It used to be easier for people rather than goods to cross borders and
now it’s the other way around. In Southern Africa, the idea is to
create a free trading zone but to keep people in their place. It is
In especially the 19th century, you could chase dreams of gold from
California to Australia to South Africa without worrying about
passports – you just went to wherever opportunity called. Nowadays
it’s easier to move your assets across the globe than yourself. But,
as apartheid’s planners of independent “homelands” found, people have
always acted with economic self-interest rather than grand ideology in
Leaving South Africa has, says the SA Institute of Race Relations,
mainly been for young couples of child-bearing age. By 2010, there
were 760 000 abroad, with the UK as first choice (236 000), followed
by Australia (156 000) and the US (78 000).
Replacing these with immigrant professionals is hard to do with SA law
making the employment of foreigners especially onerous, a state of
affairs bemoaned by the Centre for Development and Enterprise which
argues for easing the process of hiring foreigners. But economic
immigrants come here anyway.
In just 2011, there were 3.3 million immigrants from neighbouring
Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, of whom 2.2
million had “no right to work”. In all, they sent R11 billion back
home in a form of regional economic integration far ahead of that
imagined by politicians. This happens even while the FinMark Trust
notes a drop of 27% between 1996 and 2011 in the employment of
foreigners in their traditional bastion, mining.
Meanwhile, SA has the highest number of asylum seekers in the world,
and, mainly thanks to an amnesty for illegal Zimbabweans, begun in
2009, only deported 56 000 people in 2010, down from 313 000 just
three years before.
All along, SADC have, European Union-style, been talking, if not
really acting, on regional integration of an ambitious sort. A US$500
billion “master plan” would see cross-border infrastructure upgrading
in energy, transport, tourism, IT, and the like; national electricity
utilities would erase power shortages by next year; tariffs on goods
would largely disappear, standards would equalise, and in short order,
southern Africa would move to a free trade zone with even a single
currency. This is to emulate every success found in European economic
integration, bar the biggest, and then to repeat every mistake,
especially the biggest.
For easily the biggest economic successes of European union have been
the removal of trade barriers, creating predictable and similar
economic law, and letting people move about unhindered. SADC wants
only the first two, although tariff elimination lags and an
overarching SADC Tribunal, having ruled against Zimbabwe for
nationalisation without compensation, has been suspended.
“Deeper regional integration”, notes the Trade Law Centre, “remains
relatively bleak” mainly because of tardy cross-regional
implementation of agreements to uniform trade law and because of weak
institutions, such as a SADC Parliamentary Forum without legislative
Which may all be to the good in allowing time for a retreat from a
European-style nightmare of a single SADC currency while allowing
ordinary people easier passage to finding and making work. For law or
no law, that’s something that people will do anyway.
– Paul Pereira (first published in The Citizen, 2 May 2013).