Our future is intertwined with Africa’s prosperity, 54 states share the African continent, a united continent is the key to unlocking the massive potential that is inherent to this unique region of the world. Our future successes are intertwined and we can only truly prosper if we embrace integration and work together.
South Africa’s destiny is undeniably linked with that of the continent. President Jacob Zuma emphasised this when he said that South Africa “cannot survive in isolation, as its economic development and security is linked to the continent’s stability”. He added that when South Africa helped to bring peace to the continent it created “an environment that was conducive to reconstruction and development in our region...”
Africa is central to our foreign policy. This policy is based on the premise that there are two ‘sides’ to our continent. On the one hand, it is the second fastest growing economic region in the world, while on the other it is also a continent that still struggles with conflict, poverty and underdevelopment.
Against this background, our efforts to maintain peace and security are undertaken as part of our membership of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN). The election of Dr Nkosaza Dlamini Zuma as Chairwoman of the AU Commission is one example of the country’s readiness and commitment to playing its part in regional and continental organisations.
It was also in this spirit that South Africa contributed to reaching peace agreements in Burundi and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Currently former President Thabo Mbeki continues to mediate in Sudan and South Sudan.
South Africa has also been involved in more than 15 peace support operations since 1999. We were among the first countries to deploy military personnel to support the peace process in Burundi and over the past decade our troops have continually made a strong contribution towards stabilising the DRC.
South Africa remains committed to stability, peace and the strengthening of democracy on the African continent. We know that a stable continent is the only way to ensure foreign investment, growth and socio-economic development for us, our region and the rest of Africa.
International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said: “Without peace and security there can be no sustainable development, and without sustainable development there can be no peace and security and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa will remain a dream deferred. We need peace, not war."
As part of our foreign economic policy South Africa places great emphasis on a ‘development integration’ approach. This implies integrating trade with programmes of cross-border infrastructure development.
Currently negotiations for a free trade area are well on track and will be concluded by next year, with implementation scheduled for 2015. The first phase of regional integration will see the expansion of existing regional communities and the creation of large trading blocs. The broader free trade area would embrace 26 countries with between 600 million and 700 million people, and a combined gross domestic product of $1trillion (R8.9 trillion).
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies captured this well when he said: “If you start to add up the numbers across our (African) regions, we start to have the critical mass to support a new industrial wave."
Standard Bank CE Sim Tshabalala supported the importance of integration for business by saying that “a free trade area throughout the continent was vital to development”.
However, the infrastructure deficit in Africa is negatively affecting integration and development of the region. According to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), “there can be no meaningful development without trade and there can be no trade without adequate and reliable infrastructure”.
In 2010 President Zuma was elected to head up the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa of the AU and Nepad. The overall goal of the programme is “to promote socio-economic development and poverty reduction in Africa through improved access to integrated regional and continental infrastructure networks and services”.
The programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa will cover the four key sectors of transport, energy, trans-boundary water and information and communications technology.
President Zuma said: "Africa's time has come and without infrastructure, our dreams will never be realised. We cannot trade on the continent because of the lack of communication. The infrastructure that we want to create will provide new opportunities for our continent.”
The North-South Infrastructure Development Corridor that South Africa champions through the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa initiative will connect the three regions of SADC, East Africa and Central Africa.
A continent with better infrastructure will not only be more attractive to foreign investors, but will improve intra-Africa trade and trade with foreign markets. This will encourage faster socio-economic development, create jobs and reduce poverty.
As Minister Nkoana-Mashabane correctly pointed out: "Africa is stronger when it is united. We prosper better and faster when we work together as a continent, for our unity and integration."
However, integration and infrastructure development cannot take place in an unstable environment. Therefore it is imperative for us to resolve the conflict on our continent.
On May 25, South Africa and the rest of the continent will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU now the AU). We are proud to be part of this continent and are looking forward to working together with AU member states to develop Africa over the next 50 years because only through integration and unity can we prosper better and faster.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)