By Tafirenyika Wekwa Makunike
I WAS privileged to participate during the last week of August in the Limpopo International Investor Conference held in Polokwane at the Meropa Hotel and Casino.
The hotels were packed with international visitors and it seems Limpopo’s campaign to be the Eden of Africa is clearly bearing fruit.
Limpopo has been classified as one of the poorest provinces, in South Africa, yet as an economy it has maintained the fastest growth rate of more than double the national average since 2000. At this rate its fortunes are clearly set to change in less than 10 years. Under the stewardship of premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi, a pro-business and pro-investment young team was assembled and is making Limpopo one of the most attractive investment destinations this side of the Sahara.
This is a good example of how proper leadership can make a difference to a poor province as opposed to political insults (kutukirira!) from rooftops.
Geographically, culturally and historically Limpopo is much closer to Zimbabwe.
When one looks at the Mapungubwe historical site there is no doubt that the people who built the site are the same as those who built Great Zimbabwe. Incidentally the moulded gold rhino that they use as one of their tourism promotion emblems was discovered from this site as well. When one listens to the common languages spoken in the province such as Venda and Shangani, there are clear similarities to Zimbabwean languages.
Looking at baobab (another promotional emblem) terrain and what pertains to the Birchenough Bridge in Manicaland the resemblance is remarkable.
This is where the similarities end. When one juxtaposes the two entities together it is clear that Limpopo is a microcosm of what Zimbabwe ought to be in many respects with any semblance of leadership, but is clearly not.
We have one of the most welcoming tourism facilities in this part of the world yet, with the exception of the Victoria Falls, we only get the cheap, back-packing, hitch-hiking visitors while others get the big spenders.
One of the programme directors at the conference, Dr Ken Kwaku, Africa chief representative of MIGA (World Bank), aptly summed it up when he said the train was leaving. With actual projects that have already been started worth R10 billion on the menu scattered across mining, tourism, infrastructure and agribusiness, it was clear this was not one of those speechifying sessions we are accustomed to. In all the projects there were clear empowerment targets for historically disadvantaged persons instead of the cat and mouse investment scenarios.
I got an opportunity to review some of the agro-processing industries being implemented with the technical assistance of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). With sufficient support; my former colleagues at the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) could be pushing through similar projects.
I had an opportunity to talk to many international investors from the EU, the US and a large contingent from Asia and whenever I explained that I was from further north they would nod their heads in sympathy. It seems investors from our Asian friends who have been talking about implementing large projects in Zimbabwe are in fact implementing them right here in South Africa.
My sympathy goes to Dumiso Dabengwa on the numerous unfulfilled promises he made on behalf of the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project. International investment is not about philanthropy or political solidarity but about making money. No sane person would park his or her money in a political environment where there is no guarantee of getting it back.
Recycling trips to Malaysia and other Asian countries will not change that state without good investment guarantees.
Notwithstanding the rapid advancement in investment, there are still many areas that are crying for attention such as genuine broad-based empowerment not just of the politically connected, poverty reduction and education.
Despite the ultimate economic disaster that has befallen Zimbabwe because of Mugabe’s poor leadership, the man did well in his early days in improving access to higher education and many of us are beneficiaries of this.
Speaking to various black South Africans at the conference, I was not surprised that many view Mugabe as some kind of hero for poking his finger in the face of the white man. Yet when I asked them if they wanted someone like him in stewardship of their economy no one replies.
I explained to them that I have been a supporter of land reform in Zimbabwe but I am totally against self-serving political chaos masquerading as land reform. Does it mean only one nearly 80-year old man is capable of implementing land reform and no one else can lead our nation? I explained that their position was the greatest political insult to the collective intelligence of Zimbabweans since a similar scenario was perpetrated on the people of Malawi during the Kamuzu Banda era.
It is well and good to have a big political ego like Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia after first developing your economy and empowering your own people. It is totally misplaced to copy the same when seven million of your inhabitants are hungry and you have a begging bowl in hand while insulting those you are begging from.
The greatest irony of the Limpopo Province is that most of the lowest paid farm workers in the area are Zimbabwean and to a lesser extent Mozambican. When you jump your border due to hunger in your country you cannot negotiate for your wages from any position of strength and usually you take what is given.
With absolutely no protection of unionised labour and the threat of deportation hanging over their heads, they are left entirely at the mercy of some unscrupulous employers.
This is what happens when we wreck our country in the name of building it.
Tafirenyika Wekwa Makunike is a SA based business consultant.