Free movement in Sadc — delayed possibility?


The whole world is caught up in the World Cup frenzy. Vuvuzelas are blowing far into the night! For the first time Africans, particularly southern Africans, are feeling and experiencing the world’s greatest soccer contest, live!
Regrettably, some of the brothers and sisters, from our beloved Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region, particularly from Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Tanzania could not be in South Africa to watch one or two games, live, because of restrictions to movement of people within the region.
Upon thinking of the cumbersome visa requirements to enter South Africa they had no choice but to have the third-party-feel via the television.
In their founding treaty, amended nearly two decades ago, Sadc Member States committed themselves to develop policies aimed at the progressive elimination of obstacles to the free movement of people among member states.
Until today, most of the obstacles that militated against free movement then: visa requirements, xenophobia, economic disparities, political instability, abuse of migrants, congestion and corruption at ports of entry as well as poor transportation infrastructure, to mention a few, still exist.
Progress on the signing of the Sadc Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons in Southern Africa is painfully slow. By April 2010, five years after the adoption of the Protocol, only Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland had ratified the protocol. The number falls short of the nine that is required for the protocol to enter into force.
Zimbabwe hasn’t signed the protocol.
It is surprising that more resources are being channeled towards the univisa for tourists. The univisa will allow a tourist; say from Europe, to get one visa that allows him/her to move within Sadc countries freely, without having to get another for the next country. This is a privilege that Sadc citizens are not enjoying!
It is not only the millions of Zimbabweans, reeling from the effects of nearly a decade of political and economic malaise, forced to migrate to other countries, that continue to suffer outright harassment, congestion and corruption at border posts for them to go and sell their crafts, buy some goods for resale and find means of fending for their kith and kin . It is also a nightmare for the 45- year -old poor mother who lives in the Okavango region of Botswana – less than 100km away from the border post, to cross into Angola. She has to get a visa in Gaborone, over 1 000 km away!
The young women and men from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who decide to travel to South Africa in search of education, have a similar sad story.
They not only need visas to get into South Africa, but will have to brace up for the frustrating and stringent migration requirements as they cross Zambia and Zimbabwe into South Africa. As they cross over into South Africa, memories of xenophobic attacks cross their minds! It is a bit quiet because we all want the World Cup to end smoothly.
They wonder, “Will movement of persons in southern Africa ever be free? Why do neighbours, brothers and sisters, all under the umbrella of Sadc, have to endure such uncalled for restrictions to migration within the region?”
Millions of Sadc citizens are in the same predicament. They are frustrated. The situation has become urgent and pertinent. They want free movement of persons. It is time for Sadc to act.
Free movement, is one of the climax indicators of an integrated regional community. Sadc is running the risk of delaying the attainment of the vision of a regional community for as long as there are restrictions to movement of people. In addition, how will regional integration take place if there are restrictions to movement of people?
A number of steps should be taken by Sadc as a matter of priority. All countries should sign and ratify the Protocol on facilitation of movement persons and subsequently scrap visa requirements for all short-term visits. Sadc should challenge member states to meet certain service and security standards. It is about time the Sadc region open up dialogue on common regional migration policies, procedures and systems. This should be followed by harmonisation of the same.
In the final analysis, Sadc member states should start confronting issues that result in undesirable migration. It must be clear to all Sadc member states that poor governance, human rights violations, political and economic instabilities, civil strife and resultant human insecurity trigger forced migration and ultimately dampen the drive towards free movement.
It is about time that Sadc consider suspending those member states costing the region and complicating regional integration by not putting their houses in order.

l Bob Muchabaiwa works for a regional organisation based in Botswana. He writes in his personal capacity.