Tom Hooper


"South Africa: Disastrous Drought," Africa Research Bulletin, January 15-February 14, 1983. (6731-3)

In the winter of 1983 (summer in the Southern Hemisphere), all of Southern Africa experienced a record drought, with the temperature as high as 46 degrees Celsius, and the last good rains falling in 1974. The dam that supplies water to Botswana's capital was one-third full. The drought has decimated the region's main food crops, which were maize (corn), millet, and rice. The World Food Program (WFP) gave Mozambique 5,000 tons of maize and 200 tons of beans, and Japan sent 3,614 tons of rice to support hunger victims. Cotton, an important export crop was also hit, despite the fact that it is supposedly more resistant to drought. South Africa, the world's number 5 exporter of corn, witnessed a crop of 8 million tons, down from the 14.2 million it harvested two years prior. Drought is also forcing cattle ranchers to send their livestock to slaughter earlier, causing them to flood the market, especially at a time when demand for meat is low, following steep price increases in previous years. Other cattle industries, such as sheepskin production were also badly affected.

Many African countries were forced to turn to foreign lending, in the face of a debt crisis resulting from the droughts. Despite their distaste for IMF lending criteria, nations were forced to look to them as one of their only possible solutions, borrowing money with stiff repayment conditions. The only countries not importing more than exporting were Angola and Zambia, which contain rich mineral wealth in the form of oil and copper. A combination of factors such as high oil prices, slump in commodity prices, severe drought, bad management, and fast population growth all contributed to decreases in economic growth rates and increases in political pressures.

Countries in Southern Africa had to rely on South Africa as the most efficient and cheapest supplier of food and fertilizer. In addition, South Africa serves as an important transport channel for the landlocked countries to its north. Despite all this business, South Africa's economy was also in decline, though its reserves were still far above average, and it's leaders seemed to want to use this advantage to push the nation's own political goals. The only countries available to help reduce dependence on South Africa were Mozambique, who also has transportation routes to the ocean, and Zimbabwe, whose food production stayed reasonably intact.