Striving for Links after Decades of Hostility in a Final Look at the Region, a Departing Correspondent Assesses the Promises and Challenges of Integration in Southern Africa Series: SOUTH AFRICA AFTER APARTHEID. Part Two of a Three-Part Series. Only Articles Appearing Today

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ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe shifted uneasily in his seat as he took the assembled business community through a long and tortured explanation of how Zimbabwe made the switch from Marxism-Leninism to a free-market economy.

The assembled crowd of South African and international business people began to shuffle. South African President Nelson Mandela sat motionless on Mr. Mugabe's right side and Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano on his left.

The fidgeting had less to do with Mr. Mugabe's economic analysis, however, and more to do with setting.

After four decades of hostility, South Africa and its neighbors were sitting down together to forge new links, and the moment resonated with awkwardness.

The June gathering was the first in a series of meetings, organized by the World Economic Forum, between South Africa and its black-ruled neighbors designed to foster a regional perspective economic development in the post-apartheid era, the ultimate goal being a common market.

But while both South Africa and its neighbors now recognize regional integration as primary, the gross imbalance in development between them is presenting obstacles to closer cooperation.

These include:

* South Africa's preoccupation with its own socio-economic problems stemming from the apartheid legacy, and unrealistic expectations of its capacity to lift the standards of living in neighboring states.

* A growing wave of illegal immigrants from Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

* Continuing civil war in Angola. Dark past

More than 40 years of apartheid cast a long and dark shadow over the 10 black-ruled countries then known as frontline states. They paid a heavy price for harboring guerrillas of the African National Congress (ANC) and providing infiltration routes for the soldiers of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), in its efforts to overthrow white rule.

The era of South Africa's campaign of destabilization, which cost neighboring states an estimated $15 billion and more than 100,000 lives, wreaked havoc in countries such as Angola and Mozambique - already locked in conflict with anti-Marxist insurgents - and took its toll in countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana.

As a countermeasure, the 10 states formed a bloc in 1980 designed to reduce the region's economic dependence on South Africa by acting as a center for international aid and investment.

Though it failed in its primary mission, the grouping nonetheless served as an effective rallying point for regional solidarity and worked to hasten the demise of apartheid and the extraordinary transformation in South Africa that culminated with the first all-race elections in April.

South Africa last month became the 11th member of the bloc, known as the Southern African Development Community. Since the Aug. 29 SADC conference, the emerging trade bloc has entered into an agreement with the European Union (EU) that saw the first minor trade concessions to SADC and the signing of a blueprint for political and economic cooperation that help strengthen ties between South Africa and its neighbors.

The importance of the first encounter between the SADC and the EU was that the European Union signalled that it was looking at the southern African region as a whole rather than South Africa on its own.

After 14 years, trade between SADC members accounts for only 4 percent of the total trade of member states and 25 percent of total trade is with South Africa.

South Africa, which accounts for 39 million of the 130 million people in the region, has a gross domestic product of $115 billion compared to about $26.5 billion for the other 10 states combined.

This is despite thriving democracies and free-market economies in Botswana and Namibia. Botswana, with a population of only 1.4 million, has maintained an average per-capita growth income of 4. …


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