Approaching AfCFTA launch, citizens in Southern African Customs Union states hold mixed views on free trade and open borders

Citizens of the five Southern African Customs Union (SACU) member states hold decidedly mixed views on the union’s goals of achieving economic integration and ease of trade and movement across the region, Afrobarometer surveys show.

Findings in Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa show that attitudes toward free cross-border movement range from massive support in Lesotho to equally solid rejection in Botswana, while South Africans are more likely to ban than welcome foreign workers. Support is high, but variable across countries, for protecting domestic businesses from foreign competition.

The member countries come closer to consensus on two issues: that it is difficult to cross international borders and that foreign traders should be allowed to do business to ensure a good selection of low-cost consumer goods.

All SACU member states have signed on to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in hopes that it will unlock new economic growth opportunities – especially critical for a post- COVID-19 recovery – after its launch on 1 January 2021. But the Afrobarometer findings suggest that the concepts of free trade and cross-border movement that the customs union and AfCFTA promote do not have as solid a popular foundation as leaders might like.