President Cyril Ramaphosa recently completed his first official tour of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region since becoming South Africa’s fifth president, visiting Angola, Botswana and Namibia.
South Africa chairs SADC this year, and Ramaphosa’s decision to visit the region so soon after his assumption of the Presidency hopefully reflects a desire to prioritise it in in the country’s foreign policy. Angola, Botswana and Namibia currently play important roles in SADC. Angola chairs the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation; Botswana is home to the SADC Secretariat; and Namibia is set to chair SADC in 2019. Namibia also hosts the SADC Parliamentary Forum.
SADC was established in 1992 and South Africa became a member in 1994. The objective of the organisation is to achieve economic development, growth, peace and security through regional integration. Assessments of SADC’s ability to achieve these objectives have tended to be very negative, with the region missing several self-imposed deadlines in its regional integration agenda. SADC has only implemented a free trade area and whereas the ambition was to have created a customs union by 2010, SADC is now hoping to achieve the ambition of deeper integration by focusing on regional industrialisation and the creation of regional value chains. Intra-SADC trade accounts for only 15% to 17% of the member states’ trade portfolio with most still predominantly trading according to colonial ties and with China.
Politically, integration remains weak with electoral crises affecting a number of member states, including Lesotho and the DRC. Ceding sovereignty to the regional body has remained the main stumbling block towards deeper integration for all member states.
However, the winds of change have been blowing in the region. Peaceful and democratic change took place in Angola and early elections were held in Lesotho, allowing for a more stable government. The bigger change, of course, happened in Zimbabwe where Robert Mugabe stepped down after 37 years in power following what many regarded as a coup, albeit ‘soft’ one. South Africa soon followed with the resignation of Jacob Zuma to make way for the newly elected president of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, to take over the reins of the country.
Reversing progress made
During the Mandela presidency it was often said that South Africa could ‘ill afford to become an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty’. However, in the period since, South Africa has not projected strong leadership in the region and many of SADC’s aspirations have suffered as a result. These aspirations are not only in the economic field but also in the setting of common political values and norms through the institutions that underpin the integration effort.
One of the biggest travesties of justice occurred when former presidents Mugabe and Zuma orchestrated the collapse of the SADC Tribunal, ‘following the court’s rulings in 2007 and 2008 that the Zimbabwe government’s seizure of the farm of white farmer Mike Campbell without compensation was racist and unlawful and had violated the SADC Treaty because he had been denied the right to complain to the Zimbabwean courts’.
The Pretoria High Court recently found that former president Zuma ‘acted unlawfully, irrationally and unconstitutionally when he supported and took part in a resolution suspending the operations of the SADC Tribunal’.
Tipping point for the regional mining industry
The SADC Summit, which will take place in August this year, is themed Partnering with the Private Sector in Developing Industry and Regional Value Chains. The Action Plan for the SADC Industrialisation Strategy was adopted in Swaziland in 2017 and is focussing on promoting agro-processing in the region alongside the development of the pharmaceutical industry. Mineral beneficiation remains a strong ambition on the agenda. Ramaphosa’s strong private sector and mining background could bring important direction to SADC’s mining future.
The SADC Protocol on Mining states that mining is an industry of strategic importance in Southern Africa. Roughly half of the world’s vanadium, platinum and diamonds originate in the region, along with 36% of gold and 20% of cobalt.
Ramaphosa could focus strongly on the sustainability of the mining sector throughout the region and bring a future-oriented approach by anticipating future trends and potential new areas of strength for the region – think here what the shift towards the electric car in Europe may mean in terms of their mineral needs or how increased mechanised mining could affect the labour market and start to retrain miners to become miners of the future.
Of course, while South Africa will only chair SADC in 2018 it can contribute towards building a long-term vision and action plan for the regional mining industry. For this to happen, it will have to work closely with like-minded SADC member states in order to convince the group of the urgency of planning for the future. For these reasons a closer relationship with Angola, Zambia and Namibia are important. Solving the political problem in the DRC becomes even more critical within this context. Large cobalt deposits have recently been found in Namibia, which could see the country playing a critical global role in supplying the renewable energy battery sector.
Strengthening SADC institutions
On the governance side, SADC remains an organisation that is in effect run by heads of state. The institutions created by the SADC Treaty remain weak and as a result the region struggles with the domestication of the regional protocols and in member states adhering to their contents. The SADC Secretariat in particular has remained a weak institution. Despite restructuring on a regular basis, the problem at the core of its ineffectiveness is that it has no enforcement powers and only acts as a coordinating entity.
As it stands, the SADC Parliamentary Forum plays no role in promoting domestication and is restricted to doing observer electoral missions and working on capacity developing programmes for national parliaments. President Ramaphosa could voice his support for a SADC Parliament to replace the current, largely ineffectual, Parliamentary Forum. Apart from Namibia advocating for this change, regional support for this move has been weak. SADC drastically has to rethink how it can ensure that regional decisions and policies are domesticated into national laws.
Unless SADC member states become serious about domesticating SADC protocols and policies, the integration agenda will remain a distant, unrealisable ambition. Giving a SADC Parliament legislative teeth could convince national governments of the importance and primacy that regional integration deserves.
Written by Talitha Bertelsmann-Scott (@TalithaBerScott) heads the Regional Observatory at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). This article was first publsihed with AllAfrica.com