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Comment: Indigenisation: Public policy for private gain

LOOKING at the country’s indigenisation policy, especially the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act, leaves one with a feeling of having experienced déjà vu of some sort. It is an Act that aims to put into effect a policy which on the surface sounds good, but the goodness is only in the sound as the implementation would expose what the actual aim was in the first place.

Post-Independence Zimbabwe has witnessed a number of high-sounding policies which have been used as window-dressing by politicians and those in high places to grab material benefits from ordinary Zimbabweans, who should be the beneficiaries.
War veterans would bear testimony to this after the War Victims Compensation Fund only benefited the chefs, the Low Income Housing Fund was used to build mansions for top politicians and civil servants and at the turn of the century the “land hungry” peasants were used to drive away commercial farmers, making way for the chefs who now occupy the most fertile land.
Most peasants are yet to reach the promised land, yet others are already enjoying the benefits. The same administration which promulgated these policies and laws came up with the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act which, given the trend since Independence, would, without doubt, benefit only a few chefs.
There are a number of issues which the Act raises, especially after the gazetting of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment (General) Regulations earlier this year. One question is who qualifies to be an indigenous Zimbabwean? According to the Act, an indigenous Zimbabwean is defined as: “any person who, before the 18th April, 1980, was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race, and any descendent of such person, and includes any company, association, syndicate or partnership of which indigenous Zimbabweans form the majority of the members or hold the controlling interest.”
If you do not fit this grid and you have a company capitalised above US$500 000, then be prepared to lose more than half (51%) of the stake to those who were previously disadvantaged.
Apart from the semantics of disposing, ceding or selling, if one looks at it from the point of view of those who are supposed to benefit, it is clear that the majority are not in a position to buy any stake. Zimbabwe has no solid middle class with the capacity to purchase such companies. Civil servants usually constitute the middle class of a nation but in Zimbabwe they have been reduced to levels lower than shop floor factory workers in terms of salaries. Thus, if these regulations are implemented, a legitimate question has to be asked: Who will buy? And one need not be a business studies professor to see that it is a very small clique which benefited from the deregulation of the economy in the 1990s and the mad quasi-fiscal intervention of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe between 2004 and 2008. It would be another public policy for private gain. Already the sharks are smelling blood and the Kingdom Meikles saga has presented an ominous rehearsal of what is likely to happen as the politicians take a political position and then struggle to stretch the country’s laws to justify such actions. Which other company is going to face the same fate we wonder?
It is clear that the indigenisation of the economy, something that has been on the lips of the administration for so long, means nothing more than legitimising the reaping of assets by a clique which has been getting the biggest share of the post-Independence cake. There have been amendments to the regulations since February this year but this has been a mere fig leaf as what people want is a transparent implementation of the policy. This would address issues of who qualifies to be indigenous, what percentage has to be disposed, what is in store for the communities and who is going to buy the stakes?
As it stands, policy makers have been the major beneficiaries of various policies in post-Independent Zimbabwe, and the indigenisation policy could be joining the growing list. It needs to be cleansed from such manipulation through establishing respected bodies to deal with all issues which are likely to arise. Zimbabweans have been taken for granted for too long and they want an assurance that the policy will benefit them and not those simply well-connected.
As it stands, there is every reason to take these regulations as nothing more than another strategy to further enrich the chefs and the fat cats who have been plundering the country at tremendous cost to national development.

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