The SASPN moment was in 1999 when economic justice movements across southern Africa came together under the realisation that political independence without economic justice was empty. SAPSN was therefore conceptualised as a loose institutional membership-based network in 1999 with membership drawn primarily from national movements and community-based initiatives working on debt, trade, structural adjustment, poverty and globalization in the SADC region. This model means SAPSN is not and has not been registered as a legal entity in any of the member countries, preferring to work as an integral project of the host secretariat at any given point in time. At inception in 2000, SAPSN was hosted by the Alternative Information Development Centre (AIDC) in South Africa until it moved to Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt & Development (ZIMCODD) in 2003, Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) in 2008 and now the Foundation for Socio-Economic Justice (FSEJ) in Swaziland in 2013.
SAPSN uses some pro-poor grassroots based collective action approach in linking people’s struggles against all forms of injustices, inequality and exclusion in southern Africa. This approach is informed by the understanding that we live in a world of intersecting inequalities and thus there is need to bring collective power and voices to bear on systemic and transnational causes of poverty and injustices. At inception, the common thread that glued the network was the need to mobilise SADC citizens to “fight against corporate led globalization and neo-liberalism”. SAPSN’s interventions were and remain deliberately steeped in an ideological orientation that is anti-neoliberalism. Major proponents of neo-liberalism were identified by the network as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO), Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and other regional and international financial institutions, whose policy interventions were and, in some instances, continue to be implemented through willing governments packaged as Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). SAPs have mutated over the years and continue to be implemented in various forms.
Over the years, SAPSN has devised a multi-pronged strategy to confront the triple crisis of poverty, inequality and inherent injustices, plus the shrinking civic and political space in the region, through grassroots mobilization, movement building, people to people solidarity and policy level dialogue and engagement. The effectiveness of the network’s approach has however arguably been diminishing over the years, thus the need to review and realign the same, in a constantly changing environment.
One of the flagship annual events of SAPSN is the SADC People’s Summit, which has become the prime annual space for various social movements to deliberate, exchange and strategize on how to increase pressure on SADC and individual governments, international financial institutions, private companies and other power wielders to be more responsive to the plight of the poor. From working with small scale farmers, rural women, young people and activists impacted by democratic reversals, SAPSN has been rooted in an organic approach defined by strengthening rights awareness, building consciousness and collective capacity to organize, resist and proffer alternatives. This strategy is anchored on the need to ensure that SAPSN maintains a “living space” in-between People’s Summits, so that summits are platforms for reviewing progress, peer learning, reconnecting issues and struggles across themes and geographical spaces, as well as re-energising the base in the same space.