The Daily Vox (Johannesburg)

18 August 2014

Southern Africa: The SADC Wrap - Zimbabwe Hosts Pricey SADC Summit, With Mugabe As Chair

Photo: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti
A peacekeeper with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (file photo).

Each week award-winning journalist KRISTEN VAN SCHIE brings you all the news that's worth knowing from across the SADC region. Here is this week's SADC Wrap.

Southern African leaders gathered in Victoria Falls this past weekend for the 34th SADC Summit. Chairing the organisation for the next 12 months will be Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe.

It's an appointment that understandably makes some a little queasy. As this piece notes, "Those opposed to Mugabe's chairmanship argue that he still has serious legitimacy issues both locally and among the international community arising from the manner in which Zimbabwe conducted its last national elections ... Some critics also wonder about the rationale of Zimbabwe hosting this expensive summit when the government is grappling with serious financial difficulties and is said to be struggling to pay civil servants."

There's also concern about tensions between Mugabe and other presidents in the SADC block, particularly Botswana's Ian Khama. But journalist Ray Ndlovu writes in this Business Day article, that Mugabe has assured everyone that his real enemy is the West, as noted in this Mugabesque quote of note: "As we assume the leadership of the SADC this weekend, they are all our friends and we never want to make enemies. That is why you have not heard me wanting to criticise anyone publicly. If there are disagreements, let us talk about it behind closed doors and not make it open. We don't want to feed the enemy with the wrong information that we are divided; the enemy which is Britain and America."

The summit generally revolves around political and security concerns in the region but, as the South African Institute of International Affairs' Catherine Grant Makokera notes in this article, those issues have been relatively quiet of late.

"Without the distraction of high politics, their focus will likely return to the regional integration agenda of the SADC," writes Makokera. "This is the nuts and bolts work of any regional organisation. It includes facilitating the movement of goods, services, people and capital among member states, so as to boost economic development of the group as a whole ... Security is undeniably important, but if we are to make economic integration a reality, then facilitation should come first, with exceptions made for security reasons where necessary."

Mozambique's president promulgated an Amnesty Law last week that provides pretty broad amnesty for crimes against state security and military crimes committed since March 2012. This is all in aid of creating a stable environment for the country's October elections, in which one of the three presidential candidates is Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the opposition party/rebel group Renamo, which has been clashing with government forces for months now. The amnesty follows a peace agreement reached between Renamo and the governing Frelimo party last Monday.

But according to this piece, the law is "worded broadly enough to cover not only armed rebellion, but also crimes of murder, arson, theft and illegal possession of firearms" and includes "policemen or soldiers who may have committed abuses during the recent fighting". In effect, it also means nobody will be held to account for civilians killed in the recent clashes, meaning Dhlakama can come out of his months of hiding in the bush. He still insists, however, that his life is at risk.

Lawmakers in the Seychelles have called for public opinions about homosexuality in what many are hoping is the first step towards decriminalising male same-sex relationships in the country. I say "male" specifically because lesbian relationships are already legal there - it's an old sodomy law that discriminates particularly against homosexual men. According to Gay Star News, the Seychelles promised the UN that it would get the ball rolling on decriminalising homosexual relationships back in 2011.

Zambian president Michael Sata's wife Christine Kaseba has said her husband is fine as rumours continue to swirl over the state of his health. Sata hasn't been seen in public since June, while his deputy Guy Scott represented the country at the US-Africa Leaders Summit two weeks ago. But Kaseba reportedly said "it is unfortunate that people are plotting for the head of state to be in a coma when he is fine and moving the nation forward," according to Zambian Watchdog. (Read this piece for some great background, if only for the cheeky #BringBackOurPresident hashtag.)

Lesotho's under-20 football team forfeited its place in African Youth Championship when it pulled out of a qualifier against Nigeria citing Ebola fears. This came after Lesotho's government enforced a travel ban on people returning from Ebola-affected countries. There have been 12 reported cases of Ebola and four deaths from the virus in Nigeria. Countries all over the SADC region have been implementing travel rules to ensure the disease does not spread.

Kristen van Schie is a South African journalist working at the Weekend Argus in Cape Town. Raised in Namibia, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa, she has reported from the Central African Republic, Somalia, Syria, Namibia, Vietnam, Antarctica, and a ship in the Indian Ocean. She is a three-time winner at the Sikuvile Journalism Awards, South Africa's premier newspaper awards. She blogs about news from the region at The SADC Wrap.

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InFocus

SADC Countries Meet for 34th Annual Summit

A peacekeeper with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (file photo).

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