To say the least, the debate surrounding the regulations is emblematic of this paralysis as contestations for or against the new policy to dilute foreign shareholding in business have failed to resonate with national aspirations to fight poverty and ensure food on the table.
The debate has revealed the paucity of constructive debate on key national issues. In Zimbabwe, policy issues are debated on the basis of us and them. It is black against white. It is left versus right.
It is the MDC against Zanu PF. It is irrationality fighting pointlessness. The nature of debate has ensured that we do not get solutions quickly enough because of the tendency to argue from transfixed positions. We have become a nation motivated by outstanding issues.
There are two very distinct schools of thought in the indigenisation debate: companies will be grabbed and given to well-connected cronies, and the other: black empowerment is crucial to correct a historical wrong.
The debate goes something like: Giving companies to blacks will result in destruction of capital. Look at what happened on the farms… The refrain on the flipside plays like: We cannot continue to allow Anglo-Saxons to lay claim to our heritage. We won our Independence through the barrel of a gun…
Predictably, political protagonists in the lame inclusive government have appointed themselves gaffers for the two feuding corners. They will determine the course and direction of this debate. I know exactly where it is destined; somewhere in a chest of drawers marked “Outstanding Issues”.
This does not however stop the stronger arm of Zanu PF from implementing the policy.
We have seen this before. The regulations will be implemented in a contested environment where political rivalry will be ratcheted up to either prove a point or to sabotage the process altogether.
Evidence of this damaging competition is already evident. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has come out to say that the regulations were promulgated without his input and are therefore null and void.
His opponents in Zanu PF contend that the PM is playing truant and should not sabotage government efforts. There is no middle ground.
I want to submit that all this is unnecessary and in fact detached from the basic needs of poor peasants and millions of unemployed youths.
Arguments that have been put forward by Supa Mandiwanzira’s Affirmative Action Group and big business have missed the whole concept of empowering Zimbabweans in order for them to regain their dignity as a people.
For 30 years, we have existed under a political culture that has disempowered the people even though there have been noises along the way of empowerment and wealth distribution.
We have a whole generation of youths who have subsisted on alms from donors.
There are business people and farmers whose wealth or success can be easily traced back to patronage projects of yesteryear.
Impoverished rural folks queuing at a feeding centre think that they are being empowered by donors, so is the chef admiring tractors provided under the mechanisation programme and a banana crop stolen from a deposed farmer.
The fat new farmer chef and the emaciated villager labouring under a 20kg bag of USAid-donated grain cannot claim to be empowered.
They have become subservient to systems that stunt their ability to contemplate alternative ways of existing and generating a belief in their own abilities to have some role in enacting change.
The debate on the indigenisation policies should assume a broader dimension to tackle the critical questions of what empowerment means and how to empower an impoverished and previously oppressed majority.
The debate should be both informative and have broader conceptual relevance instead of the narrow fight about shareholding quotas in companies.
I have been to village dares where poor peasants bake under the afternoon sun being told how a chef has been empowered through a tractor donated by government.
At the dare, women will dance their pelvises loose in celebrating the “empowerment” and then go back home to face their hungry children.
I dread seeing the same script being enacted at national level when the nation will be asked to celebrate acquisition of 51% in a big bank by fat farmer chefs when more than half the population is surviving on less than a dollar a day per individual.
Basic empowerment is ensuring people can benefit from what they have. Economist Daniel Ndlela summed up our situation this way in a panel discussion on SW Radio: “DRC has minerals, 100% are indigenous but there’s no activity taking place in some of those minerals.
You can equally convert Zimbabwe into 100% title and nothing takes place. What is good for Zimbabwe? Is it for people to sit to play God and say I own 100% of Zimbabwe but I don’t have the means, or I own 100% of the car but I don’t have fuel? Their car may be worth US$100 000 but if you don’t have one litre of fuel, the car won’t move.”
We need broader public discussion on the nature of economic empowerment so that there is strategic input from the perspective of poor and working people.
What we want to pass as economic empowerment is essentially the accommodation of the elite. It’s about changing the characters in the existing system and leaving intact the entire system itself, a system that reproduces inequality in our country and generates nothing.