The Southern African Development Community appears relatively stable and peaceful. However, beneath the veneer of stability lies challenges that could unravel decades of freedom from colonial rule and apartheid.
It comes as no surprise that President Cyril Ramaphosa has devoted more time and energy to the SADC than any other part of the world. He has visited the capitals of Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Eswatini (Swaziland) on state visits.
The SADC remains a major focus of South Africa’s foreign policy. How a country manages the affairs of its immediate neighbourhood goes a long way towards demonstrating the ability to excel at global level.
South Africa owes Angola a huge debt. It sacrificed human capital, finance and infrastructure in the liberation of South Africa and Namibia.
Ramaphosa visited Luanda to underscore that South Africa would work with Angola to uplift the lives of the people in South Africa and Angola through trade and increased interaction of people in business. Like South Africa, Angola had a peaceful transition of power.
Like Ramaphosa, President João Lourenço is dismantling corruption which defined the rule of his predecessor, José Eduardo dos Santos. South Africans are no longer required to secure visas to enter Angola on a short visit. This has a huge potential to boost tourism and trade between the countries.
Similarly, Namibia and Botswana elected new heads of states in a peaceful manner, free of the violence in many African countries. Ramaphosa registered the importance of those countries in the drive to increase intraregional trade, peace and stability.
His visits are largely informed by South Africa’s desire to create a conducive environment to bring peace and security in line with SADC and AU agendas for Industrialisation and Agenda 2063.
The recent visit by the president to Eswatini, however, poses challenges. It remains an undemocratic state under the monarchy.
Perhaps the president might have noted worrying tendencies in Eswatini, especially the suppression of the will of the people to choose their leaders.
It is important for Pretoria to raise the issue of human rights to ensure Eswatini’s governance of elections is in accordance with SADC and AU guidelines. Western powers are ignoring political events there, in favour of Zimbabwe and Venezuela, due to the resources in these countries.
In a week, the president will be embarking on perhaps the toughest state visit - to Harare. The situation there requires an urgent and comprehensive response involving role-players in Zimbabwe, Africa and the world.
Zimbabwe has been a divisive country because of how then president Robert Mugabe’s actions and rhetoric alienated traditional trade partners and brought the role of punitive and conditional relations among nations under the spotlight.
Western actors imposed sanctions to force the government to pander to standards of Western demands, politics and economics. South Africa has had to play a delicate role as it seeks to justify why, during apartheid, the ANC used sanctions to isolate the Nationalist government. It seemed not to advocate the same for Zimbabwe.
While the West has been punitive, China, driven by its non-interference principle, has been a timely partner to help Zimbabwe.
The ANC has argued against imposing sanctions for two reasons: the first is the potential damage they might have on an impoverished country, and the second is that it cannot assume the role of a hawkish player against a fellow African government.
Thus, while South Africa should demonstrate what good leadership should be, it is unfair to expect it to be punitive or imperious in trying to salvage the Zimbabwean situation.
Monyae is co-director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Johannesburg