IN a predatory society, state-owned companies and public institutions are captured by political elites and their cronies with the ultimate objective of facilitating power retention and the primitive accumulation of wealth.
Candid Comment Brezhnev Malaba
In the early years of Zimbabwe’s Independence, there were three companies which constituted key pillars of the economy: the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (Zisco) and the Wankie (now Hwange) Colliery Company. These firms were interlinked. The railways provided a reliable and cost-effective transportation network; Zisco ran the largest integrated steelworks in sub-Saharan Africa; and the colliery supplied coal, a vital source of motive power for a rapidly expanding economy.
Thirty-eight years after the nation was established, all these three companies have been ravaged by corruption, incompetence and political meddling.
This week, Zimbabweans woke up to the news that Hwange Colliery Company Limited has been placed under reconstruction, after racking up debts totalling US$352 million — the result of decades of corruption, inept management and political manipulation. The mining company is technically insolvent and livelihoods are at stake.
The collapse of the colliery is a disaster of epic proportions. Hwange, the largest town in Matabeleland North province, was built on the back of a once-thriving coal mining and processing business, providing jobs, vital social amenities and an economic lifeline. Founded in 1899 and listed on the Zimbabwe, Johannesburg and London stock exchanges, Hwange is of strategic importance to the national economy. The company now faces suspension from all the bourses.
Just like Zisco, which was looted to literally a shell by Zanu PF elites and their proxies, the colliery has been run into the ground. In Zisco’s case, there is really no company to resuscitate — despite the laughable pretensions of party apparatchiks who routinely use the topic as bait to lure gullible voters during every election campaign.
Air Zimbabwe, yet another spectacularly plundered parastatal, was recently placed under administration, after failing to honour debts exceeding US$340 million.
Last year, we revealed — to the collective gasp of long-suffering citizens — that some state-owned enterprises had gone unaudited since 2009. The Auditor-General writes reports on these matters every year, but no corrective action is ever taken by the government.
A predatory society is characterised by prolonged political turmoil, economic meltdown, social upheaval and catastrophic decline in the legitimacy of state institutions.
Career advancement in most of the parastatals is not based on craft competence and craft literacy; it is solely dependent on the colour of your party membership card. But without a meritocratic public bureaucracy, rescuing the economy from the quicksand of mediocrity will become a near-impossible task.
It is a problem you witness in virtually every African country — except a few like Botswana, Mauritius and Rwanda — where a good governance ethos has become part of the DNA of public affairs.
We need a new governance culture.