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South Africa needs to play a stronger role in regional peace and security to help stem flow of migrants


Rebone Tau is a political commentator and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL. She is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.

The government cannot handle the issue of migrants in isolation from what is happening in the region where there are many countries facing serious political challenges.

South Africa needs political leadership that will deal with the root causes of political instability on the African continent. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) region alone faces serious challenges: Lesotho holds its national elections in September 2022, and next year both Zimbabwe and Eswatini are expected to hold theirs. What do these elections mean for the stability of the region?

While South Africa’s home affairs minister looks into strengthening systems, it is important for the government to be in touch with the reality of the political situation in the region. This will require bold leadership that will be frank and honest about the challenges facing the region. As long as there is no peace and stability and leaders don’t hold each other accountable we will see an influx of migrants fleeing to South Africa for safety and a better life as their own governments have failed them.

The South African government needs to be firm and stop playing politics when dealing with countries in conflict, since it ends up feeling the pressure, not the governments that have failed their citizens.

In 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Justice Dikgang Moseneke as leader of the SADC mediation team in Lesotho, following a recommendation by the SADC Double Troika that he appoint high-level personalities to support him.

Lesotho is not politically stable at all and has a history of coups – in 1970, followed by one in 1986 and again in 1991. In 2022, former prime minister Tom Thabane was forced to step down. We have seen reports of military chiefs being assassinated, and the security reforms need to be dealt with in order to bring peace and stability.  In 2014, there was an attempted coup to remove Thabane and he fled to South Africa.

South Africa has played a mediation role in Zimbabwe that started during the era of former president Thabo Mbeki and which was known by many as “quiet diplomacy”, which led to the signing of the Global Political Agreement in 2008, which to date has not been fully implemented. In 2020, Ramaphosa appointed special envoys to Zimbabwe. We saw political violence in Zimbabwe over the weeks before the by-elections on 26 March 2022.

In Eswatini political parties remain banned and over the past few months we have seen how the kingdom has been brutal towards progressive forces. In 2021, Ramaphosa, in his capacity as chairperson of the SADC’s Organ on Defence, Politics and Security Cooperation, appointed special envoys to engage with King Mswati III on security and political developments in the kingdom. This led to Ramaphosa meeting Mswati. We are still not clear on how things will move in Eswatini building up to its national elections in 2023, but one can say they are not democratic since political parties have been banned and the progressive forces want political parties to be unbanned.

In Mozambique, we have the ongoing insurgency in Cabo Delgado. If this issue is not handled well we will see more people coming to South Africa. It is in the best interests of South Africa to put more effort into Mozambique. On 11 March 2022, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi was in South Africa to attend the third session of the Bi-National Commission of Cooperation between South Africa and Mozambique.

The South African government cannot handle the issue of migrants in isolation from what is happening in the region where there are many countries facing serious political challenges. The South African special envoys need to yield results as taxpayers’ money is used for the work they are doing, and the issue of migrants goes hand in hand with peace and stability. No migrant wants to leave their home country and be far from their family. The government will have to step up and deal decisively with issues around peace and stability in the region.  

The government can’t ignore the challenges that face the region when dealing with the issue of migrants, in the hope that all these problems will go away. DM


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