Reclaiming SADC for the People
SADC Heads of State who met in Maputo a few weeks ago were told in no uncertain terms by civil society and social movements that the citizens of the region are not happy with the increased incidence of undemocratic governance and impunity of the corporate sector especially in the operations of the extractive industries in Southern Africa.
The groups which met in Maputo just two days before most Heads of State jetted in, argued that SADC was no longer pushing for people-centred development and all the achievements the Summit chronicled annually were just a myth to whitewash the realities of the region’s poor and socially excluded.
Evidence was provided in the form of testimonies from communities and research material that pointed to a region in crisis and urgently in need of salvation given challenges the groups had identified like climate catastrophe, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, dominance of corporates in the energy sector, extensive land grabbing by corporates and governments collaborating actively with traditional leadership, the subsequent displacement of communities, increasing food insecurity and the irreparable damage to ecosystems.
Over the years, the same groups had been telling SADC leaders of the dangers arising from growing inequalities, the negative impact of patriarchy, increasing violence against women and children, decline in health and education service provision and standards, deprivation of sustainable livelihoods, continued recolonisation through for example bilateral agreements like the Economic Partnership Agreements and shady deals with the BRICS countries.
They added very important issues which the Heads of State shy away from but are affecting the ordinary people negatively every day.
These broadly fall under the continued violations of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, excessive dependency on export oriented economies and finally, the continued dominance of the free market dogma and ascendancy of neo-liberalism.
The more than 250 representatives of grassroots movements, community-based organisations, peasant and small farmers movements, faith-based organisations, women’s organisations, labour, student, youth, economic justice and human rights networks and other social movements who had earlier on gathered at the Mumemo centre, in the Maracuene district of Mozambique under the banner of a People’s Summit, were allowed to march into the capital city of Maputo under police escort to handover their demands to the SADC Executive Secretary, Tomas Salamao.
The banners they carried and sporadic speeches people made during the march were reminiscent of the anti-colonial struggles where the main actors passionately mobilised people on the basis of emotive issues, wretched conditions they found themselves directly attributed to colonialism and the need to organise against unjust systems.
This is one of the few demonstrations I came across in the region where it was being openly highlighted that SADC leaders should not forget the values of the liberation movement and anti-colonial struggles which emphasised that a free people should enjoy fully their political, social, economic and cultural rights and an ethical state should guarantee the maximum conditions for this to be realised.
Far from just chronicling the failures of the region’s leadership, the groups' spokespersons said that SADC states should deal decisively with systemic issues that have generated inequality and enclaves of progress leaving the majority of women, young people and children in particular to suffer disproportionately in environments where violence against them becomes the norm rather than the exception.
“We will march all the way to reclaim our freedom and make sure that the majority of people in SADC enjoy their rights” says Graca Samo of Forum Mulher based in Mozambique.
“If SADC states are to be genuinely integrated and its communities are united, time has come for the SADC leadership to go back to the people and be informed by their day-to-day realities as this is critical in identifying correctly the needs of the socially excluded and the marginalised whose voices are not being heard by policy makers and politicians who head governments in SADC,” says Patricia Kasiamhuru from the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network.
Joy Mabenge from Zimbabwe reminded SADC governments that the people will take over if their needs are not met as was the case when the oppressed in Sothern Africa committed themselves to the national liberation struggle.
“The people will take over if their human rights are not respected and their resources are continuously mismanaged,” he said.
Farmers from Maracuene and neighbouring rural areas of Maputo highlighted that they were working very hard to feed the nation, but were now perplexed by new developments where land was being given to multinational corporations who pursue profit and not food sovereignty for the people.
This type of land grab is being experienced in SADC where a number of government policies are pushing for the aggressive expansion of cash crops at the expense of food crops.
“Cash crops divert water and key resources from sustainable development because this is where big corporations dominate sovereign states and agriculture through the provision of seeds and fertilizers” noted.
SADC leaders were being told in their face that they must listen to the voices of their people.
People did not mince their words when it came to condemning states that were not meeting people’s needs.
Laurinda Makuyane from the Rural Women’s Forum in Mozambique noted that mothers who strangle or dump their babies are put behind bars and the law is very clear on this, but no one takes similarly harsh steps when states fail and kill their people.
She called on the people to unite and defeat these oppressive governments that behave like monsters who devour their own children.
“Who is arresting these governments? Where is the justice? God is watching us!” she queried and cautioned.
The People’s Summit focussed on the impact of imperial domination in SADC, land rights, extractive industries, energy crisis, lack of access to clean water, quality health and education facilities, women’s rights, the landless, reclaiming people’s sovereignty over resources and finally building a people’s movement for a people’s SADC.
• Thomas Deve is a pan-Africanist based at the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information Negotiations Institute (SEATINI). He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org