IN what is clearly an act of madness, the Robert Mugabe government in Zimbabwe published on February 9 regulations governing “Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment”, making it compulsory for white-owned companies in Zimbabwe to hand majority control to black persons.
Authoritative reports state that “the regulations require every existing business, partnership, association or sole proprietorship with an asset value of US$500 000 or more to submit a report to the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere by April 15, outlining their operations and plans for ensuring that they will be owned or controlled by indigenous persons within five years”.
Failure to do so, after a further 30-day reminder, would render the owner of the business or every director guilty of an offence and liable to a fine and/or imprisonment for up to five years.
The new regulations demand that all foreign and locally owned companies hand over at least 51% ownership to black Zimbabweans. Thousands of firms, including the Zimbabwean operations of firms such as Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and the mining company Rio Tinto, will be affected.
These developments come on top of other property seizures. Sue Lloyd Roberts of the BBC reports that in the last 10 years, “4 000 white commercial farmers have now had their farms confiscated and given to black farmers, many of whom are supporters of Mugabe. A diamond mine has been taken from its white Zimbabwean owner and is being operated by a government-owned company, protected by soldiers”.
Amazingly, the prime minister in the Zimbabwe coalition government, who has responsibility for policy formulation, knew absolutely nothing about the new regulations until they were published.
The prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is the leader of the former opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said the move had been made without his knowledge. He said: “They were published without due process and in contravention of the global political agreement (which set up the coalition) and constitution of Zimbabwe and are therefore null and void.”
Tsvangirai may consider the regulations null and void but they are being implemented anyway, demonstrating his complete impotence as prime minister and Mugabe’s utter disregard for him.
This is not the first time that Mugabe has openly shown his contempt for Tsvangirai, nor is it the first time that Tsvangirai has displayed the powerlessness of his position as prime minister.
The most glaring example of Tsvangirai’s weakness is the fact that a top MDC official, Roy Bennett, is still being prosecuted on charges widely believed to be trumped up, and many other MDC members have been arrested or harassed — cases well documented by Amnesty International and human rights groups within Zimbabwe.
While some of these human rights violations strike at property owned by white people, they are perpetrated mostly against Zimbabwean blacks, including women, who are perceived to oppose the Mugabe regime, but in reality are simply fighting for better lives for their families and for an end to physical abuse by the military and gangs organised by Mugabe’s Zanu PF.
Amid the farce of a coalition government in which Mugabe is president and Tsvangirai prime minister, Zanu PF and the MDC have been holding talks to implement the “Global Political Agreement” brokered since September 2008 by South Africa’s government. Zanu PF has given nothing of any substance and MDC holds on in the hope of a breakthrough.
The South African government continues to chair the deadlocked negotiations with no favourable end in sight.
In 2009, the Zimbabwean economy, which had sunk into a deep morass with the Zimbabwean dollar less than worthless, grew by an estimated 4% on the back of a virtual abolition of the Zimbabwe dollar and the adoption of the US dollar as its currency. Last year’s growth was the first in 10 years and came after a 60% decline.
Experts report that much of last year’s growth was due to good rains and a decent harvest. This year the rains have been sporadic, crops are failing and a poor harvest is expected. By the end of 2010, as many as three million Zimbabweans could again be dependent on food aid.
Before the announcement of the new regulations, the Zimbabwe Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti, had been seeking new foreign investment in Zimbabwe. The chances of this happening now are pretty remote, except from the government of the People’s Republic of China.
In November last year, the Zimbabwe government announced that China Sonangol, a Chinese-Angolan joint venture company, would invest US$8 million in five deals involving gold and platinum refining, oil and gas exploration, fuel purchase and distribution, and housing.
It will be interesting to see if the Chinese-owned company will be exempt from the new regulations to give 51% of foreign-owned companies to black Zimbabweans.
So where is all this going? Zimbabwe has always required a complete restructuring of land ownership. Five per cent of the Zimbabwean population, mostly white, owned 80% of the arable land at the time of Independence in 1980.
Only the most resolute white racists would have objected to reformation of land ownership to correct the ancient wrong by which black Zimbabweans were deprived and denied land ownership in their country of birth.
The failure to achieve this reformation resides squarely with the British government and to a lesser extent the US government who reneged on their promise to provide the funding that would have effected this transformation when Mugabe was elected to power in 1980.
Instead of seeking international support for his just cause against the UK and US, Mugabe turned the issue into a means of retaining domestic support in the face of his increasing unpopularity among black Zimbabweans. Two rigged elections and atrocities, including savage beatings against his political opponents, kept him in power, but not in favour with the majority of Zimbabweans.
Instead of transferring farms to capable people with the knowledge and capital to keep them productive, they were seized and given to political cronies including the top brass of the military who keep Mugabe in power. The latest regulations appear to be more of the same.
It will drive even more talent, knowledge and money out of Zimbabwe and contribute little if anything to the investment of nearly US$10 billion desperately needed to reconstruct the economy.
The international community should act together to curtail Mugabe’s abuse, and Tsvangirai should give them the lead. He should start by abandoning the farce that parades as a coalition government, putting an end to Mugabe’s claim of racism against him and his policies. That claim seems to paralyse European governments and to limit the actions of African ones while Zimbabwe withers. — jamaicaobsever.com.
Sir Ronald Sanders is a consultant and former Guyana diplomat.