A Case for Closer Integration between South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland?

The Asean Civil Society Conference (ACSC) and ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) provide an annual platform – in paralell to ASEAN Heads of State Summit – for civil society groups  from different political, economic and socio-cultural backgrounds to come together to consolidate CSO’s positions on major regional issues and agenda. The first ACSC was organised in 2005 during Malaysia’s chairmanship of ASEAN and has since been held in the Philippines in 2006, sickness Singapore in 2007, Thailand in 2009, Vietnam in 2010, Indonesia in 2011 and Cambodia 2012. Since 2009, it is organised in conjunction with the ASEAN People’s Forum. The next summits in 2013 will be held in Brunei and in 2014 in Myanmar.

Easch Summit released a Statement presenting CSOs positions on a variety of issues of regional concern: 2005 ACSC1 Statement; 2006 ACSC2 Statement; 2007 ACSC3 Statement2009 ACSC4/APF1 Statement, 2009 ACSC5/APF2 Statement;
2010 ACSC6/APF3 Statement; 2011 ACSC7/APF5 Statement2012 ACSC8/APF6 Statement



The Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA) was formally established in 2006. SAPA Membership is on an organisational basis. SAPA Working Group on ASEAN is a loose network of about 80 civil society organizations in Southeast Asia who have been actively engaging ASEAN to influence its public policy and make the regional bloc accountable to the peoples in the region. In 2006, SAPA Working Group on ASEAN made three submissions with recommendations on the ASEAN Charter.


The South East Asian Committee for Advocacy is a programme that focuses on advocacy capacity building of civil society organizations (CSOs) in South East Asia. Eight countries in South East Asia are represented in SEACA—Burma, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. SEACA counts among its partners some regional NGO networks based in the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. Read more at http://seaca.net/



We, there more than 700 delegates representing people’s organizations from ASEAN countries gathered together at the 6th ASEAN People’s Forum in Hanoi, shop Vietnam, ed from 24?26 September 2010 under the theme “Solidarity and Action for a People?Oriented ASEAN” have discussed and concluded the following:

We reaffirm the fundamental principles of people?centered sustainable development, democratic governance, human rights, sovereignty of peoples, dignity and the best interests of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in the pursuit of economic, social, gender and ecological justice so as to bring peace and prosperity to the Southeast Asian region.

We support the specific objective laid out in the ASEAN Charter of building a people-oriented ASEAN Community. We believe that this process should include:

* Political Security ? ASEAN and its member countries should work collectively to promote effective mechanisms and agreements to maintain peace and security for conflict prevention and the non?violent settlement of disputes. ASEAN and its member countries should also work towards further democratization including free and fair elections, and the promotion and protection of human rights based on international humanitarian and human rights laws and standards and the enhancement of people’s collective rights and participation.

* Economic Development ? ASEAN’s economic integration and cooperation should focus on enhancing mutual assistance, and complementary growth based on the principles of solidarity, equity and environmental sustainability. The ASEAN and its member countries should move away from the flawed neo?liberal economic paradigm and promote and advance alternative democratic economic models to provide equitable, socially and ecologically sustainable development to benefit all its peoples, narrow the gaps of development within and among member countries and ensure economic sovereignty and the interests of the working people and marginalized communities. At the same time, the ASEAN and its member countries must recognize already existing practices of self?sufficiency and sustainable resource management of local communities,

effectively protect environment and address the problem of global climate change and its impacts in the region.

* Environment ? The ASEAN region face urgent multiple environmental crises, including climate change, in large part due to the large?scale “development” projects within the region and the plunder, abuse and destruction of ecological resources that are associated with unsustainable and inequitable economic systems and policies. The ASEAN and its member governments should work together to comprehensively address these environmental crises and ensure that the sustainable use of ecological resources be integral to all economic policies. The ASEAN and its member governments should

actively contribute to global solutions including ensuring that those primarily responsible – governments, corporations and institutions – are held accountable and fulfill their obligations for the restoration of environmental integrity and reparations to those who suffer the consequences of environmental crises.

* Social Protection and Culture ? Everyone in the ASEAN region should be protected and benefit equally and fairly from development and economic growth, especially children, women, migrants, youth, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, religious communities, workers, peasants, fisher folk, refugees, stateless persons and internally displaced peoples, the elderly, persons with disabilities, LGBTIQ (lesbians, bisexuals, gay, transgender, intra?sexual and queer), people living with HIV/AIDS and other impoverished, disadvantaged and marginalized communities. The ASEAN and its member countries must focus on poverty elimination, ensuring decent work, the development of public services including quality health care, housing, and education for all with consideration for gender perspectives. ASEAN must also foster the development

of a healthy, empowering, non?discriminatory and humane culture. Social and cultural development must promote equality and people’s participation at every level.

* People’s Participation ? People’s participation is central to democracy and a basic right. While appreciating the lofty goals set out in the ASEAN Charter around building a people?oriented community, we are disappointed and concerned that until date ASEAN has not made significant progress in ensuring increased transparency and access to information and meaningful participation in ASEAN affairs. People’s organizations and civil society organizations and including those of children must be part of the discussion around economic models, social protection, respect for cultures, human rights, the

environment and peace and conflict resolution. We call on the ASEAN to develop mechanisms for the meaningful  engagement of people’s organizations in all ASEAN processes.

We resolve to work together through plans of joint action to:

o Overcome social and cultural barriers, inequalities and differences in order to promote better understanding, friendship, cooperation and people’s integration in the spirit of solidarity and culture of peace among peoples in ASEAN,

o Learn from each other’s experiences and advance common struggles for peace, equitable and sustainable development, for people?centered democracy and human rights and for social justice and progress to actively contribute to the building of a

people?oriented community of ASEAN, 

o Promote our shared principles.

We urge the governments of ASEAN to:

– Give primacy to the protection and full realization of the rights of children, women, migrants, youth, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, religious communities, workers, peasants, fisher folk, refugees, stateless persons and internally  displaced peoples, the elderly, persons with disabilities, LGBTIQ (lesbians, bisexuals, gay, transgender, intra?sexual and queer), people living with HIV/AIDS, victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin and other impoverished, disadvantaged and marginalized communities as a key goal of the ASEAN integration process.

– Adopt and implement a Fourth Strategic Pillar on the Environment in order to effectively address all environmental  problems especially those caused by transboundary policies and projects, and urgently respond to the climate crisis

– Heed the recommendations of the People’s Forum and promote concrete policies and programs designed to advance human rights, economic and environmental justice and social security, and to do so through mechanisms promoting for people’s participation in the process of building ASEAN into a multi?dimensional community;

–  Form, at the soonest, an effective mechanism for dialogue, coordination and cooperation between people’s organizations and official channels in the region, including through ASEAN Secretariat itself.

– Accelerate the implementation of the functions of the newly?established AICHR and ACWC to operate effectively and in a way that is responsive to the needs of people in the region; and 

– Support the ASEAN people’s programs of action, measures aimed at developing communication, interaction and cooperation among ASEAN people’s organizations.

We call upon ASEAN and its member governments to undertake the following:

1. Poverty is a serious problem in Southeast Asia. It is the result of decades of war, structural inequalities, inappropriate and ineffective programs, and trade and development policies that benefit elites rather than the needs of poor communities. The ASEAN and its member governments should undertake basic economic and social reforms and cease liberalization,

budget austerity measures and other policies that contribute to impoverishment. ASEAN member governments should also learn from countries in the region that have followed diverse models and made significant steps to eliminate poverty

2. Agriculture is way of life for the majority of people in the region. We call on the ASEAN and member governments to invest in a new model of sustainable agriculture that should include support for agrarian reform, small farmers, women, recognition of the traditional occupations of indigenous peoples and respect for the environment. Given the diverse

nature of farmers in the region, ASEAN governments should promote and prioritize an investment model that includes financing for cooperatives, fair trade and scaling up best practices from the community level. We call on the ASEAN to establish a regional agriculture policy in line with the above,

3. Economic integration based on Free Trade Agreements has had serious effects on livelihoods of different sectors of the society including farmers, workers and women. The ASEAN and its member governments should promote alternative investment, trade, finance and development policies that put people first and strengthen domestic economies. The

review of all free trade agreements that have disproportionately benefited the rich and multi?national companies at the expense of poor and marginalized communities is an important step towards a new economic model based on people’s basic rights and interests.

Such a process should be transparent and inclusive, involve the active participation of all stakeholders, especially poor and marginalized communities. It should take place at the national and regional levels.

4. The ASEAN and member governments should mobilize finance to eliminate poverty without exacerbating the debt burden and implement economic policies that build the domestic financial capacity of member countries. ASEAN member states should implement official audit of public debt. Debts found to be illegitimate should be repudiated to free up

fiscal space for much needed social and development infrastructure. The Member states should refuse the attachment of conditions to loans and grants – including those imposed by the IMF, World Bank, ADB and other international financial institutions. ASEAN countries should implement macro?economic policies that will promote sustainable growth and

people?centered development through open, transparent and participatory decision?making processes. The ASEAN should set up a mechanism to help member countries eliminate their debt burdens.

5. Natural resources are public goods. The ASEAN and its member governments should ensure:

– That ecological resources of the region remain under the control of and be used for the equitable benefit of the peoples of Southeast Asia. 

– The extraction and the use of natural resources should be carried out in a transparent, accountable, ecologically sustainable and gender?fair manner, should genuinely contribute to poverty elimination, should not violate human rights nor harm lives and livelihoods 

– The protection of the rich biodiversity in the region without compromising the traditional livelihoods of local communities.

The ASEAN and its member states should recognize the human right to water and that water is a part of the commons. It should ensure that all citizens have adequate and clean water needed to sustain life and that water services remain in public hands. ASEAN and its member states should promote safe, clean and sustainable energy and address the challenges associated with the climate crisis.

6. The climate crisis is a grave threat to the ASEAN region. ASEAN countries should act as a bloc to demand that Annex 1 countries drastically reduce carbon emissions and provide condition?free non?debt creating financing for adaptation and sustainable development as part of reparations for climate debt owed to the Global South. Countries should also prepare

for the ecological effects of climate change and ensure the participation of vulnerable communities in this project. Mitigation and adaptation strategies should not exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and inequalities.

7. ASEAN governments should guarantee the right to formal and informal education for all including early childhood education and bilingual education, especially for the disadvantaged people such as indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities women and girls, persons with disabilities and those coming from remote and distant areas. In order to deliver on this commitment principle, governments must spend 6% of GNP on the improvement of access to quality and relevant education, stop the privatization of education and other policies that risk rationing educational services based on who can afford

to pay. Without delay, ASEAN must implement its 10 point Agenda to Reach the Unreached. 

8. ASEAN governments should ensure universal access to health services, including the fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health needs and addressing sexually?transmitted diseases. Member countries of the ASEAN must respond to health problems, which are otherwise preventable but are still causing alarming mortality rates especially among impoverished and vulnerable populations. For example, more effective means must be undertaken to accelerate reduction in the maternal mortality ratio. For more effective health?related interventions, the ASEAN should encourage member states to adopt clear, adequately funded, non?discriminatory and equitable policies and programs of implementation. Necessarily, the governments would have to ensure inputs especially from high?risk communities and be guided by data disaggregated for sex, ethnicity, age and other relevant parameters.

9. The ASEAN should promote cooperation among member states to urgently address the issue of HIV/AIDS in the region. Different interventions are needed to respond to different country situations, but there is agreement on the need for prevention. Since HIV/AIDS recognizes no boundaries, action must be taken across countries to immediately start

and/or sustain preventive and curative actions including providing access to affordable and quality medicines. ASEAN must also urge all member states to enact laws that will eliminate all forms of discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.

10. As articulated in the Charter, respect for human rights and democracy should be a key part of the ASEAN community. All countries should have national human rights institutions to independently monitor and improve the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The AICHR, ACWC and ACMW should be part of this process. In this regard the ACWC must be convened at the soonest possible time and towards this we urge the Philippine government to immediately select a representative through a transparent and inclusive process. Countries should also be encouraged to move towards systems of government that include checks and balances as well as free and fair elections to prevent abuses of power and human rights violations. The ASEAN should urge all member states to ratify and implement and enforce all international human rights treaties and agreements.

The ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights must undergo consultations with the peoples of the ASEAN, conform with international human rights standards and be adopted by the ASEAN Ministerial meeting.

11. Children and young people make up the majority of the population of Southeast Asia. The ASEAN governments should fulfill their obligations under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and other human rights for all children within and across their borders regardless of national and legal status. We urge the governments of the ASEAN to coordinate efforts at national and regional levels top address cross?border issues such as trafficking, migration, emergencies, violence and armed conflicts and ensure the inclusion of children, especially marginalized children in processes that affect them.

12. ASEAN member states must allocate resources to ensure promotion and protection of all human rights of women in Southeast Asia, especially the marginalized groups, and end discriminatory practices, policies and laws to advance substantive equality in Southeast Asia. Trafficking of persons and especially of women and children must be stopped in the

ASEAN by adopting a legally binding instrument through a rights?based and victim?centered approach. The region must ensure meaningful and substantive participation and representation of women in all its processes and structures.

13. The ASEAN and its member governments should ensure protection, promotion, and the realization of the rights of all workers including migrant workers. Towards these, all ASEAN member countries should:

– Adopt the ASEAN Social Charter and implement the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the rights of migrant workers (ADMW).

– Amend labor laws regulating recruiting agencies.

– Harmonize their labor laws in line with the ILO Fundamental principles and rights at work (C.87 and 98 the right to organize), the ADMW, and relevant ILO conventions 97 and 143, on Temporary Work, Home Workers Convention and other related Conventions.

– Push for the Convention on Domestic Workers.

– Ensure that ASEAN Instruments on the protection and promotion of the rights of all migrant workers are legally binding, and hold accountable those in both private and public sectors who violate these laws; adopt a policy to liberalize labor migration so that ASEAN nationals can move with dignity, especially migrant workers.

– Give adequate protection, fair wages and access to decent living and working conditions to all workers, including migrant workers, and workers in informal sectors

14. Artisanal and traditional fishers play a key role in managing coastal and inland ter resources and provide a substantial portion of food in the ASEAN region, but their specific needs, concerns and rights are often ignored. The ASEAN must protect fisher people from unsustainable forms of commercial fishing, and the impact of large development projects

such as the construction of the hydropower dams in the Mekong river and coastal industrialization projects. The ASEAN must play a role in peacefully resolving border and trans?boundary conflicts in coastal zones, as referred to in the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.

15. The ASEAN must recognize, respect and ensure the full realization of the collective rights of the indigenous peoples and marginalized ethnic minorities over their land territories and resources which include the implementation of the safeguard provision for the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of affected communities in all projects and programs. The ASEAN

should establish an independent working group and monitoring mechanism within AICHR promoting and ensuring the protection of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Minorities rights, with their effective participation.

16. The rights of people with disabilities including the victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin and unexploded ordinance and other marginalized communities should be prioritized and mainstreamed in the ASEAN community. The ASEAN and its members should ratify and/or implement all related UN treaties and protocols and instruments. Mechanisms should be put

in place at the local, national and regional levels to ensure that their voices are heard, that their rights are recognized and protected across the region, that decisions are made with their active participation.

17. All ASEAN states should be encouraged to sign, ratify and implement the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. This would include implementing domestic legislation and policies such as respecting the principle of non?refoulement (no

forcible repatriation), giving all refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons the same rights as citizens, and ensuring that they be provided with employment, universal birth registration, health care and education. The ASEAN should create a regional mechanism to support the rights of refugees and stateless people. The rights of refugees and stateless persons should be explicitly included in the mandate of the AICHR and safeguarded in the proposed ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights.

We welcome and appreciate the participation of ASEAN Secretariat in the Forum and express our sincere thanks to the Vietnamese organizing committee, the host government, and the Vietnamese people for the extended hospitality and facilitation of this ASEAN People’s Forum. We congratulate Hanoi on the celebration of its Millennium Anniversary.

By Glenn Ashton

South Africa looms large in the affairs of the Kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho, the local geo-political giant. Economically, view each receives disproportionate amounts of their annual GDP directly from South Africa. Each is profoundly reliant on their powerful neighbour for the supply of food, help fuel, goods and services and linking infrastructure to the world.

Given the vision of an African Union and increasing rapprochement between the members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) it is perhaps a good time to consider the closer integration of two smallest regional nations with their dominant neighbour.

Swaziland and Lesotho each have proud histories, initially for their wily opposition to both Boer and Brit. They managed to play one foe off against the other in order to survive as later bulwarks against apartheid. They each paid heavily for assisting the struggle against the racist South African regime.

Ironically the apartheid government was legally obliged to continue supporting them financially through the historical 1910 Southern African Customs Union (SACU) agreement. This obliges South Africa to pay the smaller, landlocked states a disproportionate amount of the total income earned through collection of customs and excise revenue.

Around 95% of that amount originates from South Africa but under the terms of the SACU agreement, it retains less than 50% after distribution to the SACU partners; Lesotho and Swaziland as well as Botswana and Namibia. In this way the funds from SACU provide around 60% of total revenue of both Lesotho and Swaziland, indicating how critical this income is to their economic viability.

The relationships between Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa were close enough to consider dissolving borders in the past – the primary stumbling block was the racist nature of South Africa’s government. Because of this, Britain, the colonial power, along with the leadership of those nations, was leery of integration. Accordingly they gained full independence.

It is notable that neither Lesotho nor Swaziland contain the entire population of either the amaSwati or abaSotho nations. This is particularly so in the case of Lesotho, with baSotho people surrounding Lesotho, from the borderlands of the Eastern Cape, through the Orange Free State and up into Gauteng. The political borders remain colonial era artefacts, influenced more by geography and historical pragmatism than by the locations of clan, culture and tribe.

The linguistic boundaries are far more indicative of cultural affiliations. SeSotho is estimated to be spoken by 3.5 million South Africans, against around 2 million speakers inside Lesotho. SiSwati is spoken by over a million South Africans, slightly fewer in Swaziland. These numbers illustrated the extensive overlaps of cultural roots across national boundaries.

It is equally notable that Swaziland and Lesotho collectively account for more than 35% of South African tourism numbers. It is absurd to presume that these two nations provide more than a third of what are conventionally considered to be tourists. Lesotho provides around 2.5 million visits per year, from a total population of 2.2 million. Swaziland provides 1.2 million visits from 1.2 million residents.

This is clearly not tourism but something else entirely. Lesotho, with a per capita GDP of just over R8000, is not so much providing 2.5 tourists but rather visitors who travel to trade, visit family and clans, to work and yes, occasionally to just visit. How many residents of Maseru pop across the border to shop in Ladybrand on a Saturday morning? Can we consider these to be tourists? The situation in Swaziland is similar.

The only reason that there are any borders separating Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa is to tally the value of trans-border trade, itself a vain hope. But because these figures are directly relevant to estimating income distribution from within the SACU pool, the borders remain. Without the SACU income, Lesotho and Swaziland would rapidly tend toward failed states. Neither is independently economically viable.

Another commonality is that Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa – as well as Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia – share a common legal history, founded on Roman-Dutch Law, influenced by English and indigenous African law. Judge Schreiner of the Lesotho High Court once referred to these countries as ‘The Southern African Law Association’, given the practice of referring to cross-border case law and the potential for future legal harmonisation. This places this region in a better position than even the EU, which has struggled to harmonise far more diverse legal systems than those of Southern Africa.

While Lesotho is deeply reliant on South Africa, the reverse is increasingly so. The implementation and construction of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) over the past 25 years has seen a mutual agreement to utilise Lesotho’s water resources to supply the sub-continent’s economic engine room, the water-stressed Gauteng region.

The LHWP is one of the world’s largest inter-basin water transfer schemes and has the potential to expand for several more decades. Lesotho is also considering the potential of building pumped storage hydro-electric schemes, to sell green power to the economic giant on its doorstep. This could also be used to store off peak, excess renewable energy such as solar and wind power.

Given the intimacy of the relationship between South Africa and its two smallest neighbours, it appears sensible to explore closer rapprochement between the three nations. While the grand schemes of the African Union are fine and well, imminent resolution to the complexities inherent in creating such a union appear unlikely.

Surely it is far more sensible to start small and build on that, rather than start big and work down? If we can, for instance, demonstrate that it is possible to build a working model of, say a Southern African Union, starting with South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, then it may be more feasible to build on the successes and broaden the concept to other neighbours.

One way to kick off the process would be to permit the free movement of people between these nations. The only complication is that the eastern border of Swaziland, which abuts Mozambique, could be leaky. Yet reduced demands on border policing elsewhere would enable sufficient resources to be re-allocated.
Given that there is already an almost unregulated movement of people between these nations, in the guise of tourism, it appears illogical to not normalise this reality. This could echo the free movement ordained by the EU Schengen agreement.

The movement of goods is equally easily managed – most goods are transported by truck. Again, reallocating resources by formalising open borders would facilitate this shift of priorities, which could in time be scaled down. The present costs of administering this complex border control are unjustifiable and simple cross-subsidisation agreements could readily replace the complex SACU formulas. Closer economic integration would reduce these high administrative costs and liberate resources better employed elsewhere.

The most prickly aspects will certainly relate to the facets of nationalism and self-government.  Swaziland probably presents the greater challenge, given the oppressive control of conservative monarchism there. However the uncomfortable reality is that this faction is rapidly shifting Swaziland toward classification as an economic basket case. Sooner or later South Africa will have to bail out this politically backward monarchy. Swaziland has already burned its bridges with pretty much any other lender of note. It is running out of options and space to negotiate.

Opening up Swaziland to broader economic inclusion within new political and economic alliances is an obvious and overdue solution. Perhaps diplomats are already thinking along these lines. It is difficult to imagine another coherent reason for South Africa’s continued generosity toward the monarchy.

Lesotho has always exhibited a more politically and economically pragmatic stance, primarily through recognition of its peculiar circumstances. It closely co-operated with the apartheid government and international agencies to develop the LHWP. It re-negotiated the SACU agreement and has maintained co-operation with the Southern African common monetary area. While Lesotho has never been nominally colonised – it was only a protectorate – the reality is that it remains intimately interdependent with its regional superpower neighbour.

While a gradual political assimilation of Swaziland and Lesotho may not be immediately possible, it would be unwise not to explore a closer rapprochement and relationship than presently exists. Surely it makes far more sense to build an African Union from the bottom up, rather than from the top down?

The real question is whether the present South African government is either able or adept enough to manage such delicate negotiations. Given the internecine rivalry within the ruling ANC on the one hand, and the singular lack of vision of its nominally leftist partners on the other, a broader, strategic inertia seems to paralyse national leadership. Little or nothing is going to happen before the inevitable machiavellian Mangaung manoeuvres. Our government certainly does not seem about to suddenly project visionary or decisive regional or pan-African leadership.

In this regard, the present ANC leadership almost makes one miss Thabo Mbeki. Despite his shortcomings, Mbeki certainly projected a broader Africanist vision, while the present leadership has remained fixated on political succession and intrigue. It may even be sensible to pull Mbeki out of the shadows and appoint him to manage the closer integration of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Any regional integration cannot be built in the image of South Africa as the regional bully, seeking to usurp the crown from its two neighbouring kingdoms. Rather South Africa should build on its strong, existing relationships with these nation states, recognising the strength of each. Surely this is an overdue dialogue?

Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at www.ekogaia.org.


Source: The South African Civil Society Information Service

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply