Comment: Zimbabwe must avoid pitfalls of indigenisation

THE current debate about indigenisation in Zimbabwe is intensifying as companies submit their plans to achieve a broad-based ownership structure to fulfil government’s controversial requirements.

The debate has also been fuelled by the visit to Zimbabwe last weekend of South Africa’s ruling ANC Youth League firebrand Julius Malema.

For nearly three decades the subject of indigenisation has been on the political agenda.

It is very important that we now have informed public debate on this issue. We need broad consultations and consensus on the matter to ensure a structured and workable programme, instead of taking a headlong plunge into implementation, risking disastrous consequences.

Government, which is spearheading the issue, must learn from previous mistakes, especially on land reform, and use those calamitous experiences to inform sound policy initiatives and implementation.

There is no doubt that Zimbabwe, like many other post-colonial societies, needs indigenisation and economic transformation to emerge from colonial economic ownership structures.

Many enlightened and progressive people do agree with the ideological underpinnings of indigenisation, the principle of it, the policy and even the law in the case of Zimbabwe.

However, there is serious disagreement on the approach. Just as on land reform, there are differences on how to achieve the same objective. Those who supported Zanu PF’s violent and chaotic land seizures argued that it was the most practical way of doing it given the resistance of the landowners at the time.

But critics argued that a structured and organised programme would have achieved land redistribution while safeguarding the economic base and ensuring sustainable economic growth.

Zanu PF’s strategy prevailed. Land was seized violently and haphazardly. Peasants marched onto the farms and grabbed everything they could find. Politicians and other well-connected individuals confiscated prime land and creamed off the output.

But the majority of new farmers have dismally failed. Sooner rather than later it dawned on them that they did not have the capital, technology or skills to utilise the farms. As a result most of the land now lies fallow and derelict. What followed, as they say, is history. This is not “destructive criticism” as Zanu PF apologists claim, but reality.

The same — if not worse — will happen if foreign companies are seized recklessly. What Zimbabwe needs is a measured approach, not a reckless and irresponsible method, to achieve indigenisation.

It should not be seen as an event but a process. This is what Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and his noisy sycophants from the Zanu PF Youth League need to understand and appreciate.

They have a good cause, but should not spoil it through uninformed arguments and inflammatory rhetoric.

Malema, their guest last weekend, spoke eloquently on this issue despite occasional lapses into poisonous demagoguery. Indigenisation policy must not be informed by populist rhetoric but economic realities on the ground.

The programme must be designed to ensure a broad-based ownership of the economy by locals, sustainable economic growth, employment and poverty alleviation. As Malema kept on saying throughout his visit, it must not be a pretext for primitive accumulation of wealth by the elite.

Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono has  — for a change — been clear on this issue. He has been consistently urging caution and the need for a structured and measured indigenisation programme.

Gono says Zimbabwe needs economic empowerment and transformation but “strategic thinking” must drive this, not populist rhetoric. He says indigenisation must not be allowed to degenerate into a calamity like the land reform programme or become a ploy which thieves in public office and business vultures use to loot the economy.

Kasukuwere doesn’t get it. He can’t in all seriousness argue that there is nothing wrong with him “becoming rich” and expect poor people to support him. Of course, there is everything wrong with him becoming rich by taking advantage of his position in public office. It’s that simple.

The minister must get this clear and stop uttering ridiculous statements which only serve to undermine his cause. His puerile outbursts on Zimplats and other companies were unhelpful just like his dreadful regulations on indigenisation. Those regulations are bad law and must be withdrawn.

The cabinet committee on indigenisation and empowerment — which Kasukuwere chairs — must broaden its consultations with business, political parties, civil society and ordinary people to come up with a realistic policy on the issue. It must gather input from a wide cross-section of stakeholders to achieve a broad national consensus and legitimacy among Zimbabweans. Government must not mess up a good cause through policy and implementation failure.

 

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