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Zimbabwe assumes SADC chairmanship

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe now the new chair of SADC bloc.

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe now the new chair of SADC bloc.

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Sunday urged Southern Africa to reduce its dependence on foreign aid and to make better use of its natural resources such as minerals and land. Mugabe was speaking at the opening of a two-day summit of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (Sadc) in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls resort.

“Our continued over-reliance on the goodwill of our co-operation partners compromises our ownership of Sadc. Our region has abundant resources that, instead of being sold in raw form at very low prices, must be exploited … to add value to the products that we export,” he said.

Mugabe assumed the chairmanship of the Sadc region and is also in line to lead the 54-nation continental body, the African Union, from 2015. Sadc’s members are South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Angola, Swaziland, Seychelles and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

His call for economic empowerment might find some resonance in a region that is endowed with some of the world’s largest reserves of minerals and commodities yet remains among the poorest.

Critics say Mugabe’s regional standing has been undermined by an economic crisis in Zimbabwe, which they partly blame on his seizures and redistribution of white-owned commercial farms to landless people among the black population. Activist groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said that Zimbabwe had to respect its own constitution if it wanted to have credibility as head of Sadc.

But Aditi Lalbahadur, a researcher at the South African Institute for International Affairs, said: “This is an endorsement of the political change that has taken charge in Zimbabwe.” African leaders were signalling they recognised Mr Mugabe’s “unequivocal ” electoral win, Lalbahadur said, ” contested as it was”.

Zimbabwean officials were excluded from Sadc positions of power for almost a decade as the country grappled with economic and political turmoil. State-backed violence, mainly directed at the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, saw sanctions imposed on senior ruling-party officials.

Mugabe was the only Southern African leader who was not invited to the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, hosted earlier this month by US President Barack Obama. Leaders at the regional bloc’s annual summit will discuss how to derive greater benefit from mineral resources by encouraging local processing. They will also assess progress made toward enhancing economic integration.

Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said they would not impose its programmes on its neighbours. “All we can give is the Zimbabwe approach. After discovering foreign companies were not keen to add value, we have legislated an arrangement where in the mining industry at least 51% … must be held by Zimbabweans,” Mumbengegwi said.

“In the absence of such a law, we have to ask the companies involved to invest in the beneficiation of the mineral. It is a challenge and cannot be solved overnight…. With determination and concerted effort it can be done.” Issues of migration are also expected to come up.

“Leaders are yet to find common ground on the implementation of enabling legislation and concrete action to establish initiatives such as a uni-visa for the region to ease the movement of visitors across borders, and one-stop border posts to ease the passage of goods,” the South African Institute for International Relations said. – Ray Ndlovu, Reuters, Bloomberg and AFP