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Industrial Entanglements and Their Political Outflows in the Japan-South Africa Relationship in the Mid-Twentieth Century

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Abstract

For much of the twentieth Century 'the South Africa question' stood central in Japan's relationship with the African continent. This refers in essence to how Japanese authorities' and firms' dealings with the apartheid regime from roughly the late 1950s to the late 1980s framed Japan's relations with the larger continent in complex ways. This paper engages this period and focuses on an aspect of the Japan-South Africa relationship that has not received that much attention in scholarship – that is, the industrial links forged alongside trade ties and how these reflected industrialisation processes in both Japan and South Africa at the time. The paper discusses the geo-institutional conditions under which economic and industrial ties came to be fashioned and the material and political outflows they brought. It offers discussion of direct and indirect Japanese involvement in industrialisation processes in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s through the lens of South Africa's manufacturing sector and attempts towards import-substitution industrialisation. Through the tracing of the rise of Toyota South Africa, it is illustrated how political-economic processes in apartheid South Africa – in which Japanese capital and industrial links played an indirect role – were intertwined with the bolstering of an Afrikaner industrialist class. The discussion aims to unpack the broad dimensions of Japan-South Africa relations, well-covered in existing literature, by showing how diplomacy meshed with industrialisation and economic processes on both sides, and highlighting the role of specific figures, such as the founder of Toyota South Africa, in forging relations in more nuanced ways than usually recognised in the literature.

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