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Open AccessArticle

On Decolonising Borders and Regional Integration in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region

Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Zululand, KwaDlangezwa 3886, South Africa
Soc. Sci. 2020, 9(4), 32;
Received: 13 November 2019 / Revised: 14 December 2019 / Accepted: 7 January 2020 / Published: 25 March 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Reshaping the World: Rethinking Borders)


This paper uses insights gained from a qualitative study of informal cross border actors on selected Southern African Development Community (SADC) borders to argue for the decolonisation of these borders. It is asserted that, although SADC citizens enjoy a 90-day free visa in member states, this should not be simplistically taken to mean that there are “open borders” and free movement of persons in region. The recognition that a border “open” to formal actors may be closed to informal cross border actors based on issues of power and class is the foundation for the decolonisation of these borders, a process which should articulate to the regional integration project in the region. Such a decolonisation of borders should recognise in policy and/or border management regimes all cross-border actors, especially non-state actors, who are criminalized and rendered invisible through cross border discourses and policies. This point is worth emphasizing, because most people who cross African borders may not be the formal actors such as multinational corporations (MNCs) and/or their proxies who are favoured by cross border policies, but ordinary people such as informal cross border traders and border citizens, who need decolonised borders for them to enjoy freedom of movement, rather than being depoliticized and relegated to the subaltern who cannot speak, let alone move.
Keywords: decolonisation; SADC borders; regional integration decolonisation; SADC borders; regional integration

1. Introduction

A good context for a discussion of the dialectics between borders and in particular decolonised borders and regional integration in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, requires an understanding of the logic behind regional integration. The African Union (AU) through the Abuja Treaty aims for continental integration to be set up through an African Economic Community [AEC] (Treaty Establishing African Economic Community 1991) 1. The strategy for attaining the AEC is through Regional Economic Communities (RECs), which should provide the building blocks. Eight such RECs exist across Africa2. In this paper the focus is on SADC. The 16-member3 SADC traces its origin to the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC), which was constituted of nine frontline states (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). The SADCC was essentially a political project aimed at contending with and resisting apartheid South Africa (Gwaradzimba 1993; Schoeman 2002). As a result of this, SADCC relied on a “project-based approach with each member state taking responsibility for a particular sector focused attention on the coordination of members’ development initiatives rather than on formulating a regional economic development strategy” (Schoeman 2002, p. 4). The changing global power relations such as the collapse of the Cold War and the rise of the neoliberal economic order, as well as the fall of the apartheid regime, were some of the factors which influenced the transformation of SADCC into SADC. In other words, the emphasis was now on regional integration as a response to the onslaught of economic globalisation (Schoeman 2002). As a result, the SADC Treaty, signed in August 1992, transformed SADCC into SADC, which seeks regional integration through formal regional institutions (Declaration and Treaty of SADC 1992). This approach to regional integration can be explained by Balassa’s (1961) theory of regional integration, which proposes four stages. These stages are first, the formation of a Free Trade Area (FTA), second is the development of a customs union (CU). The third stage involves the establishment of a common market (CM) and which should evolve into an economic and monetary union (EMU) in which supranational institutions govern economic policies, in the fourth and final stage. It is on this basis that, the 2001 SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) was developed as a roadmap for the regional integration project (SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan 2001)4. This roadmap envisaged a FTA by 2008, a CU by 2010, a CM by 2015, an EMU in 2016, and an economic union by 2018.
A regionally integrated SADC should be characterised by free movement of people, goods and capital and the establishment of an economic community. It is in the spirit of the free movement of people, that the 2005 Draft Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons in the SADC focuses on the implementation of the provisions of the SADC Treaty (Declaration and Treaty of SADC 1992, Article 10.3). The free movement of people is necessary for achieving one of the objectives of SADC, which is to “to strengthen and consolidate the long standing historical, social and cultural affinities and links among the people of the region” (Declaration and Treaty of SADC 1992, p. 5). However, it should be remembered that the orientation of SADCC towards cooperation and not integration permeated into and has remained one of the challenges facing SADC in which the national priorities emphasise more territorial sovereignty than regionalization (Saurombe 2009) and the strengthening and consolidation of the SADC citizenry. This has led to a piecemeal and ineffective approach to regional integration (Dzinesa et al. 2018). At the centre of the obsession with territorial sovereignty is the issue of the coloniality of borders, whose decolonisation could contribute to strengthening the links and regional integration referred to in the preceding part. This is the context within which this paper is located- decolonisation of borders and regional integration in the SADC. Consequently, this discussion on the decolonization of borders and how it could contribute to and/or enhance regional integration in the SADC raises four important questions. First, what is the current logic of cross border management regimes? Second, is there need for decolonized borders in the SADC? Third, are decolonized borders even possible when colonial borders are not a historical artifact but a colonial present? Finally, could decolonised borders articulate the regional integration project in the SADC?

2. Methodological Issues

This paper is part of a cross border research project on informal cross border actors in the SADC region, which started in 2013. Data specific to this paper were gathered through structured interviews conducted with 60 respondents (who had used both official and unofficial points of entry to and from the SADC countries under analysis) between 2013 and 2017. The respondents include informal cross border traders (ICBTs) who travelled across the Botswana-Zimbabwe and South Africa-Zimbabwe borders for purposes of buying and selling goods and border citizens (who are people who live on the borderlands of the countries under consideration). The research participants were chosen following nonprobability sampling theory in the form of purposive sampling of those who were willing to and actually responded to the interview questions. These questions focused on the nature and dynamic of cross border interactions, frequency of travels, challenges faced at the border, how they (informal cross border actors) interpreted and interacted with and understood the border. The rationale for deploying a qualitative interview approach was the need to grasp the interviewees’ interpretations (Creswell 2009; Teddlie and Tashakkori 2009) and experiences (Entrikin and Tepple 2006). The data collected by these means was manually analysed by first reading through it, identifying and classifying themes, and explaining and connecting themes as suggested by Creswell (2009). These two borders were chosen for the study based on the researcher’s experience that they experienced higher volumes of cross border traffic. In addition, these borders aptly demonstrate coloniality (a notion which is explained in full in the following parts), which requires decolonisation. In particular, the Limpopo River is the geographical feature which forms the 200 km border between South Africa and Zimbabwe and Beitbridge is the official operational crossing point. This border is fenced and also patrolled by the South African National Defense Force (SANDF), the South African Police Service (SAPS) and some private security agencies (Araia 2009). On the Zimbabwean side, the army also patrolled the border (Moyo 2016a). Similarly, the Zimbabwe–Botswana border is fenced and also patrolled by the army (Moré 2011).

3. Theoretical Considerations: Borders and Decolonisation

Taking into account that the argument in this paper is anchored around the concept of decolonisation, there is need to discuss and contextualize its theoretical value in this paper. The starting point is to understand coloniality, which “must not be confused with colonialism. It survived the end of direct colonialism […] it continues to affect the lives of people, long after direct colonialism and administrative apartheid have been dethroned” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013, p. 11). In this vein, what is important to emphasise is “the invisible vampirism of technologies of imperialism and colonial matrices of power that continue to exist in the minds, lives, languages, dreams, imaginations, and epistemologies of modern subjects in Africa and the entire global South” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013, p. 11). Coloniality then, should be seen as the “darker side” of modernity as it structures, sustains, rearticulates and reproduces the colonial social and political divisions (Capan 2017, p. 3). In the context of borders in the SADC specifically and Africa in general, this means that, there is a colonial present in the way that they are enforced and managed. This is manifest in that, despite their arbitrariness and artificiality, the so-called post-colonial African states rigidly enforce the Berlin borders (see Bach 1997). This coloniality of the border has led to “arrest, detention, incarceration, abandonment, and deportation” as the logic of border governance (Mbembe 2017, p. 2).
Stated differently, coloniality is not a border practice, but a frame of reference which influences the way borders are managed. This is because there is the strict adherence to the colonial borders, which like during direct colonialism, disregarded the cross-border interactions, such as those of border citizens and informal cross border traders. I argue against this frame of reference and posit that the enforcement of colonial borders in the so-called post-colonial African states means that African people are not free, because their “struggles for freedom and self-determination have always been intertwined with the aspiration to move unchained” (Mbembe 2017, p. 2). If the treatment of people on African borders and borderlands, and indeed those crossing the border from one African country to the other, emphasizes the need to murder or expel them should they transgress the border (practices evident before African countries attained juridical-political independence), this demonstrates the coloniality of the border. This is instructive, because colonial and apartheid immigration laws were “anti-African and anti-black” (Mbembe 2017, p. 2). In the case of countries like Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, whites were free to migrate into and out of these countries, but not black people. That this should be happening after the end of apartheid and colonial rule in Africa, adequately demonstrates the coloniality of borders, which stands against the goal of free human mobility and by extension regional integration in the SADC region.
Notwithstanding, the issue is not that borders in Africa do not or should not matter, but that, what matters is the way that they are managed and/or governed. Concerning this, it needs to be noted that “borders separate areas in war from countries at peace and democracies from dictatorships; they structure settlement patterns, cultural forms, typical economic activities, consumption opportunities or kinship ties” (Dobler 2016, p. 147). If borders matter, and it is also accepted that any type of border is separatist (Asiwaju 1993; Ramutsindela 2017), then the question of how they are or can be properly governed comes to the fore in an African setting such the SADC, in which countries are collectively pursuing regionalism. Consequently, the question of why borders which were produced by Europeans in 1884–1885 and the colonial and racial governance integral to them should permeate into and continue to inform and haunt how borders are managed in the SADC deserve scrutiny. This is how and why I call into use the concept of the decolonisation of borders in the SADC.
Based on the discussion on the coloniality of borders, the decolonisation of the same in the SADC, should be viewed as the management that considers and is informed by inter alia, the existential experiences of people at, near or along the border and indeed in adjacent and other African countries who cross the border for a variety of reasons which may range from familial to economic. Concerning decolonised SADC borders, the idea is that SADC countries will not continue to rigidly enforce the separatist influence of colonial borders on African states, but rather, there will be free movement unhindered by such borders. This, in view of the fact that borders are territorial markers and drivers of sovereign jurisdictions that materialize in the social, economic, and political process of bordering, inclusion and exclusion (Laine 2015). In this sense, decolonising borders falls in line with Agenda 2063, which is a blueprint for the development of an integrated, prosperous, and united Africa by 2063 (Agenda, 2063). A brief comment on this is needful. In a descending order, the building blocks for Agenda 2063, are an integrated African continent, a sound Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) [whose establishment is in progress], and the establishment of the African Economic Community (AEC), set for 2028. At the bottom of all these are the RECs such as SADC (Treaty Establishing African Economic Community 1991). For this reason, RECs such as the SADC (and their successful integration and decolonisation of borders) are the foundation for Agenda 2063. I will return to this point in the following sections of this paper. Differently stated, African people lost their sovereignty and freedom of movement as a result of the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 as indicated earlier. That this loss is rigidly enforced and maintained by African countries that are supposedly free from colonial rule, only but demonstrates the coloniality of the borders. For which cause, there is the need for an articulation of a strategy for border management that is “radically different from anti-humanist norms and practices prevalent on matters concerning the management of human mobility” (Mbembe 2017, p. 2). For this reason, decolonising the border should be seen as managing the border “from our own perspectives (African perspectives) and for our own purposes (African people crossing the borders)”. It should be regarded as “a strategy for change [that] has to take into account not only adding more perspectives but also the practices of knowledge production” (Capan 2017, p. 9).
This is important to highlight because “not only did colonization invent the colonized, it also disrupted the social patterns, gender relations and cosmological understandings of the communities and societies it invaded. In doing so, it rearticulated particular European understandings” of the world (Lugones 2011; cited in Bhambra 2014, p. 118). This resulted in the (dis)organisation of the “the world into homogenous, separable categories arranged through hierarchical dichotomies and categorical logics” (Lugones 2011; cited in Bhambra 2014, p. 118). Viewed thus, decolonising the border as deployed in this paper becomes an essential element of decoloniality, if decoloniality is conceptualized as delinking from coloniality in its various forms (Mignolo 2015). This is important not only because of the need for African states to be “vigilant against the trap of ending up normalising and universalising coloniality as a natural state of the world [but also that] it must be unmasked, resisted and destroyed because it produced a world order that can only be sustained through a combination of violence, deceit, hypocrisy and lies” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013, p. 11).

4. On Economic Dynamics and Decolonising Securitized Borders

In an attempt to engage with the research questions presented earlier, the following sections focus on the economic, political and social cross border interactions in the study areas. First, the economic cross border interactions. Informal cross border traders depended on buying and selling goods between Botswana and Zimbabwe and between South Africa and Zimbabwe. For instance, some cross-border traders travelled from Zimbabwe (Plumtree) to Botswana (Francistown) with various goods (e.g., crafts, and agricultural produce) for sale. From these sales, they bought goods for resale in Zimbabwe (Moyo 2017). A forty-year-old shop owner in Plumtree, “travelled with unprocessed beans, which were sold in Botswana, out of which it was possible to buy goods for resale back in Zimbabwe” (Interview with an informal cross border trader, Plumtree, December 2014). Some of the journeys of cross border traders involved travelling to Francistown to buy goods from formal wholesalers “because these were relatively cheap or unavailable in Zimbabwe” (Interview with an informal cross border trader, Plumtree, January 2015). These were later resold in their shops and flea markets in the Zimbabwean border town of Plumtree (Moyo 2017). Similarly, between South Africa and Zimbabwe, such actors travelled as far as Johannesburg for the purposes of selling in such a destination and also buying goods for resale in Zimbabwe. The sort of goods that they bought varied on the season, but included among others, electronics, groceries, building material, office equipment. In this regard, a young female shop owner in Beitbridge asserted that;
“for me, what influenced the decision on what to buy from South Africa was the demand. I bought most of the items for which there was a demand back home, and this sustained my business in that I would not have a pile of unwanted or un sold goods. From simple conversations with people and observations of some lower end retail shops, it was possible to gather what people wanted, which I made available whenever I travelled to South Africa”.
(Interview with an informal cross border trader, Messina, September 2016)
The result of this, is that, the shops and flea markets on the border towns of Plumtree and Beitbridge were fully dependent on buying goods from shops and wholesalers in Francistown, and Messina and Johannesburg respectively and this suggest a functional interdependency (Moyo 2017).
However, there are no explicit policies between Botswana and Zimbabwe and between South Africa and Zimbabwe that clearly and directly respond to the issue of non-state actors such as informal cross border traders, but instruments such as the SADC Protocol on Trade, which clearly favours the so-called formal actors. For instance, one Zimbabwean informal cross border trader stated that “crossing the border from Zimbabwe to Botswana and sometimes from Zimbabwe to South Africa is my source of livelihood, but the major challenge is that there is a limit to how much and the type of goods that one can import to Zimbabwe” (Interview, with an informal cross border trader, Plumtree, December, 2013). This is confirmed by the fact that, the Zimbabwean Exchange Control (General) Order, 1996 S.I. 110 of 1996, among others, generally set standards for the nature and quantities of goods that traders could import (see Exchange Control (General) Order, 1996 S.I. 110 of 1996). In addition, the police and the army on the Botswana and Zimbabwean sides of the border rigidly enforced immigration controls. However, this did not deter the cross-border traders from engaging in their activities “because we have ceased to think of these people as a challenge, since there are many ways of evading them and contesting the strict and militarised control of the border” (Interview with an informal cross border trader, Plumtree, January 2013). For example, stringent immigration controls, for those who ‘legally’ crossed the border led to among others under-declaring goods and bribery so as transport their goods across the border (Bhamu 2017). Further, some traders crossed at undesignated points along the Zimbabwe-Botswana border to buy and sell goods. One respondent declared that “I have crossed the border at undesignated points and sold my goods in and around communities such as Butale and Moroka in Botswana and as such the border is not such a big issue for me” (Interview, with an informal cross border trader, Plumtree, December 2013). This evidence seems to point to the fact that, the activities of informal cross-border traders occur in spite of state control and regulation.
What can be seen from the views of respondents in the preceding discussion, is a clear case of transnational economic activities by non-state actors. The big issue is that, the SADC states frustrate the activities of these actors. Cross border traders narrated of ill treatment by immigration officials, the army and police on the Botswana and South African sides of the border. This is “because these state agents are always aggressive and treat us like criminals, when in reality we engage in an honest way of living (Interview with an informal cross border trader, Beitbridge, December 2015). In fact, Zimbabwe is also guilty of stringent border controls even against its own citizens as can be seen in the case of the Zimbabwe Exchange Control Order of 1996. Further, a recent case was that of the Statutory Instrument Number 64 of 2016, which resulted in bans of goods that were imported from South Africa. Those actors who attempted to violate this instrument had their goods impounded on the Zimbabwean border (see Moyo 2016b). Consequently,
as cross border traders we now transported our goods from the South African border to Zimbabwe at undesignated pointes along the Limpopo River as a way of contesting the border and the punishing effects of the Statutory Instrument Number 64 of 2016. As you may be aware, unemployment is high in Zimbabwe and the government has failed to provide jobs. The irony is that it is the same government which implements these insensitive policies with the result that we have to resist such. As I have said, we move our goods across the Limpopo River and this involves organizing means of transporting goods, regardless of quantity and/or size across the Limpopo River”.
(Interview with an informal cross border trader, Messina, September 2016)
In all this, the crucial point is that, there is an informal architecture of informal cross border activities that occur between Botswana and Zimbabwe and between South Africa and Zimbabwe. But, the securitization and maintenance of the coloniality of borders by SADC states in question, stands in the way of enhancing the activities of these actors. What is also important to emphasise from the narratives of informal economic actors is that they are the ones who appeared to suffer the impacts of the borders in the SADC sates in question. The so-called formal actors and multinational Companies (MNCs) seem to have not as much hassles. One is led to ask if this is any different from the colonial period, in which colonial institutions were used to exploit the resources, including cross border trade from Africa and yet the African people, were oppressed and suppressed by a plethora of laws and institutions such as borders. This seems to be playing out again, when informal cross border traders and border citizens are excluded. If non-state actors continue to face the exclusive impact of the border, for whose benefit is regional integration or indeed the AfCFTA and continental integration? Is it for the neo-colonial institutions that continue the colonial present? I will respond to these questions in my conclusion.
The argument which can be levelled against this discussion is that SADC citizens enjoy a 90-day free visa in all SADC countries. Proponents of this view may therefore assert that SADC borders are open and there is free movement. Concerning this, I advance that, the “opening of borders” is not enough, because borders may be open but not decolonised, based on issues of power and class. A case in point in the SADC region is that many formal cross border actors enjoy “open borders”, because there are a host of policies such as the SADC Trade Protocol (Protocol on Trade in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region 1996), which support the activities of such actors. But a border open to formal actors may be closed to informal cross border actors; forcing them to defy such borders by employing methods, which are classified as illegal by the state. Such classification is based on the absence of legislation which recognises their existence just as was the case during colonialism. My argument here is that decolonised borders should recognise in policy and/or border management regimes all cross-border actors, especially non-state actors, who are criminalized and rendered invisible through cross border discourses and policies. Clearly, the issue of borders comes to the fore, to the extent that the SADC regional integration project, which is an integral aspect of the AU integration project and Agenda 2063 targets decolonisation of these borders. This is basis for the argument that there is need for the decolonisation of borders in the SADC to make these institutions inclusive in terms of enhancing cross border interaction for all actors.
Hence, in the following part, I propose the nature and dynamic that this decolonisation of borders should take. One way would be to offer them (informal cross border traders) border passes so as unburden them with the stringent border formalities. They could use these in place of passports and visas, such that there may be no need to illegally cross the border. There are precedents in other parts of the world. For example, in one of the most securitised borders in world, the Spanish-Moroccan border at Ceuta and Melilla actually allowed the Moroccan citizens (informal cross-border traders) from borders areas like Tetouan and Nador to travel to and from Ceuta (Spain), without visas (Ferrer-Gallardo 2008, 2010). This Schengenisation (Ferrer-Gallardo 2008, 2010) of informal cross border traders/border citizens demonstrates a pragmatic management or governance of the border. Therefore, I advance that, providing border cards to the cross border traders in the study areas under discussion is necessary, because as interview data shows, some of these cross border traders may not have passports and if they do, they may have exhausted the ninety-day visitor’s visas a year that are applicable to SADC citizens.
Informal cross-border traders argued that this was not enough (ninety-day visitor’s visa) for their businesses and in fact, amounted to a restriction, which meant that the border was rigid to their circumstances. In addition to border cards, decolonising the border should involve the expansion of the simplified trade regime (STR) from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to all SADC countries. The STR as implemented in COMESA is to enhance movement and the import and export business of cross border traders. It is made up of the Certificate of Origin5, which details that the goods in which cross border traders trade, originate in COMESA. It also shows a common list of goods (on which cross border traders must not pay customs duty) and a simplified customs documents in which cross border traders declare the goods on the common lists6.
Consequently, offering border cards to cross border traders and spreading the STR could unleash the economic potential in these actors such that they expand their businesses. This is similar to what, Ong (2006) refers to as the strategic response to population and space and equipping people for self-mastery. Most importantly, these two suggested ways of decolonising the border will undo the impact of the border in a region that seeks regional integration. In the SADC region, this is an important point to raise for two reasons. First, in official policy, non-state actors such as informal cross border traders are not seriously considered. Second, not only is the free movement of economic actors, even if they are non-state actors the zeitgeist of modernity, but also an essential part of the ongoing SADC regional integration and AU continental integration projects.

5. Regarding Political and Social Dynamics and Decolonising SADC Borders

Ordinary people, border citizens and informal cross border traders at both borders under study seem to suggest that the border controls were unnecessarily stringent. When the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe was constructed after colonial conquest, it separated families and communities. However, respondents in this study asserted that, the movement of people between the two countries has occurred in spite of the border. It is for this reason that cross border interaction between Zimbabwe and Botswana have existed over a longer period of time. Therefore, the argument that people migrate and illegally cross the border from Zimbabwe to Botswana for economic reasons only is very limited, and if nothing else, simplistic and uninformed. People cross from Zimbabwe to Botswana and vice versa for among others, familial and cultural reasons, despite the fact that it is securitised (Interview with a border citizen, Plumtree, December 2013).
On the issue of border securitisation, for example, in 2003, the Botswana government started the construction of about 500 km of an electric fence on the border with Zimbabwe (Moré 2011). The Botswana government claimed that this was intended to stop the spread of foot and mouth disease, but the Zimbabwean government interpreted it as a way of closing off Zimbabweans fleeing economic and other problems in their country into Botswana (Moré 2011). In 2008, Botswana deployed a large army to this border to intercept Zimbabweans attempting to cross into the country (Munnion 2008). In what could be seen as retaliation, in 2014, the Zimbabwean government threatened to block Botswana and Zambia from building a bridge across the Zambezi River at Kasane (Kasane Bridge). This is because the Kasane Bridge would divert cross border traffic away from Zimbabwe (Beitbridge) through Botswana and Zambia (Bhebhe 2014). From this, we can see that not only are the Berlin borders rigidly and faithfully implemented, but can be a source of tension at government level, which may potentially escalate into a conflict, at least judging from the diplomatic spat between Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Further, African states even go to the extent of demonstrating and resorting to the repressive state apparatus like the army just to enforce the border. Respondents stated that “this did not deter” them “from crossing the border” (Interview with a border citizen, Plumtree, December 2013), as they continued to move across the border from Zimbabwe into Botswana for example. In fact, a forty-five-year-old man in Plumtree declared that he had “family and relatives in Butale and thus regularly crossed the border to Botswana for these reasons”. He even stated that he used a Botswana cell phone sim card, because the network coverage was good, for which reason he had no use for a Zimbabwean sim card as his life really “revolved around Plumtree and Botswana” (Interview with a border citizen, Plumtree, January 2014). A similar account was narrated by a Zimbabwean in Plumtree, whose rural home was Malalume, who stated that “we have family in Maiatengwe in Botswana and the border is not really a deterrent and we simply cross whenever the need arises and we also communicate by cell phone as we both use sim cards from Botswana” (Interview with a border citizen, Plumtree, January 2014).
For these reasons, interview data show that, there are several categories of Zimbabweans who cross the border to Botswana. The first includes those who do so for familial and community ties. These were clearly border citizens. For such people, the border does not deter them. It does not matter if they had passports or not, because, they “still find other means to cross the border at undesignated crossing points” (Interview with a border citizen, Plumtree, December 2013). These interactions suggest that, the securitised border between Botswana and Zimbabwe is not always successful. Similar interactions appear to exist between South Africa and Zimbabwe as manifest at Beitbridge border (see Moyo 2016a). Concerning border citizens on the South-Africa-Zimbabwe border, they argued that:
Illegality was a construction of the white people who constructed the border, because we had always crossed the river without needing any permission. I have family, community and friends on the other side of the Zimbabwe-South Africa border and nothing can ever erase that. After majority rule in 1994, there was no difference, the controls at the border were even more tightened and yet again, just like the colonial and apartheid years, the idea that people who have always been family and community were turned strangers, belonging to different countries was vigorously highlighted. At the Beitbridge border, it was now black people and not white people who were harassing and telling us that we were Zimbabwean and needed a visa to travel to Messina and the surrounding rural areas, where we have friends and family, a community.
(Interview with a border citizen, Beitbridge town, August, 2013)
In this context, transnational ties can be seen, where people who live in both Botswana and Zimbabwe and South Africa and Zimbabwe by maintaining, and in cases where the states put up stringent border controls, enforcing regular cross border interactions. Clearly, SADC sates fail to understand that cross border migration does not occur because of inequality only (de Haas 2006; cited in Castles 2010). The assets that sustain such interactions include among others culture, language community and familial ties. The colonial present of borders cannot destroy or exhaust these assets which do not exist ex nihilo, but centuries-long histories and interaction.
When immigration regimes attempt to securitize the border as in the case of Botswana and South Africa in which the border is patrolled by the army and police over and above the immigration policies, the people involved defied the border. These examples show that the non-state actors do successfully contest the border from below. There is a network of cross border interactions that needs to be recognized and strengthened through the decolonisation of borders. These findings therefore echo how the securitised EU/Spanish border at Ceuta and Melilla has failed to stop the migration of people into Europe as people find ways of defying the border (Ferrer-Gallardo 2008, 2010; Scheel 2013; Papadopoulos and Tsianos 2013; Ferrer-Gallardo and Albet-Mas 2013; Casas-Cortes et al. 2015). Similarly, the India-Bangladesh border has failed to stop centuries-old ties, which were disrupted by the construction of the border as people continue to cross the border at undesignated points in total dismissal of sovereign power that the border symbolises and transmit (Jones 2012).

6. Conclusions

Viewed through the lenses of decolonization, this paper posits that SADC nation-states like Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe rigidly enforce the coloniality of borders. This involves the securitisation of borders as well as the deployment of policies which favours formal at the expense of informal actors. This observation responds to the first research question posed at the beginning of this contribution. Regarding economic activity, informal cross border traders have established transnational networks, but the coloniality of borders continues to stifle these activities. Further, on the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe there are people who share the same language and culture and as is the case on the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe (see Moyo 2016a). Such people contest the border by practices and strategies ranging from illegally crossing the border and forging double identities. Again, and from the point of view of the border citizens, the illegality of crossing the border is a state and colonial construct as is the need to forge multiple identities. Such practices suggest the need for decolonised borders in the SADC region. This summary responds to the second question as indicated in the introduction of this paper. And based on the suggestion of the need for decolonised borders in the SADC, the issue of how this can be done arises and is discussed next as an overall comment on the third research question of this contribution.
Interview data suggest that there were informal cross border networks which have been set up by the informal cross border traders and likewise by border citizens. Regarding the former, SADC states can engage in “forms of government that feature […] direct intervention by means of empowered and specialized state apparatuses”. This could lead to “rendering individual subjects “responsible” (and also collectives, such as families, associations, […] shifting the responsibility for social risks such as illness, unemployment, poverty, etc. and for life in society into the domain for which the individual is responsible and transforming it into a problem of “self-care”” (Lemke 2000, p. 12). On the matter of border citizens, interview data suggested that the issuance of identification documents in Zimbabwe was district-based. For example, border towns like Plumtree and Beitbridge in Zimbabwe have unique identity numbers just like other districts in the country. For this reason, it should not be difficult for South Africa and Botswana to admit such Zimbabweans as border citizens on the basis of their identification numbers as people inhabiting a borderland, torn apart from their kith and kin as a result of and when colonial conquest and partitioning of Africa occurred. This can be set in motion if the concerned SADC states engaged in pragmatic strategies that understand and take into account the colonial, historical, socio-economic and migrations past of the region.
From this point of view, decolonised borders are possible in the SADC—a possibility far removed from a runaway borderless dystopia that pessimists of a decolonised SADC border regime envision. The vision is so because it is informed by the desire by states to uphold the mythical, if nothing else, apocryphal ideology of territorialised nationalism in the SADC. This is important to emphasise because not only do borders produce political subjectivities, but also that societies and political systems are always in state of becoming, such that it is possible to think of and act on “alternatives to the static exclusivity of landscapes of dominant power (counter-hegemonic borderscapes)” (Rancière 2010; cited in Brambilla 2015, p. 24). In fact, in one of the most hardened, securitised and technologized borders in the world at Ceuta and Melilla (EU/Spanish-Morocco border), there is now the recognition of the need of “forging of a cross-border metropolitan amalgamation between Ceuta and its hinterland”, based on the existing architecture of cross border interactions, which the securitised border has failed to stop (Ferrer-Gallardo 2010, p. 35). If such borders as the EU/Spanish Moroccan border at Melilla recognise the futility or perhaps ineffectiveness of securitising the border and seem to be influenced by activities on the ground, the decolonisation of SADC borders could gain insights from this and other aspects discussed in the preceding sections. Otherwise, the SADC, will be a building block for the AU and Agenda 2063, which is not beneficial to the ordinary person, as such people will still suffer the Berlin creation of 1884–85, to the benefit of so called formal actors, MNCs and their representatives. In which case, this is the promotion and sustenance of coloniality.
On the last research question established in the introduction of this contribution, it must be reiterated that, the key insights that this paper has cast on SADC borders, is that their management demonstrate a statist propensity. Such a proclivity is informed by the technologies of imperialism (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013). At the centre of the management of the border is the mimicking of the erstwhile colonial powers’ policies which divided instead of uniting African people. There is therefore need for border policies that unite African people as argued in this paper. This unity will lead to the enhancement of the freedom of movement of people across borders. By delegitimising the technologies of imperialism which divide and usurp the freedom of movement of African people -ugly sides of modernity (Capan 2017), this will, in turn, mean that African borders generally and SADC borders specifically will not be anti-African and anti-Black (Mbembe 2017) and in this lies the potential of regional integration if borders are decolonised. This point is worth emphasizing, because most people who cross African borders may not be the formal actors such as MNCs and/or their representatives who are favoured by cross border policies, but ordinary people such as informal cross border trades and border citizens, who need recognition for them to enjoy freedom of movement rather than being depoliticized and relegated to the subaltern who cannot speak, let alone move.


This research received no external funding.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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