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Southern African leaders meet amid turmoil

Published on 16/08/2011

Southern African nations held security talks Tuesday as leaders gathered for a regional summit against a backdrop of instability, with growing popular unrest in several countries.

The 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) security troika of Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa was locked in talks Tuesday evening ahead of the formal opening of their two-day summit on Wednesday.

As South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and other leaders gathered in the Angolan capital, Pretoria said SADC continued to serve as the primary vehicle to achieve regional development and integration.

“As a member of SADC, South Africa knows that its future is inextricably linked to the future of the African continent and that of its neighbours in Southern Africa,” a foreign ministry statement said.

Regional leaders are under pressure to act on a laundry list of tricky issues, including Zimbabwe, deadly protests in Malawi, a political impasse in Madagascar and Swaziland’s financial crisis.

The Zimbabwe crisis has divided the SADC between liberation leaders who were comrades-in-arms with members of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and a new generation of politicians riding on the agenda of democracy and good governance.

Mugabe and his Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai remain at loggerheads over new elections, with Mugabe insisting polls go ahead this year, with or without a new constitution.

Tsvangirai first wants reforms agreed to in their power-sharing pact to be implemented.

The normally stable Malawi has meanwhile been rocked by anti-government protests; 19 people were killed when security forces opened fire on demonstrators last month.

A second round of anti-government vigils due to start Wednesday was called off after loyalists of President Bingu wa Mutharika on Tuesday sought a court injunction to stop the demonstrations.

After the deadly unrest, the SADC sent an observer mission to the country which will report back at the summit.

Mutharika, who has presided over a major economic slump, earlier this year cost the impoverished country its largest foreign donor by expelling Britain’s envoy to Malawi over a leaked cable that referred to the Malawian leader as “ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism.”

Swaziland’s King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, is facing growing opposition to his regime amid a financial crisis that saw the country almost run out of funds before getting a temporary reprieve with a 2.4-billion-rand ($330-million, 232.8-million-euro) bailout loan from South Africa this month.

Another headache for SADC is Madagascar, which was suspended from the grouping in 2009 after former president Marc Ravalomanana was ousted by Andry Rajoelina, then mayor of the capital, Antananarivo.

Regional mediators have yet to find a solution to the impasse.