The country desperately needs to attract new investors and protect old investments, but it appears there are many in our government working daily and tirelessly against economic reconstruction given developments at the weekend.
One of the leading companies on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, Econet, had a rude awakening on Saturday when a columnist in the state-run Herald threatened the firm with cancellation of its licence because of its perceived association with the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC.
The Nathaniel Manheru column, widely believed to be authored by a senior presidential spokesman and which often reveals the position of the recalcitrant Zanu PF element in the inclusive government, attacked Econet for allegedly working hand-in-glove with the MDC to secure victory in the next elections using the cyberspace and suggested the firm’s licence would be cancelled to stop this “mischief”.
“The next polls will be fought on the waves, which is why Econet, and its card-carrying owner, Strive Masiyiwa, are so critical to the MDC-T,” wrote Manheru. “We wait for a new propaganda service, which MDC-T seeks to unveil on June 14, using Masiyiwa’s network, through a toll-free facility. Thank God cellular licences are up for renewal and government has to deal with all manner of mischief.”
Such reckless statements scare off badly needed investors to revive our economy which for the past year has been emerging from a vegetative state. It also flies in the face of democracy.
Let me point out from the onset that Masiyiwa and Econet have on countless occasions distanced themselves from any political party.
The firm and its majority shareholder have been on the receiving end from Zanu PF for many years for their alleged association with the MDC as if it’s a crime for any individual or company to share the same aspirations and dreams as a political party.
It is firmly etched in our constitution that everyone — including companies, churches, associations and organisations — has a right to freedom of association and expression, and that is why for many years, before and after Independence, many firms supported Zanu PF financially, materially and morally.
It is rank madness to seek to punish a company for its beliefs and this is also a wrong signal to send to would-be investors we are desperately in need of.
I do not hold a brief to defend Masiyiwa or his company, but I am more concerned with the signal we are sending out to those who have investments in the country and would-be investors. The message from Manheru is that for your business to survive you should support President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party.
History has it that there are companies, parastatals in most cases, which have been used by Zanu PF in its campaigns to remain in power, especially after 2000.
A classic case is when parastatals were literally flogged to buy space for “exhibitions” when Zanu PF held its conference in Goromonzi in 2007.
These were clear cases of unholy and forced marriages which are in no way related to the supposed Econet/MDC commercial relationship which has raised the ire of Manheru.
What Manheru meant with his poisonous pen is that support from the corporate sector should only benefit Zanu PF’s cause and it has to be stopped should it aid the cause of another party.
Why are people like Manheru not alive to the consequences of their poisonous pens?
After the gazetting of the racist Indigenisation and Empowerment Regulations at the beginning of the year, we saw what happened: would-be investors put their plans on ice, operating companies froze expansion programmes and there was a bearish run on the local bourse.
The stock exchange –– the barometer of functionality of our economy –– retreated when the regulations were gazetted with the bourse’s benchmarks losing up to 25% on trade as 79 listed companies face a sanitised expropriation.
According to the bourse, last year’s market was foreign-investor driven, contributing between 45% and 50% of the US$200 million turnover.
This latest threat will surely send shivers down the spine of would-be investors and those who already have investments in the country.
Protection of private property should be the cornerstone of any economy and it is my hope that Manheru and like-minded people in Zanu PF will realise this sooner than later. As it stands, they are a menace to society.