SADC Summit urged to bar Zimbabwe from implementing destructive economic policies


Zim on Spotlight at the 36th SADC Heads of States & Government Summit, Mbabane-Swaziland, 30 to 31 August 2016

By Lovemore Lubinda

As preparations for the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) summit to be held in Swaziland gathers momentum, civil societies in Zimbabwe have once again urged this forthcoming high-level meeting to stop the government from enacting destructive economic policies, as this can harm citizens’ food security, livelihoods and endanger trade in the region.

The 36th SADC Heads of States and Government Summit will take place in Mbabane from 30 to 31 August 2016 under the chairmanship of host head of state and incoming chairperson of the regional body, King Mswati III.

The Summit is responsible for the overall policy direction and control of functions of the community, ultimately making it the policy-making institution of SADC. It is made up of all of the grouping’s Heads of States or Government and managed on a troika system that comprises the current summit chair or incoming, the deputy chair at that time, and the immediate previous chairperson.

Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko said after having deliberated in various fora as civil societies on the current situation in Zimbabwe and the growing tension, they jointly call upon the government to craft unambiguous policies that generate confidence among investors, and genuine commitment to democratising economic governance which include respect of rule of law and property rights that will assist in sending positive signals t the investors.

She said the organisations believe that SADC as a regional body does have a role to play in solving any challenges that may face member states, including Zimbabwe which is facing economic challenges, and called for it to intervene through the coming summit.

“The organisations demand that the SADC summit should decisively deal with the promulgation of destructive economic policies by Zimbabwe, which have cross national effects and direct consequences of limiting trade in the region,” she said.

Mukoko said the joint statement by civil organisations which was issued last month was in response to the protests by traders in Beitbridge after the recent enactment of the (Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016) by Zimbabwe, a policy which restricted the importation of certain foodstuff from South Africa.

The statutory instrument, which government says is meant to protect local industry, did not go down well informal traders in the border town who viewed the move as damaging to their livelihoods. The traders vented their displeasure to the move by staging protests that also saw property worth thousands of dollars including a Zimbabwe Revenue Authority owned warehouse being destroyed in arson.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Programme Manager International Litigation Dzie Chimbga says while Zimbabweans appreciate SADC’s weaknesses and shortcomings as a political body, it cannot be excluded from the solution in Zimbabwe precisely because the country is a member. “There is precedence in that regard when it intervened in Zimbabwe where there is a situation that threatened human rights, making reference to the Government of National Unity GNU which was SADC brokered, and there is consensus that it assisted in bringing sanity to the situation that could have gone out of control,” he says.

Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust Gladys Hlatswayo says that it seems that we have policy discord when government comes up with a policy that bans food imports; “Its within the context where the country is facing a drought people are pushed into the informal sector importing foodstuffs then the government goes on to ban that,” she said. She said it was better for government to engage citizens in finding a solution to the challenges being faced.

Zimbabwe was accused by some regional countries that include Zambia and South Africa, its major trading partner of violating the SADC protocol on trade after the enactment of the embargo. This saw Pretoria threatening to retaliate, as trade relations almost got sour, ahead of the meeting between the corresponding ministers that finally materialised last Thursday.

The protocol, advocates that member states eliminate barriers to trade, ease custom procedures, harmonise trade policies based on international standards, and prohibit unfair business practices.

SI 64, which is reported to last for between two to three years according a state run newspaper (Chronicle). The Ministry of Industry and Commerce maintains that the Harare did not breach the protocol but, only acted in good faith in order to protect its industry, adds that it will continue to control the importation of certain product that it believes can be produced locally, and mobilise funds to capacitate the recovery of the protected sectors.

After meeting Rob Davies, his South African counterpart recently, minister Mike Bimha told the members of the press in Harare that the two countries were on good mutual trade relations though there are still a few issues to be ironed out. He said Pretoria welcomed Harare’s position and justification of the measure, while the later will look into the former’s concerns for duty or tax phase down or its outright removal on certain products.