Zimbabwe: Where colour of the cat matters Professor Mthuli Ncube


Colour of the cat does not matter

Late Deng Xiaoping put it so well: I do not care the colour of the cat, so long it catches mice! Deng’s China then was opening itself up to the world, in the aftermath of Chairman Mao’s demise. The once-reviled leadership under Chairman Mao, led by Deng, now in positions of authority, felt China needed to take a new course, which would be less autarchic and more open to foreign capital.

China needed to grow, whatever the source of the growth spurt, and hence the Deng saying. China, after all, had the largest demography, meaning once its billion-plus population prospered through stronger growth and better earnings, translating to improved national buying power, China would, overnight, be the market to be in.

As time would show, this was faultless strategic reasoning, but one also implemented gradually, with abundant caution. As the legendary Tocqueville once said, a system is at its most vulnerable when it shows willingness to change.

It began in Shenzhen

Shenzhen which was closer to Hong Kong became the entrepôt for foreign capital as the Chinese leadership watched carefully and closely this heavily regulated infusion of foreign capital, all the time adjusting systems to ensure the emerging dispensation would not destabilize the potentially combustible vast and variegated country.

It turned out to be a move which paid handsomely, putting China on the high road, both to prosperity and to global economic dominance it now enjoys. Today “capitalism which Chinese characteristics” provides an alternative model to the gasping world, including overturning the reigning orthodoxy which said capitalism could never be State-led, but had to be left to private enterprise and untrammeled self-interest.

Era of social spending

Zimbabwe has gone through a handful of dispensations, so far four of them if you ask me. Set against the backdrop of political independence, the first dispensation was characterized by massive social spending in various sectors, principally by way of postwar resettlement and rehabilitation, as well as in the key social sectors of education and rural health.

Key milestones were passed, transforming Zimbabwe into a leading African nation on literacy. However, that high social spending meant limited investments, resulting in a gradually contracting economy, the whole trend peaking in the late 1980s.

Era of ESAP

By 1989, Zimbabwe was ready for a new shift, in my schema the second dispensation. This dispensation which we now know as Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, (ESAP) coincided with a worldwide drift towards market-based and driven economics, all in the wake of the fall of centralized planning order under communism.

The dispensation saw a drastic cut in social spending and related safety nets, even though the educational sector remained largely intact and relatively well-funded. Pro-business policies were pursued, all on the back of a belief that governments needed to retreat from the market, had no business doing business, to leave all to Adam Smith’s sleight of hand.

About a decade later, say from about 1998, Zimbabwe was hurting and hurtling towards an untenable situation of potential social conflict. That stage was best represented by the rise of a strong opposition movement, the MDC, which was backed by foreign interests, and which harnessed the growing disenchantment, particularly in the ranks of the working class and among exposed urbanites. The material conditions spawned by ESAP had ripened Zimbabwe for politics of sponsored dissent.

The dispensation of Land reclamation

Almost contemporaneous with this market-determined dispensation were tentative moves towards a comprehensive Land Redistribution Phase which balked at market-determined orthodoxy. After several, frustrating false starts, all of them predicated on a belief in land reforms through law, matters came to a head in 2000 when Zimbabweans, led by our War Veterans, simply moved in and took over vast swathes of Land alienated from indigenous people under settler colonialism.

That heralded the third Dispensation which was marked by assertion of collective sovereignty over African land which had been misappropriated by white settlers under colonialism. This phase was an era of both triumph and pain: triumph in that the long lost land was finally liberated, recovered and redistributed to the landless black majority; pain in that Zimbabwe found itself under severe reprisals by way of illegal Western sanctions, with which it is saddled to this very day.

Indigenisation sub-plot

Precisely because the Land Programme was framed as a continuation of the decolonization process — which indeed it was — that phase broadened the agenda to cover conquest and control of the commanding heights of the Zimbabwean economy.

The policy result was indigenisation, by which Zimbabweans aspired to move to the core of the economy, well away from the margins to which more than a century of direct and indirect colonialism had consigned them. I elect to treat indigenisation as a core part of the third dispensation, much as it took a distinct form, vis-a-vis the historic Land Reform Programme.

It has to be admitted that indigenisation was more fury than serious form. There was little to show by way of real gains; only ruins of disinvestments by frightened capital. Yet an idea had been born and planted. Equally, I treat measures adopted to counter malignant Western reprisals following these iconoclastic measures as part of the same phase.

That includes dollarisation, which some are wont to set apart as a phase in its own right. Understandable given its stubborn refusal to be reversed.

The phase of own agency

The fourth phase is of course the Second Republic which I reckon not so much in terms of its processes of being or leading personages, as in terms of its governing philosophy and Programmes. Primarily, this phase sought and seeks to go beyond self-assertion over Zimbabwe’s resources, to assuming active agency and responsibility over performance of those asserted resources, for improved welfare of the citizenry, thereby for nation-building.

The acquired land had to be made to sweat so everything else would be added unto us! This is what is meant by the triumvirate mantras of nyika inotongwa, igovakwa uye igonamatirwa nevene vayo. It is this phase which gets all of us to relate with admirable indifference, to remarks by the IMF, by Americans, or from the EU’s Jobst von Kirchman, when we are told Zimbabwe is not likely to get any funding from IFIs or from the West as a bloc.

Ambassador Jobst von Kirchmann

We shrug such statements off by a dismissive who-cares, before doubling down to business. Indeed the same phase which has taught us to stop whining about sanctions, encouraging us to look elsewhere in the world for prospering economic partnerships and support.

We have been taught and fortified to look away from the coy countries of the West, but also to remain mindful of the need never to renouncing agency in our affairs in all our dealings with whomsover. For me, these four consecutive phases interlink, even flowing into each other, each marking a turning age in our overall growth. The connecting thread, after all, is ZANU PF rule straddling over all four.

No narratives without struggles

Except all this description looks neat, seamless and seemingly nationally consensual. Yet this is far from so. Lenin, after all, warned us that all “non-class” narratives are a province for utopian delight, and for “craven liberals” who elect to “grovel before forces of reaction”.

All history and its phases are shaped through class conflicts. Each of the four phases was underpinned by several struggles and class contradictions, both within and without ZANU PF. These struggles should never be glossed over. And in our case, the contradictions were compounded by powerful external factors which, as elsewhere on our Continent, create comprado bourgeoisie class, itself the bane of our Continent.

Baffling national mindset

Even more paradoxical is the national mindset which evolved in the wake of these historic and historical shifts and turns. One would have expected that in combination and cumulatively, these phases in our early evolution as a people and Nation, would have made us tenacious believers in ownership, with the spectacular failure of ESAP as a validating and settling foil.

I mean ESAP emphatically showed us that market forces are never African or for Africa, but a euphemism for colonial status quo retention and entrenchment in post-independence. What further argument would there be to contradict the ownership ethic and aspiration implied in the other three phases? Why would Zimbabwe regress to anything less?

The story of Kuvimba

A few anecdotes illustrate the vexatious paradox we face as a people. Sometime during the first term of the Second Republic, President ED Mnangagwa launched a mining behemoth he called Kuvimba. It was launched in Shamva at a long disused gold mine, with lots of flourish.

Its point of departure as an investment and a model was that the ownership was dominantly State, with a small part of the ownership falling under the control of management and a few interest groups including war veterans. Kuvimba proceeded to acquire strategic assets, largely in the mining sector, thus giving itself a healthy head start.

Yet it was born to great local hostilities, raising the key question of whether or not Zimbabweans were ready to own. Or what is more, ready to instrumentalize and trust the instrumentalization of their State in pursuit of localisation of ownership.

Even the fact that State took on its back several interest groups, including war veterans, the youths and workers, did not lessen local hostilities. Seeing this fissure, embittered foreigners who had lost out to Kuvimba, turned screws on it as it sought to venture abroad to raise capital.

It hit a brick wall, forcing a management buyout, thankfully enlarging even further, the hand of the State. No one took or takes notice. There was even glee when a handful within ranks of Kuvimba management were slapped with American sanctions. Does this self-flagellation suggest absence of economic nationalism or mistrust of the State, leading to preferring throwing the baby together with the bath water? Exhibit number one!

When Mutapa came

Mid last year, Finance Minister Ncube announced an inter-generational, forward-looking Fund named Mutapa. The name suggested historical rootedness of the vision in our flourishing past, while symbolizing an initiative strong as granite-strong Great Zimbabwe.

To kick-start it, Mutapa was given shareholding in several parastatals and State Enterprises, a good many of which had given Government endless migraine headache. The move was double in purpose: to set off Mutapa on a solid asset plinth; and to relocate our troublesomely profligate parastatals and State enterprises under a regimen coloured by some corporate rigour.

There were several models around the world to inspire and back up this project, including one as close as in South Africa, and another as far afield as Kazakistan. In the latter, the Fund is now worth more than the State, making it a formidable player in Kazak national goals.

Yet as with Kuvimba, this bold initiative detonated local fury, forcing Government simply to stonewall in defence of its vision. And the fury related to small procurement rules and concessions made to Mutapa, all in the interest of empowering it through quick decision-making as behoves all such formations.

After all, Mutapa was born to play with big boys at international corporate stage. Again Zimbabwe sanctimoniously wept for, and got transfixed on the plumage, while forgetting the real bird! Are we too small to comprehend the vast Vision unfurling for us? Or we are gnawed by mistrust whose remedy is nil initiatives and total paralysis? Exhibit number two!

Story of Deloitte

My third anecdote relates to some accounting firm called Deloitte. A couple of weeks back, the company announced it was quitting Zimbabwe, making way for a local management buyout. Zimbabwe’s supposed literate business community wept louder than at the funeral of its mother!

It wept and grieved for the departing foreigner; it wept and grieved in fear of the coming locals now set to take over the once foreign-owned company! Zimbabwe was losing another international brand, the last in a list! No one celebrated that Zimbabweans had taken over an ailing international brand, confidently. Who escapes confusion against such a perplexing response from children of Mwenemutapa, children of Chimurenga? Exhibition three!

The mighty hoax at Goromonzi

My last anecdote relates to some Chinese enterprise exploiting our lithium resource in Goromonzi. It is one of the largest in the country, and has an impressive record of post-acquisition investments in record time. It is not alone. It joins several other Chinese enterprises exploiting the same resource: in Buhera, Bikita and Kamativi.

It joins another British investment in the same lithium sub-sector in Gwanda, which is reckoned to be the largest in the country. In all these enterprises, our people are employed. In all these enterprises, Government has made it clear no raw lithium ore will be exported without inside-the-country beneficiation.

Before long, the bar will be raised to ensure manufacturing of lithium batteries is done in the country, possibly at Mapinga Green Energy Park, just outside Harare on the way to Chinhoyi. Zimbabwe which has the largest lithium reserves on the Continent, and the seventh largest in the world, is set to be at the centre of a de-carbonized economic era.

Yet this Goromonzi outfit came in for some roasting cheap shot attack from some Zimbabweans. The allegation was these Chinese investors were ill-treating the workforce, which are black. How else to illustrate this alleged ill-treatment than to invent an endless line of be-slimmed lavatory holes in some dingy latrine on which was pasted the holy name of the Chinese company.

Expectedly, there was sanctimonious fury and outrage, including from people who will not raise a finger of protest when Chamisa’s people leave them to wallow in raw sewage! What sickening sanctimony, even then over a lie! Dirty. It did not take much investigation to establish this was all a sponsored hoax, motivated by a cluster of embassies well-known for their well-heeled, anti-Chinese global campaign!

Zimbabweans had been harpooned to act against their own self-interest, indeed to fight other people’s wars, like askaris of colonial yore! Exhibit four and last!

So many vexatious questions

When I try and decipher and digest the meaning behind all these anecdotes, my mind slides into a din of confusion. Zimbabwe is a nation under Western sanctions; we all know it. As late as this week, representatives of the Western world have told us in plain English to forget about any support from them.

The Americans in particular, made it clear after our elections they will not support Zimbabwe’s arrears resolution and debt settlement initiative. In fact, they promised to oppose it, while ramping up what they call support for democracy in post-electoral and pre-2028 Zimbabwe and pre-2028 electoral Zimbabwe.

I don’t need to tell you this is a euphemism for gross interference in our politics with a view to securing an outcome favourable to their interests. Needless to say, that will not fly. But why would a Nation under siege from the West afford to punctiliously criticize and pooh-pooh efforts at its own self-rescue, in the case of Kuvimba and Mutapa?

Or to abuse partners out to build and enlarge its own capacities towards founding a strong national, fool-proofed economy, again in the case of Chinese investors? What is worse, why would it duplicitously invoke false aggressive nationalism against a yellow investor, while mealy-mewing for a white one like some smitten cat, an investor with whom we have had an unhappy history and continuing hostilities over our mere being as a sovereign country?

How many indigenous millionaires have western mining houses produced in our land since 1890? Who built misana yenzou in Rimuka, Mucheke and many other mining towns? Which capital turned Mhangura into a ghost town? Are Chinese miners to blame for those mounts of dead yellow earth staring at us as we drive past Mvuma?

How many dunes of dead earth and bottomless caverns have Westerners left behind, as they trawled deep and heaped sky-high dead earth in pursuit of our finite resources? Some reactions just do not yield an iota of sense, save to underline how irreparably deep we have internalized the fear and awe of the white West. Or internalized self-hate.

After all these centuries of abuse and exploitation? Aaah, far better to be a grazing donkey than a thoughtful African!

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