Indigenisation: The united front

Obert Gutu

Obert Gutu

Reason Wafawarova On Thursday
We most certainly cannot afford the current blandishment in the lexicography adopted by others in the debate on how and why the indigenisation of Zimbabwe’s economy should not only be a matter of priority or politicking, but in fact a matter of life and death.

Indigenisation is too important a policy to be left in the hands of individual politicians, and the reported tussling between line-ministers cannot be helpful to the cause of empowering the local entrepreneur.

In early November 2011, The Herald published a piece written by the then Senator Obert Gutu, in which the now MDC-T spokesperson was “interrogating” the indigenisation and empowerment policy, juxtaposing it against the ill-fated MDC-T investment and job creation initiative, later to be known as Jobs, Upliftment, Investment and Environment (JUICE).

Zimbabwe owes money to the IMF and the World Bank, like many other developing countries do. This debt must never be construed as a debt owed to investors.

If investors and would-be investors believe that Zimbabwe owes them generous policies designed to maximise profiteering by the foreign investor, the truth is that this is the kind of debt we cannot repay. We have nothing with which to repay that kind of debt, because it is not our responsibility to pay the debt of safeguarding the self-interests of capitalist foreign investors.

History owes us that our former colonisers, with all their wealth, can never repay — the debt of blood.

It was our blood that was shed for Africa to be colonised, and for it to assume the geographical characteristics it carries today, as well as its socio-economic skewed structures, particularly the crippling over-dependency on Foreign Direct Investment.

Today’s poverty in Zimbabwe may be attributable to our own corruption and incompetence, and there is now doubt whether these two ills are a pandemic challenge. However, corruption and incompetence are only exacerbating factors, not the root cause of our crisis.

We are in an economic crisis that is mainly a product of confrontations. When people make sweeping statements about the dire status of our economy, they often forget that the crisis did not happen overnight. It has been with us since the day the country was colonised, and it has remained with us ever since, regardless of our remarkable efforts to attain political independence.

It has been deepening with time, like it is doing in South Africa at the moment. We have a choice to make. We can remain subjects to our exploiters, or we can embark on a revolution to reverse our misery. The former will in a comforting way gives us a measure of anaesthetics to ensure that we comfortably allow ourselves to be raped without the current excruciating pain of poverty, and the later will permanently end our agony.

The crisis we have is that we have refused to allow wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, and in principle this includes the unfair privilege of the black elite. We have refused an economic stability created by the unfair advantage of a selected few, and we have refused a job creation policy premised on the capitalist exploitation of our resources.

We have said we cannot in sanity be accomplices in this kind of colonial slavery. Surely we cannot go along with those who suck the blood of our people, and wish to live off our sweat.

We have said we cannot go along with the murderous ventures of imperialism and monopoly capitalism. This is fair enough a resolution, but do we have a workable plan to alleviate our own predicament?

When we get ready to create a revolution there are no shot cuts. Revolutions are about redefining the world, about redefining words, about redefining paradigms, about redefining structures; and there is no cosy way around it.

We cannot be as simplistic as to be stupid. Indigenisation is hardly a shareholding issue, and neither is it a mere capitalisation matter. Quarrelling over the shareholding and capital loans is a reflection of lazy thinking and cheap politicking.

Indigenisation is about the means of production. It is about innovation and invention. It is about utilisation of untapped resources. It is about the application of acquired skills into developmental issues. It is about the exhibition of the empowered black person’s mindset, not about proving the advantage of having a black skin in Zimbabwe.

Shareholding policy and capitalisation are auxiliary efforts in this revolution, not its foundations. Indigenisation is a complex process that cannot be solved at political rallies.

We are dealing with matters of dominion here – the power to define and name things. We are saying we permitted another people to name and define the way we should live our lives, and now we want to stop the domination and define our own way of living. We must have the stomach for it.

For as long as we depend on the power of the foreign investor, we cannot pretend to be shaping our own destiny. There is the same underlying problem for the politician who believes that only foreign investment can turn the wheels of an African economy and the other who believes that enforcing affirmative shareholding policies on foreign investors is the way to empower the local entrepreneur. Both approaches are a telling acknowledgement of foreign supremacy.

Indigenisation is all about power relations. The business language we use, the currencies we are using today, the countries we aspire to live in, and the countries from whom we import goods are all signs of the power relations in the world.

China is in ascendancy today and the power relations are shifting. Trade is connected to power. The capacity to have other people speak one’s language is power-determined. We all know how we recently celebrated the visit by the Chinese president as a milestone achievement. It is all about power relations.

When the Zambian president visited Zimbabwe last year we were only left with telling memories of his fancy footwork — dancing prowess, and there was hardly any mention of why he had jetted into our country. We know the power relations between us and Zambia, and we did not expect much from President Lungu’s visit.

Imperialism is about domination and it is about defining the way others must comply to the diktats of foreign powers. If we are serious about assuming power in Zimbabwe then we must assume the capacity to name and define everything around us, including the way we exploit, develop and benefit from the resources of the heartland.

Obert Gutu in the piece cited at the beginning of this piece bemoaned the fact that “the average Zimbabwean is still classified as poor by world standards,” adding “this is a very sad indictment of the vision of this great nation’s founding fathers and mothers.”

These could be easily viewed as remarkable Pan-Africanist utterances, if only they were not made with the sole intent of belittling the efforts of ZANU-PF as a governing party.

Indigenisation, just like national security, must be a cross-party shared value. It must be a matter above politics. It cannot be a preserve of ZANU-PF politics. It must be a nationally shared principle. We need a united front on this principle, and this means the implementation of the indigenisation policy must not be politicised.

The problem we have in Zimbabwe is lack of institutional memory. One gets appointed as a Minister and they start pretending to be manufacturing inventions. We need to acknowledge that the indigenisation drive did not start in 2007. There has always been the indigenisation drive from the onset of independence, and that is why we had such initiatives like the IBDC and the AAG.

The fact that political factors pushed ZANU-PF into enacting the indigenisation law in 2007 does not mean the importance of the policy gets relegated to the politics of electioneering, like we did with the land reform programme.

We know that both policies were “vigorously opposed” by the Tsvangirai-led opposition, to borrow from what Gutu wrote in his piece. This means as a nation we have never really had a united front on the cornerstone of the liberation war that brought us independence. We have sacrificed the very essence of our own liberation at the altar of political expediency.

Perhaps ZANU-PF is culpable for monopolising issues of national importance, and of focusing on the politically popular matters of policy. Our opposition in equal measure is culpable for thwarting the national interest in a bid to stall the unfair strides of a political opponent.

Now that the opposition is as good as dead, protagonists within ZANU-PF have turned the indigenisation policy into yet another football, abusing the principle to settle personal and factional scores. Again this comes at an exorbitant cost — the suffering of the masses.

The perceived differences between Treasury and the Indigenisation Ministry are hardly policy matters. They are political differences far removed from collective resolve to see Zimbabwe prospering.

By Gutu’s admission, the empowerment of Zimbabweans “is a very serious and crucial issue,” it being the founding cause for the blood that was shed to bring us freedom.

He added the policy “should not be taken as a simple electioneering gimmick by any political party.”

We can generally agree that ZANU-PF has electioneered with people oriented policies, just like the opposition has electioneered by the derision and vilification of the same policies, all at the expense of national development. Gutu asserted that economic empowerment is “a matter of life and death.” There is no substitution for life and death. Both are unambiguous and absolute.

“We cannot empower the poor by grabbing wealth from the rich and dishing it out like confetti at a wedding,” added Gutu.

“You do not empower the poor and marginalised by changing the colour of the new bourgeois from white to black,” the Senator counselled.

Well, development itself is not about distributing wealth, but about creating it. The question we must be answering as a nation is how we are going to create business opportunities in the context of our indigenisation policy, and how we are going to expand the industrial and financial base for the economy.

Obert Gutu suggested the typical FDI filter-down effect where foreign owned businesses are supposed to spawn local business. We know we once had significant FDI in this country, and surely that did not spawn local business initiatives.

We now need a workable plan on how to marry FDI with the promotion and growth of local businesses. Minister Patrick Zhuwawo says no country was ever developed by FDI and that is to an extent true. Foreign prescribed and directed FDI cannot by definition develop host countries. This is purely because it is designed for profit, and not for development.

However, FDI and indigenisation can co-exist, as Tichaona Zindoga once argued in one of his pieces.

What we need to redefine for Zimbabwe is FDI. It has to be development oriented, not profit oriented. Increasingly it is becoming harder for FDI to maximise profits in developing countries, and we must know that there is a fierce competition for African resources.

The fear that economic empowerment creates “cartels,” as Gutu suggested is a contradiction in itself in the Zimbabwean context.

For as long as Zimbabwe pursues the capitalist model in empowering its people, it is bound to create cartels, not because of the weakness of the implementers, but that of capitalism itself. Every capitalist state is controlled by cartels and that is by definition.

What we need are empowerment opportunities for our people, and with such opportunities the people will empower themselves.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

  • Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia.
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