Xenophobia – Nemesis of regional integration

Southern Africa’s longstanding vision is to have a united, peaceful and integrated region.

While significant progress has been made by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to integrate the region, a lot more still need to be done to ensure that SADC citizens appreciate the importance of cooperation among member states.

Deeper cooperation among SADC countries has seen the region achieve political freedom as well as socio-economic independence.

For example, the United Republic of Tanzania had to bear the greatest burden of freeing not only SADC but the rest of the African continent by accommodating liberation fighters in their country, and providing them with logistical and military support.

Countries that benefited from such support include Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Some of these countries have the most stable socio-political systems in Africa, yet this could not have been possible without the support of other SADC citizens.  

At its inception in April 1980, and later transformation from the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) in 1992, the SADC region continued to offer its total support towards the end of apartheid rule in South Africa.

This opposition to apartheid rule finally brought majority rule in South Africa when the country won its independence in 1994.

However, recent cases of increased xenophobia attacks by some South Africans on foreigners may help reveal the nature of challenges that southern Africa face in promoting deeper integration among citizens of the region.

For example, the region is working towards breaking down colonial barriers by opening up its borders to encourage the smooth movement of goods, services and persons within southern Africa.

This development is aimed at improving intra-regional trade and facilitating the movement of skilled personnel in the region, as well as deepen people-to-people exchanges.

However, attacks on foreigners may hinder the implementation of such regional arrangements and affect SADC main goals of advancing its political freedom into broader socio-economic independence that ensures improved living standards for its people.

In his address following one of the worst xenophobia attacks on foreigners in South Africa in May 2008, former South African president Thabo Mbeki clearly said it was critical for Africans to understand that they share a common future, hence the need to work together and not fight each other.

“We have always known that regardless of the boundaries drawn by others to define us as different and separate from our kith and kin, and even despise our occupation of different spaces across the divides occasioned by the existence of the oceans that nature has formed, we share with those of whom we are part, a common destiny,” he said.

Mbeki pledged to “do everything necessary to ensure that as Africans, regardless of our geographic origins, we will once more live together as Africans, at peace with one another, refusing to impose on ourselves a new apartheid order.”

However, six years later, SADC, and the rest of the African continent have been rocked by another round of xenophobic attacks by some South Africans on their foreign nationals.

According to media reports, five foreigners had by 15 April died since the attacks started on 10 April. In addition to this, several others have been injured or displaced while property has been destroyed.

The recent attacks were allegedly set off when Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini of South Africa said all foreigners should go back to their countries because they are changing the nature of South African society. The King, however, says his comment was distorted.

However, considering the importance of regional integration in southern Africa, there is need for SADC countries to work together in addressing xenophobia as it has the capacity to derail some of the gains made in promoting mutually beneficial cooperation.

One such engagement and cooperation is by ensuring that the results of integration efforts in SADC are well known by citizens of the region and not only by the government officials and others who deal with SADC issues on a regular basis.

This is in light of the fact that most citizens of the region are broadly unaware of the various achievements realised by SADC through regional integration.

The lack of information about some of the most basic SADC initiatives may hamper development and diminishes the sense of belonging to a regional community by SADC citizens.  – sardc.net

April 2015
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