The meeting’s purpose was to explore ways to strengthen transnational regional advocacy in light of the shrinking civic and democratic spaces within the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
A total of 25 participants attended the meeting, representing women’s groups, youths, trade unions, people with disabilities and faith-based organisations. They converged to discuss, collaborate and develop issue-based synergies with the aim of better coordinating regional lobbying and advocacy for stability and inclusive development.
In emphasising their concerns, delegates:
- Bemoaned the rapidly worsening closure of civic space in Southern Africa.
- Condemned the weaponization of law through draconian laws aimed atcriminalising the work of CSOs particularly those who try to hold their governments to account. The proposed enactment of the Private and Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill (Zimbabwe) and the NGO Act Amendment Bill of 2022 (Malawi) shows how ruling elites are restricting civil society even further.
- Castigated governments forpouncing on the Covid-19 pandemic as a timely boost to stifle dissent and further strip citizens of their dignity.
- Asserted that recent escalation of human rights violations and the clampdown on civil society in the region cannot be seen as a separate issue from SADC and AU’s reluctance to take collective responsibility for crisis prevention and management.
From the foregoing, the meeting resolved to:
- Develop stronger regional people-to-people solidarity, and work collectively to defend and expand civic space in the region.
- Continually monitor and amplify regional issues to complement the efforts of the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN).
- Promote regional dialogue on issues affecting the region andasserting people’s right to protest, including peaceful demonstrations outside embassies among other initiatives.
- Assess what the SADC member states are doing to promote and enhance human rights – incorporate lessons and best practice from exemplary countries for advocacy in countries facing challenges.
- Set up centres for practical solidarity in different countries across the region.
- Develop the capacities of civil society for regional advocacy.
- Challenge heads of states to speak and act against closure of civic and democratic space in the SADC region.
- Engage the SADC Parliamentary Forum to develop critical model laws that will be for advocacy towards domestication.
- Empower young people to collectively speak against challenges in the region.
- Empower and educate the grassroots to ensure they speak with one voice.
- Develop an alternative legal framework for self-regulation of the private voluntary actors, including NGOs and push back against the enactment of draconian laws as a united front.
- Establish effective monitoring frameworks in order to hold governments to account.
- Set up an information desk/media depository to promote information sharing and enhance access to accurate information.
- Launch an annual Democracy and Human Rights Indaba to promote continuous dialogue on issues affecting the region.