If the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is failing to timeously and effectively respond to various crises within the region, it is only because the regional body is failing to include critical voices from a critical mass of at least 70 million people. This was the key message from a roundtable discussion on ‘Consolidating People to People Solidarity: SADC and the crises in Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Organised as testimony to the on-going solidarity efforts between the three countries, and steered by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Ditshwanelo: the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, the Foundation for Social and Economic Justice (FSEJ, Swaziland), the Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN) and the Development for Peace Education (DPE), the discussion focused on the failure of SADC in addressing growing crises but also came up with concrete proposals of what could be done to address these.
It was noted, in particular, that Lesotho was facing a myriad of security sector challenges which SADC had naively thought would be resolved by an election. Current impasses within the Lesotho military hierarchy are frustrating SADC-mediated efforts to finding a lasting solution to the crisis in the kingdom.
It was agreed, therefore, that SADC should urgently consider bolstering current attempts by South Africa (lead facilitator) by appointing an additional two countries to lend their support. More importantly, a demand was made that the current process be made more accountable and transparent with the inclusion of Basotho citizens as represented by civic groupings and the Churches. A demonstrable outcome in this regard would be Constitutional reform that will allow Basotho citizens to actively participate in resolving matters directly affecting them.
Rethabile Mohloki (Development for Peace Education) and Mankhato Selepe (Lesotho Council of NGOs) spoke for Lesotho.
On Zimbabwe, SADC it was demanded that SADC honour its guarantor role by first admitting that the July 2013 election was inconclusive and the effects of this were beginning to manifest to themselves in the form of a rapidly declining economy marred by unprecedented job losses and massive closure of companies, leading to the mushrooming of the informal sector. A serious economic crises is, therefore, brewing in Zimbabwe.
Internecine party fighting within the ruling party, ZANU-PF, was also singled out as a threat to democratic reform and economic rejuvenation. Uncertainty regarding the succession of the 91 year-old president , Robert Mugabe, has resulted in economic policy ambiguities and a culture of political intolerance that has witnessed democratic regression within and without political parties.
The failure to protect citizens marked by the abduction and subsequent disappearance of actist, Itai Dzamara, continued arrest and harassment of human rights defenders and unwillingness to adhere to the provisions of new Constitutional order were also singled out as contributing to the declining situation in the country.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson, Mfundo Mlilo spoke for Zimbabwe.
Swaziland sent a clear message and warning that the world should not read to much into the release of some political prisoners, lawyer and journalist and the subsequent unbanning of trade unions. In fact, the kingdom was described as an “open-air” prison, with the majority of the people living under conditions of severe repression and oppression.
A demand was made for the immediate return to multiparty democracy in the country as well as the immediate stop to abductions and detention of political prisoners.
Commander Ntshanase (Foundation for Social and Economic Justice) spoke for Swaziland.
The meeting agreed that there was never an opportune time to revive practical regional solidarity as the present moment, given the multitude of crises plaguing the SADC region. Efforts towards this will be directed at consistent distribution of information, timely responses to emerging crises and the demand of transparency and accountability from SADC.