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Africa 2011 – The State and the people


Africa’s future does not belong to the state and its actors, but is and must be the business of its people.

Africans are not alone in expecting salvation from an institution that at its core was never meant to perform the kind of duties that we now expect it to.

It is not unusual for human beings to expect the governors to have a little more wisdom than the governed and yet in reality there is no instrument known to mankind that is capable of transforming an ordinary person into an extraordinary state actor.

The process of creating state actors in democratic societies is fairly well-established. The ballot can transform an ordinary citizen into a powerful state actor, but we must accept that the process itself of selecting office bearers is not an intelligent one.

Even the weakest member of society is capable of exercising the right to vote and the vote of a powerful person has the same weight as that of the weakest person.

If this is common cause, then surely in the interests of African progress and prosperity, we must invest in understanding the role of the state and its actors and more significantly the process of creating office bearers in the state and their responsibility to the governed.

If the intention was to make the state a custodian of intellect then the process of creating its actors would necessarily have to be smarter than the electoral process.

Any person whose powers are created from a voluntary process of voting must at the very least be humble as such power is borrowed at best.

The state is nothing but a creature of citizens and, therefore, its true purpose can never be to do what citizens can and should do in their self-interest. The state only exists because citizens want it to exist.

It is easy to misunderstand the role of the state against a background of poverty whose origin is often difficult to comprehend.

In the battle to reduce the frontiers of poverty, it is easy to look to the state for solutions forgetting that state power and resources are a consequence of the actions and choices of the governed.

Although I have chosen to focus my insights on the African condition, my perspectives have been shaped by my experiences as a Zimbabwean-born African.

When my attention was drawn to an article entitled “Legal wrangles stall Essar deal” in which my name was highlighted as having played a part in stalling a deal that seeks to entrench foreign ownership of resources in a country that is credited for vocally championing the cause of the indigenous people, I could not help but reflect on the hypocrisy and double standards.

What we do know is that the State and its actors played no role in the creation of the iron ore that was the subject matter of the story. We also know that no living human being has been able to create minerals from which value can be legitimately claimed.

The government of Zimbabwe like many other African states takes the view as articulated by Honourable Obert Mpofu that: “There are three claimants to part of Bimco mineral claims who have approached the courts to stop the deal going ahead. As a ministry, we don’t recognise them as all minerals are reposed in the State and no individual could have sold them the claims legally.”

To what extent is the assertion that the minerals are reposed in the state? The State is incapable of owning any mineral as minerals are God-given. The role of the State is to allocate a bundle of rights in relation to minerals.

What is strange in the minister’s statement is it appears licences that were granted to indigenous persons by a legitimate authority, ie his ministry, are all of a sudden deemed to be illegal. When the licences were granted, Essar was not in the mix.

The factual and legal matrix that Honourable Mpofu does not want the people of Zimbabwe to know is that the licences in question were granted by his ministry to the relevant parties. Once a licence is granted, a legitimate expectation is created.

An acquired right confers on the holder constitutional rights and real legal obligations yet in the case of the Mwanesi Range, it would appear that the rights previously allocated to indigenous persons now rank subordinate to the rights of Essar.

Honourable Mpofu then goes to conclude that no individual could have sold claims legally, forgetting that there is no legal impediment to any holder of mineral claims to negotiate with third parties how best to explore and exploit mineral resources.

It is within the right of a holder of mineral claims to lawfully negotiate various contracting arrangements with other parties as provided for in the Act.

What happened is that for a long time, Zisco did not have a plan of action and, therefore, it was not in the national interest to sterilise resources for a party that lacked the financial and technical capacity to explore and exploit the resources.

Accordingly, indigenous persons applied and were granted licences by the government to prospect without the knowledge that Essar would one day come into the picture.

Is it not ironic that a government committed to indigenous participation would not have a mechanism of protecting the rights of such persons?

What seems evident it is expected that indigenous persons must just roll over when State actors say so.

What good is a policy that promotes indigenisation without the mechanism of protecting its gains? I have no doubt that Honourable Mpofu’s view is that the rights of indigenous persons are perishable at best.

It is common cause that the deal with Essar involves the transfer of the rights to the iron ore-bearing ground to a foreign company.

Such a deal is no different from any deal that involves a holder of claims or special grants entering into a transaction with a third party and yet Honourable Mpofu would find criminal intent in the transaction involving an indigenous player.

People in power normally do not respect the people from whom they derive the power. It is evident that Essar’s rights rank superior to the rights of indigenous players.

What is even more significant is that the role of the State is actually to strip the legitimately acquired rights held by indigenous players and place them under the control of a foreign player.

There is no doubt after reading the story it emerges that Essar is a favoured citizen with the State playing a guardian role.

With respect to my own involvement in the matter, I did confirm to the journalist who was working on the story that my company was approached by an indigenous person to help finance the exploration program.

An agreement was concluded on the basis that the indigenous person was a lawful holder of mineral claims.

The only basis on which we could possibly intervene was that the holder of the claims was legitimately granted the rights in question. Such confirmations were sought and obtained from the Ministry.

For Africa to deliver its promise, consistency is a necessity and the actions of people in power must be informed by the fundamental principles upon which the State was created and founded.

State actors can and often do cause harm to the cause of human progress.

Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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