By Richard Chidowore
Pula! For many people this is simply Botswana currency. But for Batswana it means more – it is a call for rain and peace.

The drought that is ravaging southern Africa and calls for peace in the region were at the centre of discussions at the Association of West European Parliamentarians Against Apartheid (AWEPAA) conference held in the Botswana capital, Gaborone, from 27-29 April.

The conference adopted the Gaborone Plan of Action which called for immediate assistance to the region and more support for the victims of apartheid and destabilization.

The 10-point plan, which one participant described as “action-oriented” was announced by the
AWEPAA President, Jan Nico Scholten, at the close of the symposium on “Post-Apartheid Regional Cooperation: International Support for Transforming Southern Africa”.

The first point of the plan requires an urgent emergency appeal for drought relief. The AWEPAA president indicated that his association would highlight issues which have affected the region as a result of drought. “The EC Council of Ministers will have to ship food to southern Africa,” said Scholten.

At the opening of the conference, the director of the European Commission, Dr Giovaani Livi, promised SADC states some 350,000 tonnes of special food aid costing US$100 million this year to assist the region in dealing with its most severe drought this century.

“The EC will be looking at ways to co-operate with our partners as regards harbour and transport management to overcome the enormous logistical and transport problems of distribution to be associated with transporting food aid,” Livi said.

The meeting, which was attended by Members of Parliament from Europe and Southern Africa as well as NGOs and resource persons, called for an international campaign to highlight the plight of refugees in southern Africa. This was after an A WEPAA-sponsored fact-finding mission on refugees in Malawi gave a report on the horrendous conditions of Mozambican refugees in that country.

The report that enabled the MPs and other participants to have a hands-on experience on the fate of refugees was delivered by Irish MP, Katherine Bulbulia, who described the situation as one which could have catastrophic consequences unless international aid is speeded up.

On the importance of education to refugee children, Y. Makonnen, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Malawi, said: “If the brain is not fed through education, it will die.”

Makonnen observed that UNHCR could not provide everything for refugees except care and maintenance just to keep them alive.

The Gaborone Plan noted the urgent need to publicize in Europe the refugee situation in Southern Africa. Television crews and other media from Europe will be encouraged to visit the region.

The conference saw the need to put pressure on Pretoria from as many quarters as possible to adopt international standards in dealing with refugees. Currently the government of President F.W. De Klerk treats more than 250 000 Mozambican refugees in South Africa as illegal immigrants.

One delegate revealed that there are cases in South Africa of people being handed over to Renamo by the authorities.

The need for Pretoria to grant amnesty for exiles must be emphasized as the current indemnity system demands admission of “crimes”. The conference was reminded that only 8,000 exiles out of more than 40,000 have returned to South Africa so far and many of these face acute shortage of accommodation.

The third point in the plan called for an international campaign for the children of apartheid, with enhanced attention to human development.

“Marginalised young people in South Africa have skills that are described as irrelevant: these are toyitoyi and marching skills,” said Sheila Sisulu of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). She added that the children are regarded as the “lost generation” because they have lost on education and have no jobs.

“We are going to have a situation where children from exile will fight with children inside the country for the jobs that do not exist,” said Sisulu.

The plan also calls for a parliamentary task force on Angola. These will consist of observer missions of parliamentarians from SADCC countries and AWEPAA.

The observer missions would look at everything from election awareness to clearing of mines. The proposal came after the conference was informed of the hitches in the lead up to multi-party elections in Angola. The fact that Unita is not allowing government structures to administer some areas under its control, in breach of the peace agreement, requires intervention by the international community.

Support for peace in Mozambique could not be over-emphasised. There was an appeal to the UN and Europe to support peace efforts in Mozambique. The United Nations, the European Community and US were encouraged to put pressure on the Rome talks between the Mozambican government and particularly Renamo, which continues to kill civilians while stalling at the negotiating table.

The rebels have destroyed the economy and infrastructure in Mozambique, and imposed harsh social conditions on the population. In this regard the Plan of Action called for integration of security and humanitarian aid so that it will be less difficult to take food to the needy.

The Gaborone Plan of Action could not be complete without calling for an end to violence in South Africa. Parliamentary delegations will be sent to South Africa to assess the situation on the ground. AWEPAA announced its support for calls by the ANC for international intervention to end violence in South Africa. The declaration comes after the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) called on the UN to be involved in finding solutions to the violence which is threatening the current peaceful negotiations.

The seventh point of the plan called for the complete eradication of apartheid.

The assembly recognised that the legacy of apartheid in South Africa will continue for some time. It is important that the European Council of Ministers be encouraged to live up to their commitment to full abolition of apartheid.

The rehabilitation of the region was given high priority by the symposium. The European Parliamentarians highlighted that the EC budget line for the victims of destabilization must be maintained at present level until regional reconstruction is well underway. Aid allocation under Lome should be increased in the face of drought.

The international conference also supported post-apartheid regional cooperation, balanced regional development and investment.

“When South Africa joins the region, it must not act like a big brother who will sit in the shed while small boys are heading cattle. It should also go and collect cattle from the bush,” said Baledzi Gaolathe, Executive Chairman of Debtswana Diamond Company.

Gaolathe added that everybody, small and big, should benefit from regional integration. “We should have more resources injected in SADCC as South Africa joins us,” he maintained.

Southern Africa is not the only region that fears the changes in Eastern Europe could shift international attention from the region. However, the conference ended with reassurance from AWEPAA with a call for coordinated international action.

“There is need for global action to keep Africa on the map,” declared Scholten. (SARDC)

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