Southern Africa: A New Vision, Part 1

Southern Africa: A New Vision, Part 1

The wounds you cannot see are the most painful.
Nelson Mandela, 1994 visit to Robben Island

People cried openly with joy at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as jets soared overhead, trailing jet streams the colors of the new flag of the Republic of South Africa.

The jets also might well have been dipping their wings to honor all the people throughout the region of Southern Africa. For more than 30 years the South African military brutally pounded the regime's opponents at home and in neighboring countries as rule by white minorities slowly gave way to African freedom in Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and finally South Africa. The military salute to freedom at the inauguration symbolized a vision so new that many had to rub their eyes to make sure they were not dreaming.

As the people of South Africa completed their "no easy walk" to the political freedom that now provides the opportunity to address social and economic problems, the world's press focused on the person of Nelson Mandela. President Mandela, however, reminded the world of the countless heroes who sacrificed their lives or livelihoods so that freedom might come.

The countries neighboring the Republic of South Africa led the international community in the fight against apartheid and withstood relentless attacks. "The region sustained us during our struggle and, with our own, its people's blood was spilled to end apartheid. Our destiny is intertwined with the region's; our peoples belong with each other," proclaimed Mandela's campaign statements.

His election victory is a victory for all of Southern Africa. For its people, including both South Africans and their neighbors, now is the time to build on their achievements. The region's people and its material resources provide a solid foundation. The partnership which succeeded in winning freedom for the entire region can now turn to reinforcing regional identity and defining regional solutions.

With the end of Cold War intervention and the end of the apartheid government, millions can begin rebuilding their lives and communities. With a new vision, Southern Africa can be a bridge between the hopes seen in pictures of the South African election and the scenes of despair so often televised from crisis spots around the continent.

The Will To Rebuild

Apartheid's internal legacy of racial inequality is common knowledge. But the damage it did to neighboring countries is not widely known. Because of the lack of media coverage, many people outside the region don't even realize that South Africa is not the only country in that part of the African continent.

Eleven countries make up the region known as Southern Africa: the Republic of South Africa plus Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In the 1980s, South Africa's ten neighbors suffered economic losses estimated at over $90 billion from that country's violent actions, a sum more than three times their total gross national product. Over two million people lost their lives, most of them from South Africa's military sponsorship of rebel groups in Angola and Mozambique.

Different countries played different roles in supporting one person, one vote in South Africa. Angola, Tanzania and Zambia provided military bases for the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa. Every country received South African refugees. Tanzanians and Zimbabweans helped defend Mozambique, the most vulnerable of South Africa's neighbors. Zimbabwe and Malawi accepted hundreds of thousands of Mozambican refugees.

Even in areas not directly attacked, South Africa's assaults on refugees and transport links raised economic and personal insecurity to high levels.

In the 1980s, Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe coordinated their efforts against the apartheid regime through a diplomatic alliance known as the Frontline States, and were joined by Namibia after its independence in 1990. The Frontline States, plus Lesotho, Swaziland and Malawi made up the Southern African Development Community (SADC), originally set up in 1980 to collaborate on plans to increase economic independence.

In August 1994 South Africa became the eleventh member of SADC. With its original purpose of freedom from white-minority rule achieved, the Frontline States group joined with other SADC members in a new Association of Southern African States, to complement SADC's economic programs with a new focus on conflict-prevention and conflict-management.

Southern Africa's peoples now face many problems. Each country has its own challenges as it approaches the 21st century. Most of the 128 million people in the region must deal with deepening economic crisis, as well as the effects of war and racial inequality.

South Africa's economy is over three times the size of all the rest of SADC. Its average per capita income of almost $4,000 a year is many times the average among its neighbors, and that figure includes enormous disparities between whites and blacks, and between urban and rural black South Africans. Inequality between white and black within South Africa is four times greater than in the U.S. There are enormous demands to address this internal apartheid deficit.

Working together will not be easy. The threat of competition for scarce resources could easily aggravate inherited inequalities and tensions.

Fortunately, most Southern African policy-makers, civic leaders and community groups are committed to finding new regional solutions, including people-to-people initiatives to reverse economic and social decline.

The new Southern Africa, moreover, has many positive experiences to build on. There is the culture of problem-solving from the recent transition in South Africa, and the long history of grassroots mobilization and resistance. There is also a solid record of achievement elsewhere in the region.

Despite policy failures by governments and massive war destruction, SADC managed to maintain the region's network of ports and rails. The region has experience in sharing agricultural research, connecting electricity grids for rural electrification and promoting regional environmental controls. In health, education, and services for marginalized rural people, there are models of success spread throughout the region.

For example, in 1992 Mozambique--at the end of more than 15 years of war--95 percent of children under two years old in the capital city Maputo were fully vaccinated, a percentage higher than New York City! Despite the war, a small efficient governmental water program provided over two million rural Mozambicans with new access to safe water.

Southern Africa is not without its failures and conflicts. But from grassroots organizations to elected officials, thousands of initiatives promise a brighter future. The people of the region have achieved independence and survived one of history's most destructive decades. They are now looking forward to a period of peace and stability during which they can forge their Southern African identity and build a future for their children.

Going Home

When I go back, I will continue my bakery. My mother is still alive back home, and I will now be able to look after her. -- Mozambican refugee in Zimbabwe, planning to use her new business skills learned in exile.

As dawn breaks, the sound of buses starting up brings the camp to life. It is a special morning for 900 refugees who are returning home to Mozambique from Zimbabwe. At the border post they pass right through, for immigration formalities were completed ahead of time. In Mozambique, district committees await their arrival to provide basic tools and seeds.

Many refugees in Malawi have returned entirely on their own--sending one or two relatives ahead to verify peaceful conditions and availability of land. As word comes back, the rest of the family follows. Local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), along with international agencies, supplement their food supplies until the harvest.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees returned to their lands in time to plant essential crops in the first year following the peace treaty, and the total area of food crops increased by 10 percent in the 1993/94 growing season. Despite continued need for food aid due to delayed rains, most Mozambicans are again growing their own food.

Even in homecoming, there are emotional scars as well as material damage. In Mozambique alone, for example, an estimated 250,000 children were orphaned or separated from their families by the war. Thousands of child soldiers had been kidnapped and trained by the South African-backed rebel group Renamo.

Programs supported by several NGOs are actively involved in tracing families and reuniting children with relatives. Socio-drama based on traditional ceremonies is helping some children to come to terms with the violence they had participated in. The vast majority of homeless children have been absorbed by extended families or village communities, instead of being isolated in orphanages.

As in Southern Africa, so too in the U.S., millions of children are still growing up in an atmosphere of violence, if not from war then from the criminal violence of the streets. In finding the wisdom to heal these wounds, it is not necessarily the richest society that has the most to teach.

Swords Into Ploughshares

Southern Africa remains awash in arms. Absolutely essential for the region's viability is the successful demobilization of ex-combatants in South Africa, Mozambique and Angola as well as reduction of the size of the armies in Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Unemployed young people with ready access to arms are easy recruits for street gangs which perpetuate insecurity--in ways familiar to U.S. cities.

Zimbabwe and Namibia offer the region different successful examples of conversion of ex-hostile combatants into an integrated army. Zimbabweans are training Mozambicans from opposing sides into a single army. Namibia has begun converting its military expenditures into education and health care. A major source of funds for social investment in South Africa will come from cuts in the massive defense budget.

The success of integration of former enemies into one army depends on establishing a new culture within the military, in which protection of civilians and accountability to civilian control are uppermost. Successful demobilization depends on providing economic opportunities for ex-soldiers, so that they do not have to pick up their guns to survive. The complex task of downsizing the military after war, whether in Southern Africa or the U.S., has to involve non-governmental as well as government initiatives.

In urgent need of international assistance as well as local initiative is the problem of millions of land-mines, which, particularly in Angola and Mozambique, may perpetuate destruction well into the next century. In Mozambique there are 32 different types of anti-personnel mines from 14 countries. Most of the mines in Angola are "Made in the USA."

International awareness of this issue is growing. While a 1992 U.S. statement claimed that mines in Angola were "too small a problem for us to get involved," a 1994 recommendation from USAID proposed giving high priority to technical assistance for mine removals. An international campaign calling for a permanent ban on land mines is demanding that the countries which produced mines (e.g., Britain, Belgium, China, Germany, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, USA, former USSR) should contribute to the cost of their removal.

In Mozambique, while several UN projects have been slow to get under way, a Norwegian NGO has trained over 300 Mozambicans in mine clearance. Even in Angola, a German group has worked with Angolans in mine-clearing in areas currently free from combat. And Mozambicans have joined in the international campaign to ban land-mines. "We are getting 400 signatures a day," a disabled Mozambican told a reporter visiting Tete, a provincial capital in central Mozambique.

Regional Solutions for Regional Problems

Nelson Mandela, in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, stressed that "Southern Africa will only prosper if the principles of equity, mutual benefit and peaceful cooperation are the tenets that inform its future." He pledged that "democratic South Africa will, therefore, resist any pressure or temptation to pursue its own interests at the expense of the sub-continent."

South Africa's new leaders are serious about building a new relationship with the region. In practice, however, much still depends on the old apartheid bureaucracy and private South African business, overwhelmingly in the hands of whites.

Unemployment is a massive problem in South Africa and throughout the region; already there has been tension between South Africans and immigrants from Southern Africa and elsewhere on the continent. Some analysts see South Africa and its neighbors soon facing the same problems faced by the U.S. and its neighbors to the south: conflicts over immigration, the drug trade, environmental standards, and messy military interventions.

How to manage trade and immigration, how to work together to police the criminal trade in drugs and arms, how to plan joint projects in water, electricity, agriculture and wildlife--all require complex negotiations involving both governments and businesses. In order to insure accountability, debate on these issues must also involve the public throughout the region.

There are different perspectives on handling regional issues. One tendency, favored by much of the South African business community, officials of the previous government and many Western policy-makers, is for South Africa to concentrate on its domestic problems. As South Africa grows and solves its problems, they say, it could be an "engine" for the rest of the continent. Free-market forces and ad-hoc arrangements with other countries could enable South Africa's success to "trickle-down" to its neighbors.

But grassroots groups and most African leaders say that relying on trickle-down alone would be a disaster for all but the most powerful economic actors. Trade deals that don't benefit both parties would build up resentment. Free trade without protection for workers would make it easier for employers to play workers from different countries against each other.

If the "business-as-usual" perspective prevails, the tendency will be for South Africa to play hardball in using its economic clout with its neighbors and to develop preferential bilateral relations with selected partners. Instead, notes the ANC's Macro-Economic Research Group, a sustainable program for regional cooperation must be pro-active and consultative.

This requires that South Africa become a good regional citizen within SADC. Governments must involve a range of key constituencies in both formulation and execution of regional programs.

There is much scope for expanding mutually beneficial trade within the region, for example. But simply adopting free trade would allow stronger South African companies to crowd out promising manufacturing ventures in other countries. When trade deals require economic adjustments, moreover, there must be plans to ensure that working people and the poor are not victimized.

Joint management of electricity grids, river resources, wildlife reserves and the combat against AIDS are imperative. Illegal as well as legal migration across borders, and smuggling, also demand coordinated policies. Renewed conflict anywhere in the region--and even in more distant African countries--will produce new refugee flows. Unilateral or bilateral solutions to these issues are unlikely to be effective.

The SADC model of regular consultation among both top officials and working-level officials does not guarantee that problems will be solved. But at minimum it gives a forum for sharing information and carrying on debates in a climate of mutual respect.

Kaire Mbuende, formerly deputy minister of agriculture in Namibia, and now the new executive secretary of SADC, stresses that cooperation must be multi-faceted. It must include market integration, he says, but markets cannot be the primary basis for integration. There must be continued development of a regional identity, and consultation among officials not only on economic and development issues but also on security and conflict resolution.

Inter-governmental institutions such as SADC can provide part of the framework for cooperation. Even more, the hope for success lies in a wide range of people-to-people regional networks.

In recent years SADC has sponsored regional meetings of non-governmental organizations as well as private business groups. Groups themselves have taken the initiative for regional consultations and regular networking on common problems. There is an active and growing dialogue across borders. Its continued growth is vital for holding governments accountable.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: A New Vision [Part 1 of 3]
Southern Africa Educational Campaign
c/o Washington Office on Africa
110 Maryland Ave, NE, Suite 112
Washington, DC 20002
Tel (301) 608-2400
Fax (301) 608-2401
Coordinator: Lisa Cannon

This material is made available by the Washington Office on Africa (WOA) and the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). WOA is a not-for-profit church, trade union and civil rights group supported organization that works with Congress on Africa-related legislation. APIC is WOA's educational affiliate. For more information:

Washington Office on Africa
110 Maryland Ave. NE, #112
Washington, DC 20002.
Phone: 202-546-7961.
Fax: 202-546-1545.

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 2 Nov 1994 18:10:18 -0800
From: The Washington Office on Africa 
Subject:  Southern Africa: A New Vision (Part 1)

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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