The ties that bind Sadc

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Ishmael Ndlovu

The Southern African Development Committee’s main objectives are to achieve economic development, peace and security, growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the quality of life of the people of Southern Africa, and support the socially-disadvantaged through regional integration.

Regional integration can be achieved on many different fronts, including but not limited to political and economic cooperation, religious and cultural exchanges.

Countries in the Sadc region have cooperated economically from time immemorial.  For example, during the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, many Zimbabweans left theircountry to live and work in Zambia, which was called Northern Rhodesia at the time. In the same vein, many Zambian and Malawian migrants worked on Zimbabwean farms and at the Rhodesia Railways. Up to this day, Zimbabwe is host to many immigrants from the Federation days, with most farming areas and mining communities being occupied by immigrants.

Many Zimbabweans left the country for South Africa during the gold rush of the 1960s to work in mines at Kimberly and other areas. So did nationals of countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. They worked in the mines popularly known as Wenela. In fact, up to now, there have been calls for people who worked in the mines to claim compensation from Wenela after suffering ill health as a result of working in those mines. I grew up in Plumtree and as far as I can remember people in this area which lies at the border with Botswana used to work in Botswana and South Africa, with those who did being held in high esteem by locals. An estimated three million Zimbabweans are living and working in South Africa.  

Zimbabwe is the gateway to many Sadc countries and shares borders with them. A good number of Zimbabwean women are cross-border traders of different wares which they sell in Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and as far as Tanzania.

In politics, Sadc countries cooperate in areas of peace and security.

Sometimes they intervene militarily or mediate in member countries when there is conflict. A case in point is that of Zimbabwe, which, together with other Member States, sent troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to assist Government forces against insurgents and to Mozambique to assist Government forces fight Renamo rebels. Zimbabwe’s campaign in Mozambique was also to protect the Beira oil pipeline which supplies the country. South Africa sent its troops to Lesotho when there were disturbances following a coup. This cooperation also goes back to the days of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle when Mozambique provided bases for training by Zanla guerrillas. Zambia did the same for Zipra forces as well as Tanzania which played host to both Zanla and Zipra cadres. Zipra forces also carried out the Hwange campaign with South Africa’s Umkhonto Wesizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress.

Sadc is currently discussing the security situation in Northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province where Islamic insurgents have been causing instability since 2017 after liquid gas was discovered in the area. The Sadc Parliamentary Forum recently unanimously adopted a motion calling for regional countries to intervene and stop the ongoing insurgency. The motion was adopted at the 48th Plenary Assembly Session of the Sadc Parliamentary Forum held on December 4 and 5 virtually. Zimbabwe’s Speaker of the National Assembly, Jacob Mudenda, moved the motion urging regional countries to take action.

“The terrorist attacks in the Republic of Mozambique are threatening the country’s security and sovereignty and undermining efforts to consolidate the rule of law and democracy,” said Mudenda.

Mudenda also argued that the terrorists in Mozambique had killed many innocent civilians, displaced others and posed a threat to the peace and stability of the region.

Angolan Member of Parliament Josefina Diakite seconded the motion, highlighting that the Sadc country needed urgent action and solidarity as the situation was becoming a humanitarian crisis.

“I underline the need for us to stand in solidarity and to fight what is happening against democracy in Southern Africa and destabilising the peace in Mozambique.

“As a country, we are praying for a regional coordinated response to curb these terrorist acts which will soon spiral in other provinces of Mozambique and will definitely impact on the economies of neighbouring countries and the regional bloc at large,” she said.

Eswatini Speaker Petrus Mavimbela called for the Sadc Troika on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation to intervene and end the crisis in Mozambique.

Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi in May pleaded with the region to assist in the response to attacks by the Islamists.

Sadc countries have cooperated in the field of education, too, with many countries in the region sending their students to study in Zimbabwe and Zimbabwean students also studying in other Sadc countries. Universities that come to mind where many Zimbabweans including political leaders studied are Fort Hare in South Africa, University of Botswana, University of Lesotho and Lusaka University. To date, students from disadvantaged backgrounds get Government scholarships to study at Fort Hare. Just after Independence, many students from South Africa studied journalism and Mass Communication at the Harare Polytechnic.    

Another key area of cooperation among Sadc countries is that of culture, which is defined as ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society. Culture encompasses language, religion, food, social habits, music and arts and is essentially a way of life of a group of people.

Most Sadc countries speak Bantu languages which have a common “ntu” word for people. For example, the Ndebele language which is spoken in the southern parts of Zimbabwe is similar to Zulu which is spoken in South Africa, while the Kalanga language which is spoken in Zimbabwe along the border with Botswana is similar to the language spoken in parts of Botswana including Francistown. 

In Zambia, several languages are spoken including Tonga and Chichewa which are also spoken in Zimbabwe’s Hwange and Victoria Falls districts as well as other mining communities where immigrants are found in large numbers. In fact, it is easy for peoples from different Sadc countries to survive in any Sadc country as the languages spoken across these countries are similar. Nothing divides people like failure to understand each other’s language – that was how the tower of Babel project failed to kick off as, according to the Bible, God confused the languages of the builders so that they could not understand each other.

Because of language similarities, people in Sadc countries have inter-married since time immemorial and this has contributed to integration, understanding and harmony within the bloc.

Maize is the common staple food of most Sadc countries and “sadza”, “isitshwala” or “pap” is the common denominator as far as food in the Sadc region is concerned. That means it is easy for a citizen of Sadc to live in another country without worrying about major changes in diet. 

This is another rallying point.

Music and dances from the region are also largely similar. For example, music and dances from most Sadc countries are similar and culturally linked. In Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, there are Nyau dancers commonly known as “Zvigure” where people wear masks and engage in certain cult dances and traditions that can be linked to Malawi. The same applies to Kalanga dances and music which can be found in Botswana and Venda Music which is found in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The music of the Sadc is appreciated across the region. Take the music of the late Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe which was loved in countries such as South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, to name but a few countries. 

In fact, many Zimbabwean musicians were appreciated in the region, with artistes from the Southern African country holding shows across the region. The late Zimbabwean musician Leonard Dembo was loved as far afield as Tanzania and the late John Chibadura held several shows in Mozambique. In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, one could be forgiven to think that they were in South Africa because of the similar music and dress sense with South Africa. While growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the music of the Soul Brothers from South Africa was played often on radio and at homes in Zimbabwe so much that one thought the group were from Zimbabwe.

Over the years, there have been music collaborations among Sadc countries. The late Oliver Mtukudzi collaborated with a number of South African artistes, including Ringo Madlingozi and the late jazz maestro, Hugh Masekela. He even collaborated with musicians such as Steve Dyer on the project, Mahube, which included artistes from both countries.

Several other musicians from South Africa and Botswana have performed in Zimbabwe, including Slyzer and Culture Spears from Botswana, the late Brenda Fasi from South Africa and many others. This means music can be a used as a vehicle to promote integration and cohesion among countries in the region if positive messages are spread through it. 

The proximity of Sadc countries to each other also means that what affects one country in the region also affects the rest. A case in point is how Cyclone Idai, which occurred in 2019 in Zimbabwe also caused devastation in Mozambique and Malawi. It is estimated that almost 3 million people were affected, with more than 1 000 deaths across the region and hundreds more missing. Basically, if one Sadc country sneezes, the rest of the region catches the cold.The same happened with Covid-19. All Sadc borders were closed at the height of the novel Coronavirus which started in March 2020 as part of attempts by member countries to stem the spread of the disease. 

In times of drought Sadc countries rely on one another to import food because of their close proximity to each other. For example, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Malawi import grain from each other and usually when there is a drought it affects the whole region, albeit with differing intensity. 

On the religious front, some religious leaders and faiths have followers who cut across the region. Take for example certain Apostolic sects which have large followers in all SADC countries. Adherents of such faiths are usually conspicuous by their dressing – with women wearing white garments and headdresses. They are found in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania, to name but a few countries which have a large following of members. 

The Zion Christian Church, (ZCC) which is based in South Africa, has a huge following in Zimbabwe and Botswana, with thousands of adherents of the faith each year travelling to mount Moria on a pilgrimage. There is also a big shrine in Masvingo province in Zimbabwe for ZCC Mbungo. Church members have similar dances and music in both countries.  

There is also what can be described as religious tourism whereby religious leaders who are popularly known as prophets are followed across borders to conduct crusades. Zimbabwe’s Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries leader, Walter Magaya, and Emmanuel Makandiwa, leader of the United Family International Church, have often carried their gospel across the Sadc region, with thousands of followers attending.