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Publication Details

Reference
Mhone, Guy  (2001) Labour Market Discrimination and its Aftermath in Southern Africa . United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) on Racism and Public Policy: 1-23.

Summary
If one defines the Southern African region more narrowly to comprise the countries that have historically been part of the hub of the South African economy, namely South Africa itself, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi, it is clear that these countries are closely inter-linked in a number of ways. Historically, they have been linked through trade, business relationships, financial markets, infrastructure networks and labour markets to one degree or another. These linkages in turn have implied a high degree of mutual political interest in the affairs of each otherís countries. This network of economic and political relationships has been defined and driven by South Africa as the de facto economic and political powerhouse of the region. Prior to 1994 the economic and political environment in South Africa was uniquely defined by racial discrimination which as formalised in the ideology of apartheid.

Given the economic and political dominance of South Africa in the region it should be expected that this legacy of racial discrimination would have percolated to the neighbouring countries to one degree or another and may currently be manifested in a number of issues that preoccupy the countries of the region at the national and regional levels. This paper is in part an attempt to sketch out how inter-linked the legacy of racial discrimination has been at both the national and regional levels in Southern Africa. While overt racial discrimination in the economy may have been outlawed or disappeared by virtue of the advent of majority rule in all of the countries, it will be argued that a number of economic issues arising from the colonial past were primarily linked to South Africa's apartheid order and the racially defined colonial past in neighbouring countries, continue to affect the region. More importantly the paper seeks to show that the attempt to implement neo-liberal (Bretton Woods inspired and propagated stabilisation and structural adjustment programmes) economic policies in many ways results in reinforcing and reproducing the after-effects of this legacy of racial discrimination.

At the national level a number of such issues can be identified such as those pertaining to the elusiveness of inclusive growth and development and persistence of poverty and inequity in all of the countries; the inability to grapple with the agenda for economic empowerment in terms of asset redistribution (the land question for instance) and promotion of indigenous entreprenuership in agriculture and industry for instance; the search of employment equity and affirmative action in some of the countries such as South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe; the unequal access to economic and social infrastructure services; the inequitable spatial arrangements that continue to severely throttle economic participation of the majority; the persistence of skills shortages; and the nature of internal migration. There are other issues at the regional level: those of unequal development and unequal incidence of the gains from regional economic interaction among the countries and in particular between South Africa and the rest of the countries in the region; the problem of skills shortages and the brain drain; the problem of cross-border labour migration among low skilled workers; the issue of cross-border informal trade; and the overall problem of how to manage migration between countries.

While it is true that many of the forgoing problems can be found in the other countries and regions of Africa, it is contended here that they have a unique manifestation in the context of Southern Africa primarily because they have been historically mediated by past problems of racial discrimination. It is further contended that neo-liberal economic policies tend to reinforce or postpone the resolution of many of the above problems. This paper therefore proceeds as follows. The next section discusses in a general way the nature of the considerations that underpinned labour market discrimination in the region. This is followed by a section that sketches those main features of the aftermath of this discrimination at the national and regional levels. The final major section discusses the implications and consequences of neo-liberal economic policy stances for the resolution of these legacies. The conclusion draws some of the political implications of the discussion at the national and regional levels in Southern Africa.

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