Harare – Tensions over attacks on migrants in South Africa will be officially set aside as regional leaders meet for a summit in Zimbabwe on Wednesday to plan industrial growth, an official said.
But heads of state from countries whose nationals were killed or forced to flee might choose to raise the issue, Zimbabwe’s presidential spokesperson George Charamba told AFP.
“It’s an extraordinary summit and by definition it’s a one-issue summit,” he said.
“Whether people are going to take advantage and bring the matter up will be at the discretion of the heads of state.”
At least seven people died and thousands were displaced by the violence in South Africa earlier this month against migrant workers from countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.
The presidents of all three of those countries – and President Jacob Zuma – will be among the 10 heads of state at the one-day summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.
The subject of the summit – industrialisation – could itself raise the issue of why so many citizens of neighbouring countries head for South Africa, the continent’s most sophisticated economy, to find work.
Zuma, who condemned the attacks after an outcry at home and abroad, focused on the problem on Tuesday in a manner unlikely to have been well received in neighbouring capitals.
“We cannot shy away from discussing the reasons that forced migrants to flee to South Africa,” he said. “All of us need to handle our citizens with care.”
Host President Robert Mugabe, for example, has been blamed for a collapse in Zimbabwe’s economy which has sent millions of his people to seek work in South Africa.
But Zuma himself has been criticised at home for failing to reduce rampant unemployment and poverty, which are seen as an underlying cause of the violence by mobs who accused migrants of stealing their jobs.
The Harare meeting is a follow-up to a summit in Victoria Falls last August which resolved to discourage the export of primary goods and develop industries to ensure the region reaps maximum benefit from its resources.
“The summit will discuss SADC’s draft industrialisation strategy and the regional indicative strategic development plan,” Charamba said.
Briefing journalists after a ministers’ meeting ahead of the summit, Zimbabwe’s foreign ministerSimbarashe Mumbengegwi said “the idea is that the processing should be done in the region”.
“As you know, the bulk of our products are exported in their raw form and we get little returns from them,” Mumbengegwi said.
Many member countries of SADC, which seeks to promote socio-economic, political and security co-operation, are rich in minerals.
Heads of state expected at the summit are presidents Jacob Zuma (South Africa), Edgar Lungu (Zambia), Peter Mutharika (Malawi), Ian Khama (Botswana), Joseph Kabila (Democratic Republic of Congo), Kailash Purryag (Mauritius), Filipe Nyusi (Mozambique), Hage Geingob (Namibia), King Mswati III (Swaziland) and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili (Lesotho).