Empowerment first above all

Itai Masuku

IF you try to look up the word indigenisation in the online version of the Cambridge dictionary, the entry is not found. Instead, the search engine will ask if you meant indigestion, indignation, disorganisation or indentation, among others. Well, in this country, it’s a bit of all the above. Zimbabwe’s indigenisation programme has drawn much indignation internationally, especially because of its disorganisation. Because of the haphazard manner in which it has been conducted, it has resulted in serious economic indigestion that has caused more than just mere indentation of the pockets of many a Zimbabwean citizen.
Again, for the record, we have never been against indigenisation, only its modus operandi. A proper indigenisation programme must benefit as wide a section of our population as possible, not just a small clique. However, perhaps we need to clear much of the confusion surrounding indigenisation, starting with the very words used to describe it. We want “to call things by their name”, to quote Pluto, the mythical Greek god of the underworld when he was being charged of abducting  Jupiter, the god of sky and thunder’s daughter Proserpina,  in Ovid’s Metamorphoses,  an anthology  by the celebrated icon of Latin literature.
The names that have interchangeably been used to describe the aspiration of the black majority to have more meaningful participation in the economy are indigenisation, affirmative action and economic empowerment. And yet these three are quite distinct and apart from each other. This explains why we’ve had the Indigenous Business Development Centre, the Affirmative Action Group (AAG) and the empowerment aspect in the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board.
Fortunately, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) does have an entry for indigenisation and describes this as “bring (something) under the control, dominance, or influence of indigenous or local people”. This is what largely is the object of the 51% equity model which has been zealously pursued by minister Saviour Kasukuwere.
However, there seems to have been more concentration on indigenisation, the equity model, and not much on the other part, empowerment, but we shall come to that later. Affirmative action, first championed by Phillip Chiyangwa and the late Peter Pamire as of the late 1990s, is not one of Kasukuwere’s portfolios and yet this could be his best foot forward.
But the AAG appears to have also concentrated on indigenisation. Again, according to the OED, affirmative action refers to action favouring those who tend to suffer from discrimination. It is also known as positive discrimination. This fits in more to Reserve Bank governor  Gideon Gono’s supply chain model, although he refers to it as an indigenisation model.
Under this model, the formerly disadvantaged indigenous people are given opportunity to supply goods and services to existing business. Here, there is positive discrimination in their favour where, for instance, it can be made compulsory that all institutions, government and private, must source say, 51% of their goods and services from indigenous businesses.
Both indigenisation and empowerment have been tried to some extent. However, the reason they haven’t worked is because the beneficiaries have not been empowered to take advantage of the opportunities availed to them. This is why empowerment ought to have been the first step.
The OED defines empowerment as: [with object] make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. In short, you are enabling someone. How do you enable someone? By first providing them with the technical, financial and general business skills so that they can run their businesses successfully.
Then you go into affirmative action as they can now properly take advantage of the supply chain advocated by Gono. Thereafter, indigenisation becomes easier because the new entrepreneurs can now pay for equity in companies, doing away all this disquiet.