HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsLet’s avoid pre-failed policies

Let’s avoid pre-failed policies


Picture this: Here is a country without its own currency, still a long way to recover from a decade-long self-inflicted economic recession and which has earned itself a negative image in the process but trying to dictate to potential investors stringent terms.

Failure is certain.

Government this week said it had shelved the indigenisation legislation until the “local economy recovers” and would be selling 10 parastatals to foreign investors, ceding controlling stakes way above the statutory ceiling of 49%.

Finance minister Tendai Biti announced that government – which sold 54% of Ziscosteel to an Indian firm – was close to sealing another deal to dispose as much as 60% of Agribank to a regional bank, along with plans to sell at least 50% of eight other parastatals to foreign “strategic partners” based on the “Zisco model”.

This will be in violation of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act.

Said Biti: “I’m one of the people who believe that it’s better to own 10% of an elephant than 90% of a rat. Agribank is a rat at the moment.”

Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube, whose ministry oversaw the Zisco deal, said Cabinet had agreed to waive the Act for the time being and allow for flexibility in its application across sectors after observing its discouraging effect on foreign capital, which is critical for the recapitalisation of the economy and turnaround.

Now of all firms, Lobels Bakery, which had for years been in indigenous hands, is up for sale to foreigners.

“Until such a time when the economy recovers and rebuilds capacity, it’s not possible for every sector to achieve 51% (minimum indigenisation equity),” Ncube said.

“We need foreign investors with the balance sheet and the capacity. If locals had the capacity, would we struggle to build new power stations, or to rebuild our railways and roads?”

That is a practical consideration and step. It shows seriousness of intent. The parastatals made a combined loss of $38,9 million in the first half of the year.

But the right hand does not seem to know what the left hand is doing as the same rationality is not being seen in the farming sector.

It was reported this week that government intends to repossess land from black farmers “found guilty” of leasing farms to white former commercial farmers in Hurungwe District in Mashonaland West.

They are not much different from absentee landlords.

According to Mashonaland West governor Faber Chidarikire, such acts were in direct contravention of a clause in offer letters stating that farmers should neither lease nor sub-contract land. Zanu PF chairman Simon Khaya Moyo chipped in, attacking those black beneficiaries of the land reform programme leasing out land to whites and “labelling them saboteurs bent on compromising the government’s empowerment efforts”, according to a newspaper report.

Getting to grips with one issue or problem often creates another. Everything has got both a cost and benefit.

More than the now frozen indigenisation policy, the so-called fast-track land reform programme caused immense problems and this is still being felt today because there was not even a policy in place.

Those driving the land invasions wanted the farm occupations to appear as spontaneous whereas they were planned and funded behind the scenes.

The farm invaders were not ready to take over in terms of expertise and resources, but nothing would stop them in those euphoria-filled days.

Besides jumping onto the bandwagon, some simple villagers were bullied into participating in farm invasions.

They just could not be seen to be unenthusiastic because they would be labelled sellouts or opposition supporters.

They had to go with the tide for self-preservation. Farm workers were caught in the cross-fire.

That is why there were much more black deaths in comparison to white farmers killed, not to suggest that some lives are of lesser value.

It was an emotional response after the government of the day lost the constitutional referendum in February 2000. The whole thing was highly politicised.

Some have said white farmers didn’t help matters by staying in their white comfort zones in a sea of black poverty; that they exposed themselves to this victimisation; that while there was no open hostility, attempts, not infrequent, were made to discriminate against blacks by keeping them out of sports clubs and other social networks; that the Commercial Farmers’ Union remained essentially white with a sprinkling of black members.

There is some truth in that. Those “little Rhodesias” on farms made them easy and convenient targets for racist rabble rousers, but they still deserved protection from the state, which had — and has — the power and authority to deal with this exclusivity in a civil and legal manner, not unleashing bands of marauders for short-term political gain but at great socio-economic cost.

Policy, flawed policy, was gobbled up and hurriedly implemented after the event.

That is why there were continual clashes with the judiciary which invariably ruled against invasions because they contravened property and other laws.

Failing in courts, they turned to the tactic of racist attack of white judges.

Suddenly their race was a factor despite the fact that they were appointed by the very same government and had served for many years before the invasions.

Racists are found on both sides of the colour divide, but what some of the white farmers were — are still — being unfairly accused of is not racism at all; it’s more of a cultural thing.

The same applies among blacks. That’s why a person of Shona parentage but born in a completely Ndebele setting adopts Ndebele cultural traits and is more comfortable among Ndebele speakers because he can easily relate to them.

The same applies to a Ndebele born in a completely Shona setting. They are Ndebele or Shona only in name. That’s why Barack Obama is more American than African.

The worst “crime” whites committed was, to be generous to their tormentors, to show cultural insensitivity or exclusivity. It’s more of a cultural thing than a racial thing. Cultural insensitivity, while unintentional, can be misinterpreted as amounting to institutional racism — and unscrupulous politicians — and there are many — will eagerly and readily reduce it to racism to fan racial hatred.

So if anything, these politicians are actually more racist than the whites they routinely condemn.

That’s why Zimbabwe lurches from one crisis to another.

The Sadc Tribunal reached the same verdict that land reform in Zimbabwe was racist.

“Pretending that there are no problems may make for an easier life for a month or two, but it will store up horrific problems for the future,” Niall Fitzgerald, the then chairman of conglomerate Unilever, said in 1998, when European central banks appeared slow to act in the face of an impending currency crisis.

Reform cannot be avoided and it cannot be indefinitely postponed — there is need to bite the bullet. That farms are being leased should not be an issue; the real issue is restoring lost production without burdening the fiscus.

Fertile land is too scarce to be wasted by inefficient methods of cultivation. Farms should be leased to those able and willing to utilise land optimally.

Farmers’ income should come from markets, not from Treasury because if that stays so, no progress will be made and the probability of failure will be great.

We should transfer the burden of explanation from farmers who are leasing land and the productive lessees to those leaders who implemented the pre-failed policy in the first place which resulted in production collapse and burdened the fiscus with funding a hitherto thriving sector.

Part of the story, possibly a significant part, behind the recovery of agricultural productivity could be that scores of genuine farmers, regardless of race, are back on the land, albeit as lessees, much to the embarrassment of the political drivers of land reform.

The true picture is beginning to emerge. This week former Zanu PF MP Mavis Chidzonga remarked: “I now live next door to whites and I have learnt a lot (of good farming) from them . . . If there is a Zimbabwean who wants to farm, no matter what race, let them be given the opportunity.”

Nature has a way of balancing things — farming and indigenisation included.


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