By Takura Zhangazha*
Last week I attended the National Peace Trust conference on Pillars of Peace where the keynote and official opening address was delivered by vice President Mnangagwa. His speech made a number of assertions around the importance of peaceful societies with some historical references to his principal's then independence reconciliation speech.
He also made further mention of the importance of redistribution of resources via the fast track land reform programme as having been a key pillar of the establishment of the peace the country is, in his view, apparently enjoying.
What however struck me the most about his presentation was when he mentioned, with limited evidence of doubt that Zimbabwe needs to create an environment in which ‘capital feels at home’. This was a sentiment that was also echoed by the minister of War Veterans, Chris Mutsvangwa who emphasized as has President Mugabe, the ‘ease of doing business’.
On the face of it, these assertions are run of the mill. In fact they also talk to one of the key pillars of peace as defined by the National Peace Trust as chaired by former cabinet minister Sekai Holland and also shared by the Institute for Economics and Peace. This pillar is defined as a ‘sound business environment’ which could equate to the equivalent of the issues raised by the vice president.
What is however missing is a pertinent lack of context to Zimbabwe’s national economy. This is not to dispute the easy fact that whatever our ideological pretexts, we are in desperate need of foreign direct investment (FDI). The only catch is whether we are negotiating on fair and contextualized grounding? From the vice presidents statement, one gets a sense that government believes its ‘radical' nationalist appropriation days are over. Particularly where it concerns land and negation of property rights.
The courting of FDI is probably predicated on the belief that after the fast track land reform programme, there is no further need to ruffle the feathers of foreign capital. Even with indigenization, the assumption remains that local Zimbabweans can be partners in a new free market economics that creates some sort of comprador bourgeoisie class and therefore gives the connected elite a slice of the cake.
The only problem with this is that there is no demonstration of how it all applies to our context. And that it would appear as though we have learnt nothing from our historical interaction with capital. Particularly after our experiences with economic structural adjustment. Instead of protecting our small markets and promoting local innovation, we opened up to the global capital and hemorrhaged our economy of not only its material resources but also undermined the legitimacy of the state as a key player in the provision of services and welfare for its people.
And the apparent danger is that we are now turning back the clock full circle with this desperate intention to court capital. We are not asking the right questions concerning what it actually means for the everyday citizen. For investors, even if they are Chinese, their primary concern remains profitability. And they will not undertake corporate social responsibility where they are not making money. Nor will community share ownership trusts yield the necessary resources to address key issues of social welfare. For the ordinary citizen what this means is that their livelihoods will be subjected to severe austerity or state cutbacks in funding for social services.
What the vice presidents remarks indicate is that Zimbabwe is now in an era of neo-liberalism and austerity. Not necessarily by consent of the governed, but by insistence of capital and global financial institutions. The state, as led by the ruling Zanu Pf party, is no longer keen on people centered government development and livelihood programmes. It is an intention that fits smugly into global financial and economic institutions narratives of how the free market is the panacea to all our problems.
The reality of the matter is that this approach has been historically discredited within the context of Southern Africa. Even its newer version in the form of state capitalism has the same free market intentions where the state fails to protect its citizens from the vagaries of profiteering over and above equitable opportunities and livelihoods.
Indeed, a sound business environment remains a key aspect of a democratic and peaceful society. It is however not enough to claim that Zimbabwe must be the ‘home’ of capital without a contextualized framework that understands that before we become that, the state must serve its citizens' basic needs. If the vice president had been willing to take questions from the floor at the conference, I would have politely disagreed with governments intentions.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capcity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)