Southern Africa pushed to brink of crisis. Economies decline as pressure from S. African military rises

Economic decline and increased military pressure from South Africa are pushing black-ruled southern African nations to the brink of crisis. That somber picture emerged last week from two days of meetings of the region's leaders here in Zambia's capital, Lusaka.

The leaders of the nine-member Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) wound up their 7th annual summit last week with a ringing attack on what they described as ``the continuation and intensification of South Africa's acts of aggression and destabilization against SADCC member states.''

What is widely held here and abroad as a South African strategy to destabilize this region, cost SADCC member nations some $2 billion a year, SADCC officials said. Nevertheless, SADCC officials said its members had made important gains in their drive to reduce dependence on South Africa. Of an estimated $6 billion needed for a regional program for economic development, some $2.5 billion has been secured from Western donors. And improvements have been made to Mozambique's strategic transport routes to Indian Ocean ports, the officials said.

The summit came one day after the leaders of Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe met in Lusaka to discuss recent violence, especially in Mozambique, that leaders here are concerned could spread to the entire region. Less than a week before, some 386 civilians were killed by right-wing rebels backed by South Africa in one of the biggest massacres in Mozambique's decade-old civil war.

SADCC was formed in 1980 to spearhead a drive to ease the region's dependence on South Africa, but seven years later, Pretoria's economic embrace remains.

The dire state of the region's economies was revealed in SADCC's ``annual progress report'' released here. The economies of most of these nations are expected to decline this year. Zambia and war-torn Mozambique are facing their worst economic crises ever. The region's foreign debt stood at $14.6 billion at the end of 1985, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. A rise in spending for arms, spare parts, and food will increase that burden.

The debt burden represents about 50 percent of southern Africa's total gross domestic product. Annual debt repayments consume at least $745 million a year in scarce foreign exchange, SADCC officials said. This, they added, has left member states with too little hard currency to keep cash-earning industries, such as mining and transport, running. In Mozambique and Angola, drought and war threaten millions of people with starvation.

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