Africare Speech


Southern Africa's Moment of Truth

By C. Payne Lucas and Kevin G. Lowther


C. Payne Lucas was president of Africare from May 1971 to June 15, 2002, and Kevin G. Lowther is Africare's former Southern Africa regional director. The following was delivered by Lucas as a speech at Howard University, in Washington, D.C., April 26, 1995, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the historic democratic elections in South Africa. The speech was reprinted in Vital Speeches of the Day (July 1, 1995).


Authors' note: The premise of the following article — that peace, stability and growth in Southern Africa are key to progress elsewhere on the continent — still holds. However, the past five years have seen several developments which could compromise the region's lead role: renewed conflict in Angola, Zimbabwe's military involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS. If anything, Southern Africa's "moment of truth" appears frozen in time. (February 2000)

When we scan the map of Africa these days, seeking signs of hope, we inevitably end up focusing on the same quarter: Southern Africa. The West is burdened with political crises in Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The national integrity of the latter two is even in some question. To the east, you have Africa's longest-running and bloodiest war, in the Sudan; and there is what used to be Somalia.

Southern Africa is not yet paradise, but it has evidently survived the worst. Considering what it has been through the past generation, it is Africa's best argument that the continent has an important role to play in securing the future of the planet.

To appreciate the stake we have in Southern Africa, we need to reflect on the region's recent history -- much of it unknown or imperfectly understood by the outside world. We need to avoid defining Southern Africa solely in terms of the successful anti-apartheid struggle and measuring progress only against the high expectations for a free South Africa.

Southern Africans have suffered long — and suffered together — to liberate themselves from colonial exploitation and domination by white-minority regimes. It has taken the better part of a century, if we date the struggle to the first Chimurenga — the first armed resistance by Zimbabweans to European seizure of their land. That is an arbitrary reference point, but it will do if it reminds us that millions of Angolans, Zambians, Namibians, Mozambicans and Batswana — not just South Africans — have paid a heavy price for freedom.

In 1978, when Africare began working in Southern Africa, liberation wars were being waged in Zimbabwe and Namibia. There was fighting in Mozambique and Angola. Zambia was being attacked by Rhodesian and South African forces because of its support for the Zimbabwean and Namibian liberation movements. Apartheid was in its prime.

It got worse in the 1980s. South Africa launched a campaign to destabilize its neighbors. Mozambique descended into chaos and terror. Angolans continued dying proxy deaths in a civil war fueled by East and West. Northern Namibia became a free-fire zone. By the end of the decade, the region could count about two million refugees, including a million Mozambicans in Malawi alone. It could count perhaps three million internally displaced, mainly in Mozambique and Angola. And it could try counting the financial costs — in the billions of dollars, please — from destroyed infrastructure, lost production, lost trade and lost lives.

No one will ever know how many people have died in Southern Africa's decades of struggle. We remember the 69 who fell at Sharpeville. We remember individual deaths, like Samora Machel's and Ruth First's. We remember the martyrs, but not the masses, the villagers caught in the middle, the woman who steps on a mine while foraging for food, the child forced to set fire to his parents.

The people who survived this holocaust remember all too well. I know very few Southern Africans who cannot tell you of a friend or relative who died, or went missing, during this dark period. Or who were themselves not touched, scarred, shaped by conflicts which, at best, were inspired by misguided political ideologies and, at worst, by sheer ignorance, bigotry and greed.

What is worth celebrating today is not merely the peace that now largely reigns in Southern Africa, but the readiness of most of the survivors to put the past behind them. This applies especially to those societies which have borne the greatest hurt: South Africa, for sure, but also Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia.

If intruders and foreign powers have managed occasionally to divide Southern Africans against themselves, the latter have managed in turn to preserve that essential African trait: a hospitable spirit of inclusiveness which leaves the door open to strangers who come in peace and offers a forgiving hand to former enemies. It is a trait which may ultimately save other benighted parts of Africa and which could be exported elsewhere in this world.

Southern Africa is important to us because it is a region which has emerged stronger, with a greater sense of common destiny, from a period of prolonged and intense conflict. It thus becomes potentially a stabilizing factor, a beacon by which other countries and regions to the north may get their bearings.

The world needs a stable and productive Africa. It does not need — nor will it indefinitely indulge — an Africa which becomes a chronic drain on international charity, a continent landscaped with refugee camps and killing fields. Southern Africa has the antidote to this scenario, but its efficacy could be lost if Southern Africans — and their friends — do not consolidate the region's recent gains. We cannot take Southern Africa for granted. If we do so, we jeopardize our hopes for an entire continent.

Southern Africans understand just how little separates them from the devils they have known so long. They are not likely to take for granted the tenuous peace and security that has settled over them in Mozambique, in Angola, in the townships of South Africa.

For our part, we should not pretend that Southern Africa is something which it is not. Yes, it is evolving a regional self-consciousness; yes, it is developing regional structures and institutions; and yes, it momentarily boasts the world's most respected statesman in Nelson Mandela. But his aura infuses the region with a brilliance which cannot last. The fact is, Southern Africa must rise above its immediate good fortune — its relative peace, and in particular the Mandela factor. Both distract attention from the fundamental challenges to the methodical construction of a genuine community of Southern African peoples.

Peace and security are Job One. Only those who lived through Southern Africa's generation of violence and struggle can appreciate what peace truly means. With the signing of the Angolan cease-fire in November 1994, the last of the region's war machines went silent. Keeping them quiet — and dismantling them — comes next. The thousands of land mines and AK-47s left behind will continue to kill and maim for decades to come. But most people can go to bed knowing that their world will not be shattered in the night by marauding guerillas or overrun the next day by someone's army.

In spite of the region's violent legacy, Southern Africa has demonstrated that you can put the military genie back in the bottle. Zimbabwe successfully created a professional army following independence, and now is reducing its size in response to the end of war in neighboring Mozambique. In South Africa, the army is absorbing former ANC guerillas, and reducing its size. The new Mozambican army, comprised of former Renamo and Government soldiers, has about one-fifth the number of men who were under arms at the 1992 cease-fire. Now it is Angola's turn to demobilize most of its combatants and to merge UNITA cadres into a streamlined army.

The "peace dividend" should be invested in ensuring real security. The smaller armies should be professional, apolitical and adequately paid. The savings derived by reducing the size of armies and their costly hardware can be used to provide more effective national police forces. Zimbabwe has done this, with dramatic results. Zimbabweans recently have been praising their police, now better equipped and supported, for cracking down on crime.

Without peace and security, there will be no sustained economic growth in the region. American and other foreign investors have shown unexpectedly strong interest in South Africa for this very reason. There has been relatively little labor unrest or political violence since Nelson Mandela assumed the presidency. This is a tangible peace dividend. It will not be enough to dent South Africa's entrenched poverty and economic disparities, but the ability to attract foreign investment and to retain domestic capital should at least arrest deterioration of people's living standards. It can generate steady, if unspectacular, growth over the longer term.

An economic miracle in South Africa would be nice, but I would settle for balanced economic growth in the region as a whole — balanced in the sense that each country has the opportunity to make the most of its comparative advantages. It is inevitable that South Africa will dominate the regional economy. The question to ask is whether such domination will necessarily suffocate or unfairly exploit the region's other national economies. It is in everyone's interests to target regional growth. This is going to require foresight among the region's economic planners, business leaders and political heads. It will also need the commitment of the international community to provide investment and economic assistance with a regional character.

The incentives for investment are manifest. The region has basically sound transportation and communications infrastructure. It has oil, natural gas, and immense hydro, solar and wind-power potential. It has adequate natural resources — water and land — to grow substantial food surpluses. It has mineral wealth galore, and the mining expertise to go with it. It has unique and diverse tourist attractions. What it lacks is regional framework to guide and encourage economic development.

Notice that I have avoided using the term "regional integration". That implies some grand design which might frustrate the rational evolution of economic linkages, based on economically driven decisions by business people, financial institutions, investors and planners. Who knows? Southern Africa might benefit economically more by establishing a regional stock exchange in addition to the several national ones that have been started.

The region needs much more, of course, than a stock exchange to ensure its economic future. Having achieved relative peace and tranquility, Southern Africa needs somehow to arrest the devastating spread of AIDS. It needs to address the burgeoning problem of drugs. It needs to respond to the youth, who make up half the population, especially the tens of thousands of street children and AIDS orphans. It needs to combat crime. It needs to empower women.

Most of all Southern Africa needs leadership which encourages the people to assume greater responsibility for their own affairs, while also inspiring their faith in government's ability to meet its legitimate responsibilities. This is a tall order under the best of circumstances and forces us to confront the natural limits of leadership. There is just so much that even Nelson Mandela can do.

In the Southern African context, leaders should be content if they set high standards for integrity in the public service, if they reconcile ethnic and other domestic tensions, if they provide physical security and simple justice for their people, and if they create an environment in which citizens feel encouraged to build nongovernmental structures to complement the capacity of the state.

Southern African leaders have risen to the occasion during the difficult final passage from colonialism and white supremacy to genuine freedom. Reconciliation has been a dominant theme for many years in Southern Africa. Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda courageously met in the 1970s with Rhodesia's Ian Smith and President Vorster of South Africa in an attempt to allay their fears of majority rule. Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe promoted national reconciliation following a long and bloody liberation war, ultimately merging his party with that of his then-opponent, Joshua Nkomo. SWAPO in Namibia confounded the experts who predicted black repression and white flight at independence in 1990. Mozambique's President Chissano and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama each risked compromise to end what was arguably the region's most brutal conflict.

The path was blazed, therefore, when F.W. de Klerk and Mandela agreed to set South Africa on the high road. It remains clearly marked for Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and UNITA's Jonas Savimbi. They are expected to meet shortly, for the first time in years, to begin developing trust in one another and in the peace process. No one expects this to be easy, but every leader in Southern Africa is standing behind them as though to say, "If we can do it, so can you." And they must. Angolans cannot afford another round of bloodshed. Nor can Southern Africa tolerate renewed conflict in that quarter. The Pax Southern Africa must be fully fledged if the international community and region itself are to concentrate on the ongoing process of reconciliation, reconstruction and development.

What does this all mean for those of us drawn to Southern Africa? Whatever we do, I believe, should be calculated to reinforce Southern Africa's regional strengths. There is considerable scope for cross-fertilization of experience, technology and approaches to specific problem-solving. This is especially true among the region's nongovernmental organizations. By encouraging this process of institution building, of sharing and mutual learning, we will contribute to the development of a regional consciousness. This in turn could help sustain democratization and promote a parallel decentralization and devolution of government services and responsibilities.

Africa — not to mention the world at large — needs a success story. Southern Africa, I am convinced, can provide that tonic. It has the resources and the leadership. It has a shared and intensive experience of struggle and pain. And perhaps most significantly, it has a rainbow of peoples — black, white and every shade in between — who have learned what so many in Europe, America and the Middle East have not: That humankind is not meant to live in separate cages, divided by race, religion and ethnicity. It there is one region in the world which demonstrates that we are meant to live together, it is Southern Africa. It is Africa's great hope. It may be ours, as well.

Copyright 1995, C. Payne Lucas and Kevin G. Lowther. All rights reserved.

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