In southern Africa, most of the trade used to be one-way. The
export was political and economic sabotage by white-ruled South
Africa. The aim was destabilizing South Africa's developing
But the profound change in South Africa over the last few
years, propelling the nation toward a multiracial democracy, also
is contributing to a major shift in its economic relations with
Now there is the prospect of new cross-border highways,
electric power grids, fiber-optic telephone systems, increased
cooperation and higher foreign investment that ultimately could
make southern Africa one of the world's economic growth centers
akin to Asia and Latin America.
"South Africa is no longer engaged in destabilization," said
B.K. Sebele, Botswana's ambassador to the United States and
chairman of the ambassadors from the Southern African Development
Community, the 10 nations that neighbor South Africa. "Certainly it
would be a great benefit to the region."
The improved relationship was underscored recently when South
African President F.W. de Klerk visited Botswana to confer with
counterparts from Botswana and Zimbabwe about political unrest in
the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Such a meeting would have been
unthinkable until now.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, meeting de Klerk for the
first time, praised changes he said had made it possible for South
Africans to "open themselves up to the rest of the world and the
rest of the world to open itself up to South Africa."
Still, the countries that once regarded South Africa as the
enemy don't necessarily view it as a friend. Rather, they see both
a trading partner and competitor, sharing an area rich with
South Africa itself has roughly half the world's known gold
reserves and 85 percent of its platinum. Botswana has coal and
diamonds. Namibia has uranium, gold, copper and zinc. Zambia has
copper and cobalt.
But the region has languished for many years, falling further
behind while other underdeveloped countries from Malaysia to Mexico
raced ahead, attracting increasingly sophisticated industries like
car-making and computer assembly that generate more prosperity and
A key reason for the disparity has been South Africa itself.
Ostracized because of apartheid and hostile to neighboring
governments, South Africa's ruling whites emphasized national
self-sufficiency and supported rebel movements across the border to
sow continual political turmoil.
"As a result of destabilization, it was quite disastrous to the
region in the sense that we had to allocate a good portion of
meager resources to defending ourselves from South Africa," Sebele
said in an interview. …