By Takura Zhangazha*
The Zimbabwean government has, through the media, announced that it is reviewing it’s much talked about economic indigenization and empowerment policy. The review, again according to contested media reports, its either a ‘climb down’ or a ‘climb up’. The latter phrase meaning an escalation of the radical nature of the policy as opposed to what columnists and opinion leaders have been hoping to be a de-radicalisation of the same.
Both perspectives are emerging more as a result of either turf politics in Zanu Pf or ‘we told you so’ perspectives from the mainstream opposition and even advocates of neo-liberal free market economics. These counter perspectives tend to be more in keeping with shrill but shallow ideological standpoints that do not reflect an adequate appreciation of the context of indigenization in Zimbabwe. This also being a characteristic that is most unfortunate where and when it is reflected in the opinions of different leaders in cabinet, at least for now.
What would be important to recall however is that indigenization or economic empowerment as outlined by the Zanu Pf government is not a recent development in our economy let alone our politics. The language may have been different but it began with land reform in the early 1980s. Specifically with the functional adage ‘from the few to the many/majority’. It was also not limited to land but the socio-economic rights of the same majority. These included access to health, education, water and basic infrastructural services such as transport.
It is the basic philosophy of ‘from the few to the many’ that informed our initial indigenization programmes. Their end effect was to have all Zimbabweans feeling and living in state that empowered across all necessary aspects of their existence.
What however occurred with the adoption of World Bank funded and determined economic structural adjustment programmes (ESAP) in the late 1980s through to the late 1990s was a significant ideological shift in understanding indigenization. It was no longer from the ‘few to the many’ but ‘from the few to a nascent black free market oriented few’. Whereas prior to the onset ESAP, empowerment was interpreted in the broadest social democratic terms, in its aftermath, it was more about the creation of a new black economic elite or as the World Bank would continue to put it, a new ‘African middle class.’
This is in part what informed the creation of the Indigenous Business Development Center in the early 1990s. It became one among a number of organizations that led to the initial rise of many a business maverick some of whom now no longer have the companies that they got empowered to create or own.
Where we fast forward to the contemporary version of indigenization and economic empowerment there is still that 1990s thread of the empowerment of a new black elite as opposed to the broadest empowerment of the many. If we take the radical land reform programme at the turn of the century, the initial frenzy of empowering a majority landless has since been overtaken by either 'replacement ownership' of massive farms by an elite few, the little noticed eviction of the initial beneficiaries or in most cases, without any significant changes to specific land use that reflects broader empowerment.
Or where we look at issues relating to mining, the empowerment model has sought more to make state elites or politically connected persons undertake the very same extraction without the much lauded' beneficiation'. Or with Community Share Ownership Trusts which have been reported in the media as being penniless. All of this within the context of not changing the structural tenets of the neo-liberal system that informed minority resource ownership.
In the new review strategy that government is intending, the principle of a Production Sharing Model, or the Joint Empowerment Investment Model, do not change the structural and neo-liberal intentions of its original policy. It only appears to seek to rationalize it further by giving the state and its well connected elite latitude to negotiate without instilling fear in international conglomerates. Where examples of other states implementing a similar model are given, their specific contexts and whether indeed the end-benefits of such frameworks are enjoyed by the majority poor are conveniently left out. Or the fact that we have neither oil nor as vast reserves of any other high in global market demand mineral.
Admittedly these are trying economic times and any investment luring overtures from government should be welcome. The challenge however is whether these proposed investments are linked to an economic revolution that empowers a majority of Zimbabweans or are merely intended at accentuating elitist state capitalism. The experimentation being undertaken by the government is unfortunately less primed to meet the socio-economic needs of the ‘many’. Instead, what government appears to be much more keen on is a structural state capitalism that leads more to the creation of oligarchs than it democratizes the socio- economic fabric of Zimbabwean society. And therein lies the problem. We would be better off if we approached the whole matter from the holistic lens of the 1980s.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)