Inheritance – Independence promise or threat?

After 31 years of independence, it is not too late to critically examine why it is the case that the generation that fought so hard and sacrificed so much for independence has little in the form of unconsumed material accumulations to pass on to the next generation.

Rather, as if time has been constant, a question is continuously being raised as to why the promise of independence has not been fulfilled.

In fact, it is easy to fall back on the sins of the past to explain the condition of the majority of the people in the present.

One cannot deny the role of the past in shaping and defining the character of the nation but at some stage it is important to fall forwards because nothing can be done to change the past.

However, it is only through the actions of today that we can hope to build a future that delivers the promise of a secure and prosperous tomorrow.

To the extent that inheritances are transfers of unconsumed material accumulations of previous generations, at independence the relationship between the black majority and property was shaped and defined by an unjust past resulting in the question of inheritances, therefore, taking on a special meaning with respect to black and white Zimbabweans.

Due to the acknowledged impact of race on the political economy of post-colonial Zimbabwe, a direct link is easily made between the never-ending disadvantaged economic position and prospects of today’s blacks, to the disadvantaged positions of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations to justify the importance of the ghosts from the past rather than the more important whispers of tomorrow.

Is reliance on race to explain the gap between the amount of privilege or disadvantage at the time of birth between blacks and whites justified after 31 years of black political hegemony, without attempting to engage in an introspection on what, if anything, could have been done differently to make the idea called Zimbabwe an instrument to bridge the inherited gaps?

What makes the concept of inheritance a powerful instrument that captures the human imagination?

What we do know is that human beings are incapable of defying the laws of nature and, therefore, are not able to have a permanent relationship with property.

When we refer someone as wealthy we only do so in the knowledge that he/she can negotiate their property rights even after death.

The most potent instrument to encourage human beings to accumulate wealth, the bulk of which they cannot consume during the limitations imposed by life, is the promise that the fruits of their labour will not end up being consumed by unintended parties.

Thus societies that promise the State as the dominant inheritor of the fruits of the labour of citizens will not succeed in energising the supply response.

In Islam they say that the only money human beings own is the money they wish to use in intermediation.

This then means that money in the bank in it’s true construction is not owned by the parties to whom it is credited as that money can easily be inherited before the party can use it.

As we look back at the land reform programme and the mixed reaction to its impact on poverty reduction, we are compelled to seriously think about what should happen when the first generation of recipients of land expire.

The general consensus is that the State must be the custodian of this God-given resource. Underpinning this thinking is the construction that citizens cannot be trusted to protect the acquired right, title and interest to land.

Why then is there a talk of 99-year leases if in conferring the right there is no trust between the State actors and beneficiaries?

It is common cause that it is impossible for any human being to be economically active for 99 years implying that during the journey post-land allocation, the rights conferred on the first generation will have to pass to another person.

It is at the point of transfer that we have to examine if it is in the national interest for such transfers to be subjected to State approval.

A right that is acquired by any means becomes a property of the receiving party and the giver necessarily accepts that he/she has no say as to how such a right is to be negotiated.

If what is being suggested by many — that the beneficiary has limited rights in terms of negotiating the leasehold rights — then implications on sustained prosperity have to be understood now rather than later.

What kind of a right is one that qualifies the basis of negotiability?

Human beings work hard to accumulate material possessions because they are assured that they alone will be able to transfer the rights to their chosen beneficiaries and, more importantly, that at the point of transfer they have unfettered discretion to decide on terms and conditions.

Leases have already been condemned and frowned upon, as is the entering into contractual farming arrangements with whites.

What does this suggest? It suggests beneficiaries of land reform must not die lest the acquired right becomes perishable.

This would be applicable to beneficiaries of indigenisation as, for example, it may not be the case the surviving spouse in the case of death is black.

More significantly, it is not always the case that beneficiaries in terms of inheritance are interested in the same business their parents were or that they can carry on with the legacy.

An assumption is often made that whites are successful necessarily because of inheritance, but there is nothing in inheritance that guarantees business success.

It may very well be the case that inheritance is an integral component of family, economic and legal institutions and that it affects the distribution of wealth at societal level, but effort is still required on the part of beneficiaries to keep the flag of success flying high.

Equally a presumption is made from another group of people. It is generally thought and understood that being born Jewish is synonymous with being born into wealth and with a natural ability to generate and do business with others.

Whereas the reality is the same as with any other group of people, the ability to generate business is born from education, opportunity or even luck, and wealth is either generated, married into or inherited.

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