SOUTHERN African Development Community (SADC) member countries were on Friday encouraged to convert their industries to produce more protective gear against Covid-19, with a strong call to member states to treat drivers crossing regional borders with respect and dignity they deserve.
The remarks were made during a virtual Council of Ministers meeting led by Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation and Chairperson of the SADC Council of Ministers, Prof Palamagamba Kabudi.
"We should now convert our industries to produce more sanitisers, masks, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) so that we can share and sell within member states. So let us turn this challenge into an opportunity of emboldening our industrialisation and intra-trade in the Region," said Prof Kabudi.
He further said that member states should be able to buy and sell sanitisers made in Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana or Mauritius.
For instance, he said, Mauritius had a lot of sugar and the country produced a lot of alcohol that could be used as raw material.
The Chair underscored the importance of the bloc to increase the cooperation amongst them, to reap benefits from the integration, especially during the challenging time each is going through.
"As I speak, intra-regional trade in SADC countries is low, below 20 per cent, hindering member states from realising their economic potentials. As we continue with our efforts to increase intra- regional trade through the implementation of the SADC Protocol on Trade (2005) and the establishment of SADC Free trade area, this pandemic should fuel these efforts," he said.
This virtual Council Meeting is a follow up to the Council Meeting which was held in the March 2020 meeting.
On drivers, he urged member states to treat them with respect and dignity they deserve, as countries take measures to contain the spread of the virus they should not be stigmatised and eyed as purveyor of Covid-19.
"Our drivers are demoralised because they have been seen as the cause of Covid-19 and not as foot soldiers to transport essential goods and services. Once again I appeal all of us to treat these drivers with dignity, with sympathy, with empathy, without compromising the necessary measures of containing Covid-19," said Prof Kabudi.
The first Covid-19 case in SADC was recorded in early March this year.
By May 7, 15 of the 16 SADC member states had been affected by the pandemic. As at May 7, Tanzania had recorded 509 confirmed cases, South Africa (7,808), Zambia (146), Botswana (23), Zimbabwe (34), Mozambique (81), Namibia (16), Eswatini (123), Malawi (43), Madagascar (158), Angola (36), Democratic Republic of Congo (863), Mauritius (332), Seychelles (11) and Comoros (8).
According to Prof Kabudi still there were some challenges, especially in the implementation of the Regional Guidelines on Harmonisation and Facilitation of Cross Border Transport Operations across the Region, reports on the disruption of cross border transport, congestion at border posts and increased time and cost of transportation of goods pose a challenge to all member countries.
"As a bloc, we have an urgent need for fast-tracking the harmonisation and synchronisation among the member states to ease congestion at border posts; this is the time to strengthen our solidarity to contain the spread of the virus while at the same time maintaining movement of essential goods and services across regional borders. This is the time to avoid unilateral actions and increase consultations," he remarked.
SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, said the Secretariat had continued to put in place measures to contain and monitor the spread of Covid-19 in line with the decisions made during the emergency meeting of 6 April 2020.
"To date, the Secretariat has secured Euro 7.3 million from the German government, Euro 3.6 million from the European Union, Euro 190,000 under the GIZ /African Union Commission, while the African Development Bank (AfDB), has considered support of UA 7 million," she explained.