GDP growth and investment coefficient

South Africa

Table 2: Comparing GEAR and the Washington Consensus

Graph 2: South Africa’s public debt, 2010–15

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Chapter 6 (Social and territorial inequality)


Table 1: Inequality in the “stabilising development” period, 1950–77

Figure 1: Income inequality in Mexico (Gini coefficient-total household income), 1950–2016

Figure 2: Growth and inequality, 1984–2016

Figure 3: Regional divergence in inequality

Figure 4: Production concentration (metropolitan areas), 2010

Figure 5: Intra-regional inequality

Table 2: Poverty according to CONEVAL, 2010 and 2014

Table 3: Factorial inequality vs income inequality

Figure 6: Highest level of education, focused on ethnicity (18–24-year age cohort), 2000 and 2010

Table 4: Individual income and schooling, 2002 and 2012

Figure 7: Real wages by educational level, 2005–12

Figure 8: Current expenditure on health care (% of GDP), 2013

Figure 9: Individuals belonging to a medical aid scheme by population group, 2000, 2005 and 2010

Figure 10: The capital – labour split, 1930–2014 (% of GDP)

Figure 11: Correlation between minimum wages and labour income

Figure 12: Growth rate of minimum and average wages and inflation

Figure 13: GDP per capita vs minimum wages (1976 = 100)

South Africa

Figure 14: Average annual household income by population group (in rands), 2012


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 514 pp., 5 fig. col., 58 fig. b/w, 50 tables.

Biographical notes

Deon Geldenhuys (Volume editor) Humberto González (Volume editor)

Deon Geldenhuys is an emeritus professor of Politics at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and a distinguished fellow of the Consortium for Comparative Research in Regional Integration and Social Cohesion (RISC). His latest book, The Politics of Persecution: Contemporary Case Studies (2019) appeared in the RISC series published by Peter Lang. Humberto González (PhD in Rural Sociology, University of Wageningen, the Netherlands), is professor at the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) and has been visiting professor at the universities of Chicago, Texas at Austin, Toulouse and Luxembourg.


Title: Global South Powers in Transition
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