THE Chamber of Mines held its annual general meeting last week in Victoria Falls. Among the stakeholders who attended the mining indaba was lobby group Buy Zimbabwe. Business reporter Kudzai Kuwaza (KK) caught up with Buy Zimbabwe founder and director Munyaradzi Hwengwere (MH) to discuss the achievements the group has made, the challenges it faces, its role in the mining sector and programmes it is carrying out. Below are the excerpts:
KK: How successful has the Buy Zimbabwe campaign been since its inception?
MH: I think it has been successful beyond our expectations and imagination. You know what people forget is that we launched Buy Zimbabwe in 2011 and before we launched, people had been trying this initiative since 1980 and failed.
So this has been the first institutionalised successful visible campaign on an understanding that Buy Zimbabwe should not mean mediocrity, but a call for local companies to aspire for excellence and global dominance.
Therefore, that is why we started with an insignia that represents quality, that represents local content, that represents employment, that represents sustainability and if you go into the shops you will find a lot of products that have a lot of buy Zimbabwe insignia and I would not have expected it when we started Buy Zimbabwe.
KK: How can the Chamber of Mines contribute to the Buy Zimbabwe campaign?
MH: You see, Zimbabwe has had two main problems. The first one is the fiscal deficit. We are borrowing more than we could repay, which created deficits and resulted in deterioration over a significant amount of time, which is what (Finance minister) Mthuli Ncube has successfully done, to stop that.
But fundamentally a problem that Zimbabwe has is a productivity issue and a trade deficit that we particularly after 2009 when we took the US dollar we then forgot that fundamentally it is about wealth creation, the national balance sheet. And then we got excited by the US dollar and then we became an importing nation and imports do not create jobs, imports do not create wealth. We have had more than US$30 billion in net outflow over the years, which in real terms, if you got money like that you could open a mine here.
When it comes to the mining industry, it contributes US$3,4 billion that comes from selling the resource, but the mining industry imports US$2 billion. If the chemicals and equipment they use could come from Zimbabwe then the money they are creating would be US$12 billion in 2022. So wealth is not just one-sided, you create it. The mining industry is a vital cog because almost all the export receipts are coming from mining.
KK: Government suspended statutory instrument 122 that reduced the coming in of imports. How do you view this as Buy Zimbabwe.?
MH: We issued a statement as Buy Zimbabwe and said while it is understandable, it is, however, regrettable that you replace it without something in its place. We said yes it is a trade measure and has its limitations.
I think the biggest undoing is the fact that we do not have a local content policy and an industrialisation policy anchored on local content to say how do we ensure that of every product that goes into the Zimbabwean value chain, mining, included the greatest component is Zimbabwean-made and we incentivise that and we tax heavily those who do not want to use Zimbabwean products.
KK: How will local content policy improve the Buy Zimbabwe campaign?
MH: We believe that in Zimbabwe if we work together and are focussed, we could eliminate US$2 billion of imports but that does not come by itself. It requires very focused, very systematic and very actionable dedication where you identify the low hanging fruits and say these are the products and the industries that will drive industrialisation in Zimbabwe.
Buy Zimbabwe focusses on three things: jobs, wealth, and pride and when people have jobs they use the money from salaries to go into businesses and enterprises and when they do that they create wealth, which leads to a proud nation. Pride on empty stomachs is very difficult.
KK: Do the hindrances caused by power shortages and lack of equipment to produce more for the local market not frustrate you as Buy Zimbabwe?
MH: No, they do not. When Cecil John Rhodes came to Zimbabwe there was noelectricity and he built the biggest industries and we need to start with the mind to create the future that we desire and take action. I think that is one of the challenges that we as Africans have. We are driven by constraints and we need to think differently and think we can win despite our constraints.
KK: What would you say has been the biggest challenge for the buy zim campaign?
MH: I think we need to be innovative in terms of popularising it and going into the streets so that every person on the street understands the message. We are also thinking of a public procurement index. we are also thinking of a local content index. We need to move Buy Zimbabwe from a situation where we are just talking about it to where there are a lot of programmes that people can plug into.
KK: Have you ever had a buy-in from government or business
MH: We have just come in from running a countrywide campaign with government in Mutare, Gweru and Bulawayo. We had a partnership with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to popularise Buy Zimbabwe to create jobs and educate people.
But it has not been structured as we would have wanted it to be, especially from government. It is more talking. We are good with words. We need to move beyond words to more action.
KK: Can you elaborate on the campaign you carried out?
MH: We have a partnership with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to popularise Buy Zimbabwe. We have been doing a campaign on radio and on the streets. We did a roadshow in Bulawayo. We also did roadshows in Gweru, Mutare, Masvingo, Chitungwiza and other areas. It is ongoing and we want to cover the whole country.
KK: Looking at economic challenges right now, is the issue of resources a challenge for you?
MH: It is. I would be lying if I said it is not. However, my philosophy as founder and director of Buy Zimbabwe is that you are where you are. So I always tell my team that we have to be innovative to challenge the lack of resources through roadshows where companies come in with resources. We are doing an accelerated recruitment of our insignia right now. We are launching the Public Procurement Index and the Local Content Index. We have ideas of what must be done. We must, however, implement them and make sure we monetise them.
KK: Can you elaborate on the Public Procurement Index and Local Content Index?
MH: It is basically measuring so that we know what we know if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. On the Local Content Index we are fairly advanced but we need local content policy first. For that we need government because we cannot go it alone. For the Public Procurement Index, we have appointed Bindura University. They are working on it and we should be launching it soon.
KK: What have been your milestones so far?
MH: It is getting people to understand that wealth comes from yourself from buying from the next person and the adoption of the insignia of so many products like Nestle, Dairiboard and National Foods. That is for me the biggest milestone.
KK: Where do you see Buy Zimbabawe in five years?
MH: We need to see a Buy Zimbabwe that says we contributed to the reduction and elimination of imports, and we also contributed to the country having a trade balance and a surplus.