By Innocent Gore
PRETORIA – The SADC region cannot continue to be suppliers of primary products and yet experience low levels of domestic investment, incoming SADC chairperson President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has said.
In his acceptance speech as the incoming chairperson of the regional trading bloc, President Zuma emphasized the need for the region to continue with its industrialisation strategy roadmap which was adopted by SADC in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in 2014, as an inclusive long term modernisation and transformation mechanism.
The industrialisation strategy road map sets up three growth parts, namely agro processing, mineral beneficiation, and manufacturing and service sector value chains.
President Zuma said SADC’s goal should be to improve on established capacity and improve in these sectors as implementation of the strategy would ensure successful transformation of the region’s economies.
This, he said, would not only raise the living standards of the people of the region, but would also facilitate the rapid catch up of SADC countries with the industrialised and developed economies of the world.
President Zuma said South Africa intended to advance the progress made by previous SADC chairpersons on industrialisation and beneficiation as this was of importance to the growth of regional value chains.
He announced the launch of a nutritional drink, as part of the region’s quest to improve value chains, which would be produced in all countries across the region and distributed in schools.
The key activities during South Africa’s chairmanship of SADC, he said, would be the development of a high impact annual operation plan with targeted and public interventions tools to foster developments in value chains in agro processing, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, among other sectors.
The country would, during its tenure as SADC chair, promote facilitation of cross border projects that would strengthen regional value chains and continue to development the region.
This would be key to facilitating investments and the country would ensure that effective ways of promoting value chains were found.
President Zuma said implementation and commitments under various trade protocols had to be an integral part of this agenda so as to create an integrated market that was ideal for the development of regional value chains.
South Africa would, in addition to the initiative started by Swaziland on the establishment of the SADC University of Transformation, introduce a new programme to develop capacity in industrial policy making and implementation for senior officials in the region.
Infrastructure was a key driver of industrialisation and an important gap identified by both the public and private sector was lack of funding of bankable projects.
President Zuma said with the BRICS bank regional centre having been established, SADC countries needed to take advantage of this and come up with bankable projects.
He said there was enthuasism within the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries to establish a relationship with Africa countries.
The Africa Development Bank had also expressed enthusiasm in working with SADC and countries in the region should not be found wanting when they presented projects for funding, he said.
“Let us take advantage of this as a region and …..our economies must work hard so that we are not found wanting when we present our projects. For the first time, we have a possibility of opportunities. “We are going to try our best to push this as hard as we can,” President Zuma said.
He bemoaned the high interested rates and unfavourable conditions by lending countries to developing countries in Africa, whereby they benefitted more when they gave out loans to poor countries and said this must stop.
On food security, the incoming SADC chair said the region had over the past few years experienced natural disasters such as droughts, floods and an invasion of pests such as the fall armyworm which had had an impact on food security.
South Africa would work towards developing a surveillance model to deal with destructive invasive species that challenged development in the region with a view to attracting private sector investment in this area. Energy projects that would solve the region’s power problems would be identified and developed.
The discovery of significant natural gas reserves in the region, both off-shore and on-shore, needed to be pursued and exploited to mitigate the region’s energy problems, President Zuma said, adding that Africans needed to benefit from the resources on the continent.
He proposed the formation of an inter-state gas committee that would look into the exploitation of the gas reserves in the region.
“This is what we need to do and I am hoping that we do not need a lot of processes to establish this committee. It is a decision we need to take while we are here. The committee will be given user-friendly tasks. The inclusion of gas into the regional energy mix will facilitate increased universal access to energy,” he said.
President Zuma also urged SADC countries to work together to broaden the tripartite free trade area and said his country had recently appended its signature to the TFTA, becoming the ninth SADC country to do so. This augured well with SADC’s long-standing regional integration agenda. The TFTA is a proposed trade agreement between SADC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC).
In his welcome remarks earlier, President Zuma said he was honoured to welcome regional leaders to South Africa for the annual gathering to review and deliberate on the year’s work programme, take singock of progress made and identify and discuss the main challenges facing the region.
He said this year’s summit symbolizes an important year for SADC since it marked the trading bloc’s silver jubilee celebrations and, as a result, represented an important milestone for all.
“We celebrate this in this building named OR Tambo, one of the iconic leaders SADC has ever produced. South Africa has declared 2017 OR Tambo year. He was a proponent of regional unity and proponent,” he said in reference to the late former ANC president Oliver Reginald Tambo.
He said the SADC region had strong historic relations and many countries shared relations and cultures. Many of the SADC countries were former Frontline States members which played a key role in the liberation of Southern Africa and the attainment of majority rule and the defeat of apartheid.
The region shared many advantages, including consolidating democratic and strengthening of democratic institutions through the holding of regular elections.
President Zuma congratulated Lesotho for successfully holding democratic elections in June, and expressed hope that Angola would also do so on 23 August.
Outgoing SADC Chairperson, King Mswati III of Swaziland thanked the region for having supported his tenure and various programmes that his country had initiated.
Swaziland came up with the idea of setting up the SADC University of Transformation at the 36th Summit last year and progress was being made in making sure this came to fruition.
King Mswati said the university’s noble objectives were to produce specific skills for the people of the region through technical and vocational training as these were critical in developing skills and create employment in the region.
He said Swaziland hosted a high-level energy and water summit early this year and number of energy projects in the region were showcased, with challenges being identified and solutions agreed upon.
He said he had no doubt the incoming chairperson would keep the momentum that would reactivate the momentum in the region.
The king said industrialisation was important to the region’s economics and value addition and that sustainable development remained critical if regional integration was to be realised.
He also said there was need to ensure food security in the region through various short and long term measures. A lot of work towards this had been carried out, key among which was the implementation of the SADC agriculture programme.
King Mswati, however, bemoaned threats to the region’s sustainable objectives presented by climate change and natural disasters such as droughts and pests such as the fall army worm.