By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
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The Southern African Development Community (SADC), comprising 15 member states, convenes an extraordinary summit in Sandton, South Africa on 11 June, principally to discuss the extension of free trade
between itself and larger counterparts, the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA). On the sidelines of this conference, two of SADC’s reprobate siblings, Madagascar and Zimbabwe, will draw the greater media focus in the face new criticisms of SADC for its manifest apathy in dealing with regional crisis.

There are few parallels between Madagascar and Zimbabwe, and these are tenuous. The single common denominator bringing them to SADC’s tending are issues of governance and the right of their peoples to choose political leaders in free and fair elections, being devoid of violence and intimidation. Madagascar suffered a transfer of power to opposition leader, Andy Rajoelina, who headed up an imposed High Transitional Authority in what was tantamount to a military coup. Following lengthy negotiations, SADC recently bungled by approving a ‘road-map’ intended to return the nation to democracy, which the entire Madagascan opposition had instantly rejected. The people are not liberated.

Zimbabwe is the bigger headache for SADC. Surprisingly, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa demonstrated his increasing impatience with Zimbabwe’s failure to implement resolutions to save a shaky Global Political Agreement (GPA). Politically, Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity (GNU) is decaying. The problem is, nobody knows how genuine, or indeed impartial, Zuma is, especially behind closed doors. An apparent increase in levels of political violence and intimidation, ahead of elections, for which no date has even been set, the seeming militarization of politics by one contender party, and the polarization of the parties to the GPA are cause for concern. Yet SADC’s professed disquiet with Zimbabwe is not being matched with commensurate action or pressure. There is certainly no urgency and the people are not liberated.

This is, perhaps, not surprising. SADC has long been regarded as a toothless bulldog. It has unresolved issues concerning its ineffective secretariat, which lacks both political and administrative infusion from the club’s regional powerhouse, South Africa. Its objectives were once that of a political liberator in southern Africa. Added to this, the very concept that this old nationalist liberators’ club, might ever confront one of its own, indeed face up to Africa’s most upheld liberation revolutionary, showers water on fuming discontent in some parts of the region. Zuma’s ANC government, charged with structuring the election ‘road-map’ in Zimbabwe, is hardly likely tip the scales and topple a crony liberation party, thus exacerbating a rather disturbing trend.

Astonishingly, the Community has already suspended its SADC Tribunal, a regional law court, in the wake of its judgements made against the Zimbabwean government on land issues brought before it. The Tribunal had ruled that land reform in Zimbabwe was racist and illegal. Zimbabwe ignored the judgement and facilitated the suspension. Many are now crying foul. Their loss of recourse to regional law establishments, such as the SADC Tribunal, for protection against human rights abuses, leaves the victims of bad governance vulnerable to no justice or seeking refuge off-shore in foreign courts. This is a huge blow for democracy.

Now, opposition parties in Zimbabwe, which may well agree on an election road-map at the summit, still have serious contending issues. In particular, the essential need for security sector reform. Zimbabwe’s military and police service are considered to be fiercely loyal to Robert Mugabe and his former ruling party, which are clambering to retain power as Zimbabwe’s one and only liberator. Many believe the security forces are simply a party political militia, which cannot respect a constitution for all people. Clearly, without such reform, any election road-map will be critically damaged, before the first steps are taken.

SADC needs to take stock of its obligations to the people of southern Africa when faced with crisis in one nation or another. It needs to understand the requirement for impartiality and get over the liberation culture that appears to have ingratiated itself within. Southern Africa has golden opportunities at its doorstep, yet, like the rest of Africa, it seems destined for the slippery slope of internecine squabbles, economic demise and destruction in the deep waters of just too much politics. Without active and assertive regional leadership, empathy and simple common sense within SADC, North African styled revolutions may easily fester in the south.

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