The absence of consequence breeds a culture of impunity

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“Of the few, by the few, for the few.” This is how catastrophic an independent Zimbabwe has become. The promise of an equitable and just society that our departed gallant heroes of the liberation struggle fought for has become a nightmare for the vast majority of Zimbabweans.

By Charlemagne Chimbangu

The economy is under water with no sign of recovery, the middle class is non-existent and the political system is fractured and so toxic that it has become an existential threat to the nation.

Poverty and inequality have made Zimbabweans aliens in their own country, seeking handouts from the privileged and wealthy political class, a despicable indication of how the people have been subjugated and dehumanised by the privileged few. This is a consequence of rampant corruption, crony capitalism, political arrogance, rent-seeking and misrule.

How did Zimbabwe get to such a dark place? A place where politicians perceive poor Zimbabweans as objects to be managed every election cycle by dishing out food packages instead of focusing on socio-economic policies that aspire to achieve economic development, thus creating employment opportunities that will enable people to manage their own livelihood.

Economic growth is the oxygen that sustains a nation and it is the responsibility of any government to create a conducive environment that facilitates sustainable economic activity. This requires pragmatic decision-making, political stability, policy certainty and predictability, institutional credibility and common sense in order to attract both local and foreign investment. More importantly, the political establishment must allow the marketplace of ideas to flourish, recognising that no one in a socio-political environment has access to the absolute truth. Honest socio-economic and political discourse that is guided by evidence, experience and argument is good for the country.

It is against this background that President Robert Mugabe’s recent announcement that the government will soon be producing a more investor friendly “indigenisation policy framework” should be interrogated.

First, the narrative should shift from “indigenisation” to “economic empowerment” of all Zimbabweans regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or totem. Indigenisation is a loaded term that connotes exclusion and Zimbabwe should avoid exclusivity like the plague in order to realise its promised potential of shared prosperity and social justice.

Further, the empowerment policy should not derive its agency from victimhood and entitlement as is the case with the current indigenisation legislation. As evidenced in South Africa and in Zimbabwe, policies predicated on victimhood and entitlement are a recipe for rampant corruption and crony capitalism, because invariably a class of people will declare themselves as the “most victimised and therefore more entitled to the spoils than the rest of the citizenry”. Common sense dialogue must replace the demagoguery and bluster that has been a hallmark of the indigenisation narrative.

Second, the empowerment legislation must recognise that charity begins at home. The country’s institutions must be strong, credible and must be seen to operate within their constitutional mandate(s). A dysfunctional and corrupt state that ignores and disrespects its constitutional obligations has no capacity to empower.
State-owned enterprises must be capacitated and restructured, so that they can become profitable in order to take the lead in empowering Zimbabweans; they should not be retirement homes for incompetent political hacks. A strategic policy design must focus on revitalising the health and education sectors, including improving the country’s infrastructure at all levels. A healthy and educated nation with a good road and information technology infrastructure will enhance its potential to achieve economic growth and development.

Third, the empowerment policy should not prescribe equity participation. In South Africa equity participation has not yielded the desired outcomes for a variety of reasons, including the reluctant participation of foreign investors who view the said policy to be an “economic shakedown”.

Predictably, the noted beneficiaries of this policy have been those with close links to the governing ANC. Thus the infamous narrative “It is cold outside the ANC” — and by happenstance it is also said to be cold outside Zanu PF. A progressive empowerment policy should focus on human capacity development; employee share schemes or preferably employee profit sharing; identified and agreed upon (between businesses and communities they serve) community development projects; and procurement policies that enable local companies to meaningfully participate in the national economy.

Finally, realising that Zimbabwe is not a wealthy nation (but with acknowledged potential), it will take strong and sustainable economic growth in order to create jobs and an empowering economic environment. As already mentioned, this requires the government to create an environment in which entrepreneurs, both local and foreign, invest free from fear of policy inconsistency and political instability. The best way to empower a nation is to increase employment and business opportunities, not to enunciate an irrational redistributive agenda in a country that does not have the requisite wealth to redistribute.

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