The Hunt Is On SADC begins search for a new boss

SADC Executive Secretary DR.STERGOMENA TAX is winding down her second four-year term at the helm of the Secretariat of the regional bloc.

The Southern Times’ MPHO THEBELE sat down with Dr Tax to talk about the highs and lows of her tenure, and her vision for the Southern African Development Community, among other issues.

The curtain comes down on Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax’s highly eventful second four-year term as the sixth Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community in August 2021, having been selected by regional Heads of State and Government to steer the ship back in August 2013.

"The recruitment of my successor has started, in line with SADC Human Resources and Administrative Policies. The recruitment roadmap was approved by Summit during its meeting held in August 2020," she explains.

Looking both back and forward, she says she is happy with the foundation she is leaving for her successor at an organisation with a long and solid history in promoting regional integration and sustainable development from the times of the liberation struggles.

"(Prior to and during) my time as the SADC Executive Secretary, the aspiration of SADC has been to sustain peace and security, and accelerate socio-economic development through deeper integration of SADC member states," she says.

To this effect, Dr Tax says several programmes are being implemented, and a number of interventions have been put in place, for the region to achieve shared prosperity that leaves no one behind.

"These are implemented progressively by SADC member states, with contributions from a number of key stakeholders. I therefore feel privileged, honoured and satisfied to be part of this great and noble cause. I am indebted to leaders in the region, SADC partners and stakeholders, and to SADC staff for the support accorded to me as the chief executive officer of this important regional bloc."

While some critics say SADC is nothing more than a talk shop, Dr Tax insists that it is a reputable regional economic community and a key pillar in the comity of nations.

"Solidarity, exemplary leadership in the region, commitment to the integration agenda and mutual support, underpinned by solid structures, have all played a crucial role in driving and shaping SADC.”

It is these principles and values that she says have made her eight years at the top of the SADC Secretariat fulfilling and enjoyable.

"Working with great teams at the Secretariat, and in the region as a whole, has been inspirational, with fond memories that I will forever cherish. As known, the Headquarters of SADC is in the Republic of Botswana, and the Government of Botswana has been very generous and supportive as a host. Indeed, I enjoyed the hospitality and support given by the Government of Botswana. The peaceful and friendly atmosphere that prevails in the country makes one feel at ease and comfortable. Botswana has actually become my second home."

On how she would want to be remembered, the characteristically humble Dr Tax said it was not east to single out a single achievement, and even then, no one success could be attributed to an individual effort.

"Some are quantifiable, whilst others are not; and some are tangible and visible, whilst others are invisible, and most importantly, achievements and recorded milestones are a result of collective efforts and team work," she says.

That said, one can tick off a raft of successes and challenges.

Democracy, peace & security: Under Dr Tax’s leadership, the region enhanced its early warning and preventive mechanisms, scaled up effective deployment of SADC observation missions, and strengthened mediation and facilitation in troubled member states. “Such interventions include the SADC preventive mission to the Kingdom of Lesotho, SADC peace and political support to the Democratic Republic of Congo, SADC mediation in Madagascar, and SADC facilitation in Lesotho,” Dr tax recounts. The elephant in the room, however, remains the crisis in Mozambique.

Socio-economic development & integration: Dr Tax tells us, “We spearheaded the development of the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063, which was adopted in 2015 by the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Harare, Zimbabwe. The Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap that seeks to engender a major economic and technological transformation at the national and regional levels through beneficiation and value addition to the region’s diverse resources, within the context of deeper regional integration, has since remained the major focus to SADC economic integration. Through industrialisation, SADC aims to progressively move from factor-driven; to investment-driven, then to efficiency-driven; and ultimately to the high growth trajectory driven by knowledge, innovation and business sophistication.” In the area of value chains, the region targeted mineral beneficiation, the pharmaceutical sector and agro-processing. Dr Tax says, “The Industrialisation Strategy is a long-term strategy that is all encompassing, requiring dedication and the need to remain focused. If its implementation remains on course, I am optimistic that its aspirations will be realised.”

Infrastructure: The SADC region has prioritised both hard and soft cross-border infrastructure projects as a key component of the Industrialisation Strategy. This has been done through the SADC Infrastructure Development Master Plan. “These projects,” says Dr Tax, “include cross-border transmission links in several member states using optical fibre technology thereby allowing landlocked member states such as Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to connect to the submarine cables on either or both the east and west coast of Africa.” She goes on, “Five member states - Botswana, eSwatini, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania - have achieved the 2025 SADC Broadband Target to cover 80 percent of their populations with broadband services … and eight member states - namely Angola, Botswana, eSwatini, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania have established National Broadband Plans or Strategies that are being implemented.”


Energy: Progress was been made in energy, with a highlight being installation and commissioning of more than 1,8300MW between 2014 and 2020. Connecting the remaining three mainland member states - namely Angola, Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania - to the Southern African Power Pool remains a priority, and in this endeavour, the Zambia-Tanzania Interconnector is at construction phase. The Malawi-Mozambique Interconnector has reached financial close and the Angola-Namibia Interconnector is at technical and feasibility studies stage.

Transport: Critical milestones include several cross-border roads and bridges, and adoption of the one-stop border post concept. “The rationale is to improve management of traffic flows at border crossings to avoid unnecessary delays that impede movement of traded goods. To this end, SADC has embarked on one-stop border posts at Chirundu between Zambia and Zimbabwe; and Nakonde-Tunduma between Tanzania and Zambia. A third one-stop border post is yet to be operationalised at Kazungula between Botswana and Zambia, where the road-rail bridge has been completed,” Dr Tax points out.

Documenting Liberation History: The Hashin Mbita Publication may not be recognised as a major milestone by some, but “this is one of the milestones during my tenure that is very dear to me”, reveals the SADC boss. “The Hashin Mbita Publication is the only publication that has comprehensively and authentically documented the Southern African liberation struggles. The research was conducted by indigenous African scholars and researchers from SADC member states in order to assert the ownership, independence and integrity of the initiative.” The publication was launched at the SADC Heads of State and Government Summit in August 2014 in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. In January 2016, the publication was presented to the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All ten volumes have been translated into the three SADC official languages, English, French and Portuguese. “May I use this opportunity to call upon SADC Member States, especially the youth to study and understand the history and the Southern African Liberation struggle and embrace the history,” emphasises Dr Tax.



Health: Right at the tail-end of Dr Tax’s tenure, the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, with the region’s first case being reported in March 2020. “The region was able to respond promptly, by putting in place a coordinated response to COVID-19, through the harmonisation of measures to contain the spread of the pandemic and mitigating its socio-economic impacts," she notes. Regulations facilitating cross border movement of essential goods and services were swiftly developed and adopted, and these were harmonised at tripartite level with COMESA and the EAC. These measures, no doubt, allowed the wheels of commerce – and indeed for crucial health interventions – to progress without added disruptions.


Thank you, you’re far too kind

Mpho Thebele

Leading a regional organisation that has 16 member states, a GDP of US$721 billion, and a population of 345 million people is not an easy task.

Fortunately for Dr Tax, the Executive Secretary of SADC for eight years now, she has received all the backing she needs to head such an organisation.

In an interview with The Southern Times as she prepares to hand over the reins in August 2021, she said: "I am grateful … that SADC member states have always supported the SADC Secretariat as the principal executive institution of SADC and myself as the Executive Secretary of SADC in the discharge of our mandate.

"With regards to tools, I can say that SADC is a regional organisations with solid structures and instruments, all these enabled me to discharge my duties smoothly. It should also be noted that the SADC agenda is massive. Over the years we have witnessed an expansion in our integration programmes to meet the ever increasing needs of SADC citizens.

"So in terms of support, I would say, yes, I was given adequate support, and resources (both financial and human); the organisation was funded to the ability of member states. Member states have always remitted their annual contributions fully, and have strived to provide the best candidates to fill various positions."

Dr Tax says she has also received tremendous support from SADC’s international co-operating partners.



And none of the achievements of the past eight years could have been registered without the support of the SADC Secretariat’s diverse and highly skilled staff.

"Human resources are the most important resources in any organisation. With motivated staff and team spirit, we were able to work effectively with various partners and stakeholders with diverse interests. Of course like any other entity, challenges will always be there at the Secretariat, but with the systems put in place, challenges are addressed. One of the challenge that I will remember for a long period of time, is managing of human beings under the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Daunting as it may seem, she was not fazed by the sudden challenges that the pandemic presented.

"I was aware that the region expected me to effectively lead the Secretariat to achieve its mandate. I therefore, saw it as an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. But I always, thrive in seeing opportunities in every challenge; and strength in any weakness.

"So I was ready for the monumental task the moment I was appointed, and I am grateful to all who believed in me, and those who supported me. I wish to specifically express my gratitude to my government, the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania for the confidence and for nominating me for the positon, SADC Heads of State and Government for the confidence and for appointing me, and to partners, stakeholders, SADC citizens, and in a special way to my dedicated team at the SADC Secretariat for the support accorded to me."

She added that the region was “living in perilous times” that called for vigilance.

“We remain confident that by the grace of God, nations of the world will be healed, and that national economies will rebound to cushion the misery necessitated by the unprecedented impacts of COVID -19."

And she had one last message: "I wish to thank The Southern Times for the continued partnership with SADC, please keep the good work in creating awareness about our regional body." More details >>>>>

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