PRETORIA, The 37th of Heads of State and Government of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has ended here with a commitment to use the region’s natural resources to drive projects which will have economic development spin-offs for the benefit of citizens.

The summit emphasized the need to have concrete outcomes so as to leverage our natural endowments to change the structure of our economies and promote value-addition, with the focus on agro-processing, mineral beneficiation and pharmaceuticals, said summit host President jacob Zuma, who assumed the chair of the regional bloc at the two-day meeting.

These projects, the leaders say, must boost the skills, enhance regional integration and create mechanisms for the involvement of the private sector. Member states must operationalise the outcomes by partnering with the private sector in developing industry and regional value chains, says the communique issued at the end of the summit.

The sub-region has recently discovered natural gas, which could constitute the backbone of regional economic integration. The summit has directed the SADC secretariat to facilitate the establishment of a regional Natural Gas Committee to promote the inclusion of gas in the regional energy mix.

There is convergence among member states on the importance of working with the private sector in this regard. Energy security is a critical input to industrial development, said President Zuma.

In order to address the constraints of financing, the summit emphasized the need for resource mobilisation, including the operationalisation of the Regional Development Fund, which will support and drive the industrialisation agenda.

We all remain collectively engaged with working on improving the prosperity and development of our people. In this regard, the SADC Integration Agenda is important for our family of nations, said President Zuma.

The summit also concluded that the proposed Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) should find expression in the work of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA). The FTA between SADC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC) countries would open up a market of 1.3 trillion US dollars in terms of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while also improving the movement of goods and people.

We need to move forward with the plethora of issues on our agenda. We also welcome the solidarity displayed by our distinguished guests from United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, as well as the African Development Bank’s commitment to support our programme of action, said President Zuma.

Other decisions the summit made was the direction to urgently develop a comprehensive regional strategy to deal with drug abuse and cyber-crime.

The summit commended member states which have reached 50:50 gender representation in political and decision-making positions and urged those which have not to strive towards reaching the targets.

Describing the summit as a success, President Zuma said: As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our community, it is absolutely important to acknowledge that as a region, we have performed exceedingly well over the years. Our region is undoubtedly politically stable and peaceful. True to the key objectives of SADC, member states continue to implement critical programmes of the organisation, including the conduct of regular democratic elections.”

Numerous SADC Heads of State and Government, including Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane, Namibian President Hage Geingob, Botswana President Ian Khama, Zambian President Edgar Lungu, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe were in attendance at the summit. Some of the leaders were, however, absent on Sunday, the final day of the summit.