A Just Transition to a Sustainable Development Path:
Strengthening Alliances for a Low-Carbon, Wage-Led, Sustainable and Equitable Development Path for Southern Africa
The project covers South and Southern Africa. In the coming period AIDC intends progressively expanding its scope into the Southern African region, particularly those countries where mining has become a significant sector of the economy.
Although Southern Africa has experienced great levels of political fragmentation and crisis, it is an integrated region sharing a common geography, history and linked economy not least because of the history of mining and migrant labour. In spite of high levels of xenophobia directed at ‘foreign’ Africans living in South Africa, there is a strong regional consciousness amongst people in Southern Africa.
Extreme poverty, high levels of social exclusion undermine a sense of a common identity and give rise to division, tension and polarisation which has torn the social fabric of many communities apart. Southern African economies are characterised by “enclaves” of economic growth in the formal sector, surrounded by a survivalist informal economy that caters for the majority of the population.
The majority of the Southern African labour force continues to be openly unemployed or under-employed. This is a result of structural economic problems which were not resolved by post independence economic strategies. Neo-colonialism, corruption, indebtedness and civil wars brought many parts of Southern Africa to economic collapse.
The region has been gripped for many decades by a crisis of underdevelopment made worse through the imposition of structural adjustment programmes and the capitulation of many governments to neoliberal globalisation.
The advent of the financial crisis in 2008 as part of a wider economic and multi-dimensional global crisis is aggravating pre-existing divisions and inequalities within and between countries of the region.
South Africa, the most powerful country in the region, economically and politically faces enormous development and resource challenges, which have an impact on how it intervenes in the region and approaches regional integration. It is widely recognised as the most unequal country in the world and the economic crisis has had a severe impact on SA’s mass unemployment crisis.
Deepening poverty and unemployment in SA creates extreme tensions with immigrants coming to South Africa to escape the social, economic and political crises that grip the region. In 2008 xenophobic violence broke out in many of the country’s townships and informal settlements, leading to a large number of deaths and displacements of people.
Since the end of Apartheid South African capital and the state have seen Southern Africa as a gateway to investment across the country. By the early 2000s, South African mining and industrial corporations, financial institutions and even some medium-sized enterprises have once again asserted their role as a dominant force in the SADC region. South African capital is by far the biggest investor in the region and through SADC and the smaller Southern African Customs Union has imposed a free trade agenda that subordinates the region to the interests and ultimate domination of SA and its corporations.
This has only marginally changed with the recent multiple interventions of resource-hungry China in the region. Through soft loans and preferential trade agreements from China many Southern African countries are seeking, at least at the rhetorical level, greater autonomy in authoring national development strategies and challenging the dominating roles of the European Union and to a lesser extent SA.
Nevertheless, the conflicting agendas in the region of the EU, the international financial institutions, China and the dominance of South Africa’s economy has meant that the lofty ideals of regional integration and co-operation that underpinned the formation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have been largely thwarted. In the process there has been a further deepening of the social, economic and environmental crises affecting the region.