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Africa 2011 – The State and empowerment

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The role of the State in post-colonial Africa as in other nation States is necessarily contestable and controversial.

Our collective understanding of the cause of poverty has been influenced by not only the past, but by the objective material conditions and class relations that exist in contemporary Africa.

The poverty of the majority is easily explained by the affluence of the few. Using this logic, it easy to locate State-driven empowerment initiatives in the poverty alleviation worldview.

This worldview is not unique to Africa, but reflects the human response to the inequity that results from economic progress that is not shared.

Although the business of political non-governmental organisations ie political parties is to seize State power and use such power to better the lives of the citizens, financial literacy remains low and the majority of African citizens operate to the extent they are outside the formal financial and economic system.

The market has the capacity to create its champions, icons, legends and superstars. However, the State’s ability to sustainably create economic icons is limited not only by its design and purpose, but the manner in which its actors are created.

Can political parties be transformed into reliable agents for altering class relations? If so, how can this best be done?

What empirical evidence, if any, exists to support the proposition that the State can be a reliable instrument for empowering the poor?

Today, December 6 2011, Zanu PF, the party that has dominated the post-colonial experience, will begin its annual conference at which black economic empowerment will be the focus of discussion.

Zanu PF has been in State power for the past 31 years. If a causal relationship exists between State power and economic justice and equity, then it would be safe to conclude that control of State power should out of itself produce economic superstars.

The fact that empowerment remains on the agenda of the party of liberation after 31 years of hegemony over the State and its organs suggests that the relationship between State power and empowerment requires critical examination and analysis.

Zimbabwe is the only country in Africa to have a Cabinet minister responsible for economic empowerment and indigenisation and I am not aware of any government in the world that has set up a similar department of State.

Therefore, Zimbabwe provides the first human experiment to use State power in an institutionalised manner to decide economic winners and losers on the premise that an indigenous person exists and can be objectively and transparently identified.

It is common cause that the selection and appointment of a State office bearer responsible for implementing indigenisation is not based on science or aptitude to suggest that the outcomes should be superior, forgetting that no human being can rise above the limitations of humanity and the propensity to manipulate processes for political expediency.

Against a backdrop of black poverty, the general consensus is that the State quo ante cannot be allowed to remain in place.

Something must and should be done to reduce the frontiers of poverty.

Although there is general consensus that the market cannot be trusted to bridge the divide between the rich and poor, equally it would be naïve to expect economic justice and equity from the State and its actors.

The State plays a useful role in human civilisation, but its purpose can and should never be to decide who should win and lose the economic battle.

Only last week, President Robert Mugabe presided over the launch of an employee stock ownership scheme (Esop) for a company that I was associated with prior to the extra-judicial takeover of all companies deemed to be under my control.

I have no doubt that no one informed the President that the ownership of Schweppes Zimbabwe Limited (SZL) is a contested matter.

To the extent that the purported Esop was put in place when I was legally disabled, it should be common cause that any purported alteration of the member register of SZL without the voluntary consent of the holder of the shares at the time when companies associated with me were placed under a State-appointed administrator is null and void.

How then could a President who is a champion of indigenisation preside over an illegality?
One plausible explanation is that he may not be fully apprised of the facts.

However, the fact that Sternford Moyo, a lawyer who has earned his stripes as a defender of property and human rights, is now the chairman of SZL should be a matter of concern.

Moyo should be fully aware of the factual and legal issues pertaining to SZL and yet he has chosen to align himself with actions that undermine the principles and values that he trained to uphold and serve.

What is evident is that the euphoria of acquired shares through the use of State power will soon be replaced by conflicts between those who will inevitably be left at the station while others like Charles Msipa and his team get a ride on stolen and contested property.

Allegations have been made that my companies are no longer in the SZL mix because of default.
If this were the case then such default would have been called prior to the placement of Shabanie Mashava Mines (SMM) under reconstruction.

The government has made the case that they have an interest in SMM because I did not pay for the shares notwithstanding the fact that SMM was a private company.

I have no doubt that the workers and the communities that have been paraded as beneficiaries of shares in selected companies have not paid for the shares.

I am still to be persuaded that President Mugabe is a hypocrite for if he knew the true facts pertaining to the SZL matter he would be the last to endorse one indigenous scheme that came on the back of another.

What is evident is that although I fall into the class of people that were historically disadvantaged, there are people who are more deserving than me in terms of indigenisation.

We live in a changing world and Africa is not immune. As this historic and unusual year comes to an end, we are compelled, as will the delegates at the Zanu PF conference to reflect on the actions of State actors in undermining the values, principles and drivers of the liberation struggle.

The rule of law and not the rule by a few men is what the struggle was all about.

We have to interrogate the logic that the State and its actors have a superior way to look at the world and can be trusted to play God in their attempt to alter the class relationships that were generated even in the post-colonial era.

I am convinced that President Mugabe, whose mental faculties are intact and functional, is a victim of the manipulation of the few that occasionally rent him to officiate at functions to convey wrong message or to associate himself with illegal actions that are done in the name of the State.

If the President is the architect of the use of the State for illegitimate purposes, then surely it is important that we all take note and take steps urgently to secure the future by acting right by Zimbabwe and what it stands for.

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

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