The African National Congress (ANC) hosted a webinar on promotion of intra-African trade to advance growth and development in SADC and the African continent. SISA NJIKELANA, gives an overview of the event held on Monday, 24 May 2021, to mark the Africa Month celebrations.

Context and background 

Integration is a longstanding objective of African leaders with roots in the Pan-African Conferences and notable in the immediate post-independence period. It was understood as critical to overcome the limitations of small, fragmented economies established under colonialism. 

Furthermore, it is worth noting that then integration objective is specified in the founding documents of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. It is further spelt out in the “Abuja Treaty” of 1991. This was further expanded in the “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want” of 2013 which marks an important milestone in the development of the concept of African economic integration.

This agenda calls for structural transformation of African economies through ‘development integration’ that combines market integration (free trade agreement) with cross-border infrastructure development to improved links between African economies and, importantly, programmes to promote African industrialization and regional value chains.

The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is the market integration component of this wider project but must make its contribution by creating an incentive framework of tariff liberalization and rules of origin to support investments in – and industrialisation of, African economies. The AfCFTA must be an instrument for building productive capacity in Africa, rebalancing current patterns of trade and enhancing intra-African trade in higher value added products. African economies should use the AfCFTA as an instrument to move away from its continued over-reliance on the production and export of low value added exports (minerals and commodities) to the rest of the world in exchange for imports of manufactured high value products. 

The African National Congress (ANC) must take the lead in mobilising and uniting all South Africans around a common vision of economic transformation that puts South Africa first, bearing in mind that such transformation is incomplete without continent-wide transformation. 

Proposed objectives on AfCFTA (from an ANC perspective)

  1. Create a tool to: 
  • Mobilise motive forces in the operationalisation of the AfCFTA 
  • Craft a transformative framework and tools which will be used to monitor the effective operationalisation of the AfCFTA
  • Guide the ANC in engaging with various partners and stakeholders on the AfCFTA
  • Guide and direct deployees in the implementation and management of the AfCFTA
  • Empower the ANC leadership and general membership, and the Alliance, with regards to support and promotion of the AfCFTA.

2. Utilise the AfCFTA as one of the tools to advance the African Renaissance to ensure that:

  • Support for African Integration and Industrialisation in a progressive and developmental implementation of the AfCFTA.
  • SA’s broadly progressive approach to trade at the global level (in the World Trade Organisation) should beconsistently reflected in our engagement in the AfCFTA
  • Trade is a means for social and economic development in Africa, not an end itself
  • Trade must support African industrialisation
  • Trade liberalisation under the AfCFTA should be properly timed, sequenced and implemented so to support African industrial development and employment and not destroy jobs or lead to de-industrialisation
  • Emphasis on balanced wealth creation must be amongst the pillars of the national strategy.

The rationale for an ANC-initiated webinar

Held under the theme, “Promotion of Intra-African Trade to Advance Growth and Development in SADC and the African Continent”, the following points were raised as the rationale for the webinar:

  • Use the Africa Month strategically for an intensive engagement with those formations outside on collaboration on the implementation of the AfCFTA with special focus on waging the war against COVID-19;
  • Position the movement as a foremost thought leader on Africa’s economic development and first port of call for all non-state actors on issues of continental economic integration, growth and development;
  • Create a launching pad for engagement on the African continental free trade initiative with formations outside government especially political parties, organised civil society and the African Diaspora on collaboration on the implementation of the AfCFTA;
  • Create to brainstorm strategies and programmes on how to craft synergies and complement governments with regards to the implementation of the AfCFTA;
  • Brainstorm the possibility of a common programme amongst formations outside of government with regards to the implementation of AfCFTA;
  • Ensure a progressive approach to both implementation of the AfCFTA and harnessing against Covid-19 is formidably assumed, integrated and maintained. 

The target participants for the webinar were:

  • COSATU and SACP include their networks in Africa;
  • ANC NWC, PWC’s and RWC’s; 
  • Sub-Committee Chairpersons;
  • Sister as well as ruling parties and organised civil society in Africa;
  • African Diaspora; 
  • Deployees in the diplomatic community; 
  • ANC’s International Relations Sub-Committee members.


The ANC’s role and contribution to the implementation of the AfCFTA is informed by a number of historical decisions – namely: 

53rd National Conference: 

  • We must make our government a more capable and effective state, with the technical and political capacity to lead development and transform the economy.
  • Integration on a fair and equitable basis with the economies of Southern Africa and building stronger economic linkages across the continent as a whole 
  • Participating in world trade, pursuing strategic partnerships with countries of the south and agitating for a fairer world trade system.
  • The ANC will continue to engage with the plan, conscious of the need to unite South Africans in action around a common vision and programme of change.
  • Within the NDP vision, critical instruments and policy initiatives will continue to drive government’s medium-term policy agenda.

54th National Conference: 

  • Africa and its development remains the central objective of the ANC’s international perspective and policy, with the African Renaissance remaining a key policy objective.
  • Africa has also seen a growing scramble for economic power between the West and the emerging markets. It is therefore imperative for South Africa to forge beneficial and strategic partnerships.
  • The ANC and the ANC government remains committed to a peaceful and prosperous Africa – in pursuit of the aspirations of Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU).
  • The AU Commission should continue to focus on rationalising the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) into a maximum of five geographically aligned (5) REC’s in order to avoid duplication and overlapping memberships.
  • The ANC calls on African countries to utilise their natural resources such as land, mineral and marine resources; as well as infrastructure development programmes – for the benefit of their population.
  • To leverage our chairing of BRICS in 2018 to be beneficial to South Africa and the continent.

The international relations outcomes of 2019 ANC Lekgotla had the following Apex Priorities for 2019-2025:

  • Develop and implement national strategy for the African Continental Free Trade area, in­creasing exports in Continent.
  • Expand continental aviation network, in con­text of the single African aviation market and regional transport and infrastructure corri­dors. 
  • Target African continent in our automotive export-led strategy. 
  • Cooperate with other countries on maritime safety and human trafficking. 
  • Economic diplomacy to promote tourism, investments, trade and African integration; adopt and implement the national interest framework. 

The 2020 Lekgotla recognised that the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area promises great opportunities for industrialisation, infrastructure development, economic growth and intra-African trade.

In so far as the outcomes of the 2021 Lekgotla guide the ANC committed that:

  • We need to sustain this cooperation and collaborative spirit into 2021. 
  • We also need to do what we can to facilitate the effective operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area even as COVID-19 constrains economic activity and limits the movement of goods and people. We were able to launch it through the Johannesburg Declaration and now the continent is able to trade with itself.

A synergistic and complementary approach between state and non-state sectors will have a formidable impact trade, growth and development of Africa.

Facilitated by Phelisa Nkomo, the quality of inputs by the keynote speaker, Secretary General of AfCFTA, Wamkele Mene; and panelists were quite high and issues raised were stimulating in so much that it was decided to hold a follow-up webinar as well. The panellists were Siya Biniza, Political Economist; Prof Tandeka Nkiwane, Advisor to the CEO of NEPAD; Dr Lebohang Pheko, Executive Director of Trade Collective; and, Amb Kingsley Mamabolo, former South Africa’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Although preparations for the webinar started late the response across the continent was encouraging given the 96 participants in Zoom; 5 300 views, 215 likes, 51 comments, and 21 shares on Facebook ; 107 views on YouTube hitherto and the numbers are growing by day. 

What was evident was the overwhelming support for the continental free trade initiative whilst at the same time concerns were sharply raised. Particular focus was on the participation of the ordinary people, free movement of the peoples in the content, role and benefits for workers, the informal economic sector, etc. Not to mention the emphasis on the need to change economic systems and business models to ensure there is no exploitation of labour! A call for a pan-African value-based approach resonated a few times during the engagement. The organisers of the webinar intend passing the responses to the Office of the Secretary General of the AfCFTA for consideration. 

The ANC views this webinar as one of the cardinal efforts to ensure the participation of non-state sectors – be they political organisations, social movements, youth and women’s movements or any other civil society formations.

Click this link to access the video recording of the webinar:


SISA NJIKELANA is member of the ANC’s International Relations Committee