People’s voices condemn SADC

MASERU - Alongside the SADC inter government meeting here last week were two other meetings: a gathering of 'official' NGOs and a 'People's Summit' meant to give a voice to those affected by the policy decisions that are made by heads of state behind closed doors. T

his grassroots meeting, under the banner of the Southern Africa People’s Solidarity Network, was attended by about 160 people from Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Swaziland and Mozambique. While they commended the governments of SADC for standing firm to defend their small farmers in the latest round of WTO negotiations, they found themselves repeating warnings that had been issued by the first SADC People’s Summit in Windhoek in 2000. They observed that SADC decision-making was becoming more remote from the people of the region, with a centralised secretariat in Gaborone and foreign experts, provided as EU ‘aid’ apparently carrying more weight in government councils than do the people of the region.
In particular, they criticised Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and individual SADC governments as undermining the unity of SADC and expressed similar concern about the conditions attached to the US African Growth and Opportunities Act. They called for governments to show the same determination in resisting the privatising of national resources, national assets and public services that they showed in opposing moves in the WTO negotiations to open their economies to all imports from developed countries. A petition making these points was presented to the meeting of government leaders. In this light, it is a matter for concern that 27 would-be Zimbabwe participants were not granted South African visas in time to make the journey to Maseru. Those denied this access to the Summit were 8 cross-border traders, 3 people living with HIV/AIDS, 7 members of residents’ associations, 9 debt and trade activists and two students. In addition, three Zimbabweans now based in South Africa were prevented from attending because they would lose their refugee status in South Africa if they left SA, even for two days in Lesotho. Observers question whether someone in authority was trying to weaken the voice of these disadvantaged groups.

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