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Tracing the Southern African Development Community’s roots back to 1980 when its precursor was officially launched

Tracing the Southern African Development Community’s roots back to 1980 when its precursor was officially launched

By Mukundi Mutasa of the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre in Harare.

On 1 April 1980, the Southern African Development Coordination Conference was officially launched at the Mulungushi Conference Centre in Lusaka, Zambia.

On that day, the leaders of the five Frontline States – Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia – were joined by leaders of four other majority-ruled countries in Southern Africa – Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland (now Eswatini) and the newly liberated Zimbabwe – in appending their signatures to the Lusaka Declaration formally establishing SADCC.

They were all driven by a “common vision of a brighter future”, according to Sir Seretse Khama, founding President of Botswana.

“With mutual trust and the common vision of a brighter future which brought us here today, we shall not fail,” President Khama said.

This was reinforced by President Samora Machel of Mozambique, who referred to the common denominator that bound the majority-ruled countries of southern Africa, leading to the formation of the group.

As one of the speakers on the day, President Machel talked of “our common identity and common determination in the fight for liberation of our region and our continent from colonialism, from racism, from oppression, dependency and exploitation.”

When SADCC was formed, the precursor to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), its core objective was economic development and the reduction of economic dependence of the Member States on South Africa.

“We all know that our economies are to a very large extent, albeit to varying degrees, dependent on the economy of South Africa,” President Khama told his compatriots.

“What we seek is the ability to exercise some degrees of choice, which insures us against domination by one powerful partner,” he added.

This was underscored in the Lusaka Declaration, aptly titled Southern Africa: Towards Economic Liberation’, where the nine founding Member States committed that “future development must aim at the reduction of economic dependence not only on the Republic of South Africa, but also on any single external State or group of States.”

The dependence on South Africa was largely visible in the areas of transport and communication, with the country being a major exporter of goods and services, and importer of goods and cheap labour.

According to Khama, southern African countries, therefore, wanted to have a wider choice of transportation routes, markets, sources of energy, and investment partners.

It was inconceivable that Southern Africa’s majority-ruled countries would oil the economic wheels of the apartheid regime by being dependent on its economy, yet they deeply despised South Africa’s racial segregation policies.

President Machel was even more emphatic in his assertion that SADCC Member States would succeed in reducing dependence on South Africa only through cooperation.

“To increase our cooperation among States of the region signifies reducing dependency on South Africa and, consequently, on imperialism,” he said.

President Kaunda advised his peers that there was a lot at stake and this was dependent on the success of the newly formed SADCC, particularly as the economic emancipation of the countries attending the summit would have “an epoch-making impact within South Africa, and deal a mortal blow to the policy of apartheid.”

“Our success is important to the people of South Africa and, therefore, to the liberation of the entire continent,” he added.

While the objective of launching SADCC was premised on achieving economic emancipation, it did not mean that its Member States were abandoning their political liberation desires that had shaped the Frontline States’ approach.

Rather, economic emancipation was a continuation of the struggle, with political liberation providing a solid foundation for economic prosperity.

Presidents Khama and Machel both stressed that the political struggle would continue until Namibia and South Africa were fully liberated.

President Khama affirmed that the struggle would continue “until all of us in the region can freely enjoy all the rights to which we are entitled and are able to determine our future and wellbeing.”

“Our task is not yet complete,” President Machel emphasised, adding that “political struggle and support of the Frontline States must continue.”

Lessons that the Frontline States had learnt in their quest for political freedom in Southern Africa would also inform progress in SADCC, they said.

“I have no doubt that we are equally capable of working together for the economic and social advancement of our peoples in the same way as we have done in the struggle for political freedom,” President Khama said.

The message was equally emphatic from the charismatic Machel.

“It is very important that the experience of unity and cohesion of the Frontline States in the political liberation struggle of the people should also be extended to other majority-ruled States and governments in Southern Africa, in economic liberation,” he said.

President Khama also acknowledged that economic liberation would not be an easy feat compared to political liberation.

“It must be accepted that this will no doubt be a more difficult task than the political one,” Khama warned. However, he emphasised that it was incumbent upon the peoples of southern Africa to achieve economic freedom.

It would be “over-optimistic to hope for easy and quick successes. However, the task is ours and we must think of all possible ways of tackling it,” he said.

The Lusaka Summit was also attended by Sam Nujoma, then president of the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), who received guarantees of support from the Summit for the total liberation of Namibia, which at that time was formally under a UN mandate but occupied by South Africa.

In his affirmation of support to SWAPO, President Kaunda pledged “time and our own determination to give SWAPO every support, favour victory for the oppressed.”

President Khama’s concluding statement during the Mulungushi Summit was the embodiment of the foundation upon which SADCC was built.

“We move forward in unity, or we perish,” he said.

President Kaunda echoed the same sentiment, saying that unity should not be limited to political liberation alone.

“African unity must be given economic substance, out of which the socio-cultural fabric will grow so strong that our continent will no longer be vulnerable.”

This informed the vision of SADC, the successor to SADCC, that of “a common future within a regional community that will ensure economic wellbeing, improvement of the standards of living and quality of life, freedom and social justice and peace and security for the peoples of Southern Africa.”

Southern African News Features are produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC). Website and Virtual Library for Southern Africa at


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