Southern Africa: A New Vision, Part 2

Southern Africa: A New Vision, Part 2

Making Sure of Food and Water

The majority of Southern Africans remain dependent on rain for their livelihood. The amount of food varies drastically with the season. When drought hits, dinner is provided only if sufficient grain has been stored or if women can gather wild tubers or fruits.

SADC has emphasized achieving greater food security by diversification of small-holders' output, promotion of rural storage and processing, and income generation, such as carpentry and construction work. In many instances, small-holder agriculture is more efficient than large commercial farms, which in South Africa and elsewhere in the region received preferential subsidies from white-minority and colonial governments.

Much of the region is dry. Due to irregular rainfall patterns, few areas are exempt from the threat of failed crops. But even in the worst years some areas do well. Some countries, such as Zimbabwe, can normally accumulate surpluses.

With proper planning and regional coordination, surplus food stocks can buffer the impact of drought. Zimbabwe can provide grain to food-deficit Botswana and Namibia. Over the long run, South Africa is expected to need substantial food imports from its neighbors; Zambia and Mozambique have significant potential for increased production.

Promoting regional solutions, however, implies planning and coping with obstacles such as dumping of subsidized food in the region by the U.S. and Europe, which deprives Southern Africa of an estimated $350 million a year in regional trade. Powdered milk imports from Europe, for example, have reduced exports by the Zimbabwe dairy industry to its natural markets in neighboring countries. Food aid from Western countries, perversely, can undercut local farm prices and impede long-term food security.

The pattern of land ownership in South Africa is grossly unequal; similarly, only a few thousand commercial farmers in Namibia and Zimbabwe still control almost 50 percent of the land. In Mozambique, privatization is opening up much farmland to takeovers by big foreign companies. Throughout the region, women have no secure tenure over land, even where formal legal codes have been rewritten.

There is little chance of sustainable agricultural development and food security unless these problems are addressed. While governments struggle with the economic and political obstacles to advancing on these fronts, many NGOs work closely with rural communities in assisting women, who produce 70 percent of the food, to increase production, acquire credit and sustain the environment.

Demand for the region's scarce water is rising, not only for agriculture but for industry and expanding urban areas. Several major transnational water schemes are under way, including a Lesotho project expected to produce over two billion cubic meters primarily for South Africa. SADC pioneered the first regional study to coordinate management of the Zambezi river, and the first regional protocol on shared watercourses in the region was adopted in 1994.

Such macro-level coordination is being supplemented by a host of small-scale projects designed to minimize land degradation, increase water-table recharging, and promote more efficient use of water. Propagation of drought-resistant seeds, reforestation and reduction of the use of wood-fuel are just a few examples.

Renewing the Environment

Absolute poverty is not only a threat to democracy but to the environment. The very poor often do not have alternatives to felling trees, planting on riverbanks, or committing other acts which harm the environment. In Zimbabwe, for example, the government has largely ignored the recent increases in the number of poor people illegally panning for gold in rivers. The resulting gullies hasten erosion.

The environmental costs of the wars have also been high. Internally displaced persons seeking firewood have deforested a 75-kilometer radius around Maputo, Mozambique. By 1992 there were three times more people in Maputo than it could support, resulting in pollution and dumping of tons of raw sewage into the ocean. Luanda, in Angola, is even worse.

South African-backed groups (Unita in Angola and Renamo in Mozambique), along with South African military men and other ivory smugglers, destroyed much of the elephant population of these two countries. Regional and global smuggling networks, now turned to drugs and arms as well, thrive on corruption and poverty.

Addressing environmental issues like these requires both government cooperation across borders and grassroots collaboration at the local level. Local people will only join in protecting wildlife and other natural resources when they themselves benefit from doing so.

In Zimbabwe, the government's Campfire program for wildlife management is designed to give greater control back to the villagers. Revenue from tourism goes to the local community rather than only to the central government and foreign hotel conglomerates.

Indigenous NGOs are also assisting local communities in reducing environmental degradation. Groups are teaching small farmers, for example, to intersperse selected plants for control of pests, water conservation, and sustaining nutrients in the soil. South African civic groups and labor unions are actively organizing against industrial polluters of air and water.

Making Democracy Real

The social legacy of apartheid requires immediate housing, education, jobs--based on broad consultation of all the people. But South Africa, watch out, you are the only government on the continent now talking about jobs, education, health care. The rest of us are talking structural adjustment [required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank]--which is anti-people, anti-education, anti-health, and anti-jobs. -- Julius Nyerere, 1994, past-President, Tanzania

The new Namibian constitution (1990) and South Africa's interim constitution (1994) have been widely praised as democratic models. Both constitutions fully protect individual rights, such as the freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion found in the U.S. Bill of Rights. But they also go beyond that. Their bills of rights also enshrine social rights, such as equal rights of women and children, and the right of all to basic education. South Africa guarantees children's access to "basic nutrition and basic health and social services."

In so doing they parallel a growing worldwide consensus that every country has the obligation to address the full range of human rights issues.

Through elections in May 1994, Malawians ousted the long-lived dictatorship of Hastings Banda. Mozambicans hope that their October election will mean continued peace. In December, Namibia is holding national elections on schedule five years after independence. In 1995 Zimbabwe holds its fourth multi-party election since independence in 1980.

But elections in themselves are only part of the picture, guaranteeing neither stability nor real democracy. Stability also depends on assurance that minority parties, regions or ethnic groups will not suffer discrimination. Real democracy requires both governments that can deliver grassroots benefits and non-governmental groups that can hold them accountable when they don't.

The liberation struggles in Southern Africa emphasized the importance of education for all and primary health care. Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe all implemented exemplary primary health care plans, incorporating maternal-child health and preventive measures. Tanzania had reached 100 percent attendance of children in primary school; Mozambique significantly reduced illiteracy.

Not only the wars but also structural adjustment programs (SAPs) imposed by the IMF, the World Bank and individual foreign donors have destabilized these achievements. Such programs typically impose budget cuts, devaluations and other macroeconomic measures without regard for their effect on living conditions or long-term development prospects.

Primary school enrollments in Zambia, for example, have declined from 96 percent in 1985 to 85 percent in 1992; the 100 percent enrollment in Tanzania declined to 73 percent. The Deputy Minister of Health called the Zimbabwe health system a 'national disaster,' after only three years of charging fees for primary health care, instead of providing it free as in the 1980s.

Economic conditions in Southern Africa, as throughout the world, make some belt-tightening necessary. The question is whose belt gets tightened. Creating favorable conditions for market expansion is a prerequisite for long-term economic advance. Those conditions, however, must include real opportunities for the majority to participate in the economy. Sustainable democracy and economic growth both depend on investing in human development.

The agenda is enormous. In rural Southern Africa where the majority live, 60 percent of the population live below national poverty datum lines, not only in war-torn Angola and Mozambique but also in relatively prosperous Botswana and Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, the minimum wage pays for less than half the cost of a basic basket of food for a family of four. Within South Africa itself, over 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Product is produced within the industrialized area around Johannesburg; some rural homeland areas are as poor as anywhere else in the region.

For governments to be responsive to the people as well as to advice and pressure from outside donors and financial institutions, there must be active, independent and diverse non-governmental groups, who can put forward different perspectives not only during elections but also afterwards.

Whether the legacy of inequality is addressed, both within South Africa and within the region, will depend on the vitality of such networks as well as on governmental institutions. Economic desperation and unrestrained competition is pushing many to search for quick bucks through speculation and corruption.

But there is also an emerging culture of problem-solving, recognizing the need both for private initiative and for collective organizing for grassroots and wider public interests. Journalists across the region have set up the Media Institute for Southern Africa, with headquarters in Namibia, to protect independent media from threats both from government censorship and from commercial media conglomerates. Trade unions have met regionally to promote common standards for workers. Environmental groups are exchanging information on a regular basis. Women's organizations are comparing notes on the traditional and colonial legal codes and customs which deprive them of their rights.

In Southern Africa and in the U.S., people are confronting today's new problems while still living under the shadow of the injustices of the past. Communities here and there can benefit from mutual support and learn from each other's failures and successes.

In today's interdependent world, none of us can afford to go it alone. Just as the world joined in to end official apartheid, so the international community needs to join in now to help bury its legacy of inequality and underdevelopment.

SOUTHERN AFRICA: A New Vision [Part 2 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
[continued from Part 1]

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 18:11:41 -0800
From: The Washington Office on Africa 
Subject: Southern Africa: A New Vision (Part 2)

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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