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.
* 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
* A growing wave of illegal immigrants from Mozambique and
* Continuing civil war in Angola.
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
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. …