At the 15-member SADC summit, which ends on Sunday, President Jacob Zuma said South Africa would do its best to advance SADC’s Regional Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap (2015-2063) as an inclusive long-term modernisation and transformation mechanism. By PETER FABRICIUS.
President Jacob Zuma has demanded a cut for South Africa in a major project to channel water from the mountains of Lesotho to parched Botswana. He staked his claim while accepting the chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at the organisation’s summit in Pretoria on Saturday. Zuma was responding to Lesotho’s Prime Minister Tom Thabane who had urged Botswana’s President Ian Khama to sign off on a proposal to build a water pipeline between their two countries.
Thabane said this project would boost Lesotho’s economy as Botswana was “a good payer of its debts.”
Speaking later, Zuma told Thabane and Khama they “couldn’t do anything without South Africa. No water can just jump from Lesotho to Botswana” he quipped, noting that the water would have to traverse South Africa. “South Africa is going to say you both pay,” he added, to laugher.”But because we are good neighbours, we can help implement this without difficulty.”
It was not clear quite how serious Zuma was being about wanting a commission for water transit. But he was certainly being serious earlier in the speech when he demanded a greater cut for Southern African countries from their huge gas resources. He blasted international gas companies for depriving African countries of much the benefits of their own gas discoveries.
Zuma said one of the potential game-changers for the SADC region was the discovery of globally significant natural gas resources both onshore and offshore in a number of its member states.
“As a new initiative, we are proposing the establishment of an Inter-state Natural Gas Committee to share learning for regional gas development and to prepare for the development of the wider gas economy.
“As such, the inclusion and promotion of gas into the regional energy mix will facilitate an increase in universal access to energy, as well as industrial development in SADC.“
Zuma then urged the new president of the African Development Bank Akinwumi Adesina to work with the SADC finance ministers to work out a gas exploitation regime “that begins to favour us.” He said the region’s gas-producing countries should not continue to allow their gas to be exploited on terms favourable to international gas companies – “just because they discover it.”
“We still play a shadow of a role,” he said, adding Africa needed to play a greater role. Zuma said “nobody died” when Botswana had insisted on processing some of its own diamonds instead of exporting them raw for foreign processing.
Zuma also had a go at international development banks for making loans to African countries for infrastructure projects with conditions attached which ensured “that benefits yield to the lending countries”:
“The loans come with conditions that dictate which companies to use in project implementation and sometimes even dictating the sourcing of raw materials.”
The region should instead mobilise its own finances to fund regional projects:
“This is a key element towards the region’s ambitions of having its own Regional Development Fund. As you would know, Infrastructure is the key driver of industrialisation,” Zuma said, referring to the key aim of South Africa’s chairing of SADC over the next year which is to partner with the private sector in developing industry and regional value chains.
Zuma said an important gap identified by both the public and private sectors in implementing infrastructure projects was the lack of funding to develop bankable projects. South African president added that the African Regional Centre of the Brics development bank, which he launched in Sandton earlier this week, would focus on funding African countries to prepare these bankable infrastructure projects. “It’s time the continent has a window of opportunity,” he added.
“We… need to leverage infrastructure spend to fast-track the process of structural transformation in our economy,” he said, adding that infrastructure investment was a catalyst to economic transformation and industrial development.
Zuma said South Africa would do its best to advance SADC’s Regional Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap (2015-2063) as an inclusive long-term modernisation and transformation mechanism.
This strategy and road map sets out three potential growth paths – agro-processing, mineral beneficiation and manufacturing – with a focus on downstream processing and industry and service sector value chains.
Zuma announced as an example of production using regional value chains a new “Nutridrink” which would be launched at the summit. It would be both nutritious as well as “helping you keep alert at the summit,” he quipped. This product would be made from agricultural products sourced from all SADC member countries where it would also be manufactured..
The Summit is expected to accept an application for membership for the Indian Ocean island state Comoros, but officials said it was unlikely to accept an application from Burundi. Officials said that Burundi did not yet meet all the criteria for membership but it might do so next year. However Tanzania was pushing hard for Burundi to be admitted this weekend.
The summit is also discussing the growing crisis in member state, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), precipitated by President Joseph Kabila’s failure to step down from office when his second, constitutionally-limited term ended in December last year.
His government agreed that month with the opposition that he would step down and call elections this year. However DRC’s election commission recently announced that it would be logistically impossible to hold elections this year, provoking further unrest.
One SADC official said he believed the summit leaders would demand an election date from the DRC government but another said he believed that the leaders would instead decide to open an SADC office in Kinshasa to help DRC move towards elections. This official said that would be a bad idea, as Kabila needed to be given a deadline to meet.
Kabila did not attend the summit, avoiding protests outside the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Pretoria, where the summit is being held. Instead, DRC was represented by the country’s Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala, a former opposition party leader, possibly an attempt to make a point.
Lesotho is the other country on SADC’s naughty list and Thabane, who heads a four-party coalition government after elections earlier this year, vowed that he would implement all the recommendations which SADC has made to reform its constitution and its security sector to try to end the chronic political instability in the country, often provoked by the army’s interference in politics.
Many journalists were eager to see Mugabe’s wife Grace appeared at the summit after the controversy earlier in the week when she was accused of assaulting a South African woman with an electric extension cord.
Police were poised to lay charges against her on Tuesday before Zimbabwe requested diplomatic immunity for her. The SA government has not yet announced if it will grant the request. However, she was not among the spouses who entered the summit hall with their president husbands. It was not clear if she attended any of the special events planned for First Spouses. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma with other Heads of State and Government during a family photo session at the 37th South African Development Community (SADC) Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government at the Department of International Relations Cooperation, OR Tambo Building in Pretoria, 19 August 2017. (GCIS)