Africa 2012: When minds meet — resource nationalism

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At an investment promotion conference held in Johannesburg last week, Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai said: “You can’t nationalise investments.

You can’t grab property – that is very clear” while the Finance minister Tendai Biti stated as fact that “It’s true that outside land, no foreign investor had property or asset or shareholding expropriated.”

Biti went further to raise publicly concerns that after visiting Marange with the PM, he was of the view the government may be receiving only a small portion of what is due from the diamond miners.

He raised the question: “How do we make sure that Zimbabwean resources work for the people of Zimbabwe?”

It was clear to the delegation that represented the government it did not have all the answers as it was obvious critical levers of the State are still firmly in the hands of Zanu PF and, therefore, the dialogue could only focus on frustrations and imagination.

Biti also raised the issue of the contribution of other minerals to the fiscus and the need to enact diamond legislation.

Having listened to Biti’s presentation at the conference, I was not surprised by what Nathaniel Manheru in an article entitled: “TB: The man who would rule, the politician who governs” had to say about him.

He said: “Give it to him; Tendai Biti has seen the light, albeit riding bumpy atop MDC-T’s dark political cloud. It is partly a matter of parting languid eyelids, partly a matter of necessity.

Those, whom the gods wish to redeem, place close to searing, but bright fires. Biti has his ministry to thank. It has got him to grasp the horrid reality of neo-colonialism in a way that debunks his politics that repudiates his benefactors.

It has got him to have the information base from which to re-examine his whole politics. Once he told me he used to be a Marxist while in university, I suppose like most of us were. Student days are days of muscular thinking, days of virile ideologies.

Then he added; until joining the government jolted me into the world of real politics, well away from the idealism of Marxist ideology.”

It would appear Biti and Manheru’s minds have finally met on the issue of resource nationalism.

The questions that Biti is increasingly asking are no different from the questions that many nationalists have asked and continue to ask about sovereignty over resources yet in the case of Zimbabwe, the five diamond licences that have been issued to date have all been granted to companies that are foreign-owned suggesting that when put to the test State actors would rather trust foreign partners than indigenous ones.

A point needs to be made that Zimbabwe Minind Development Corporation (ZMDC)’s foreign partner in Marange Resources Private Limited was forcibly taken off the bus contrary to the bold assertion by Biti that no foreign party has been deprived of any rights to property outside land.

The question of economic nationalism and the role of the State have to form part of the conversations that need to be engaged in among and between Africans that care about the future, for it is inconceivable any black person like me would end up controlling the diamond fields of Russia, for instance, like what has happened in the case of iron ore, diamonds and platinum.

In the case of Zimbabwe, it is common cause that an indigenisation and empowerment law exists and any minister appointed by the President to administer such legislation has a duty to give life to its intentions. The intention is clear that indigenous persons must have control over the economy.

No suggestion was made at the conference that the law needed to be repealed or amended.

Notwithstanding, Biti said: “The issue of indigenisation is a separate issue” implying all he was interested in was enhancing the revenue to the State without worrying about the ownership of the resources.

Economic nationalism can take two forms ie control over the income generated from natural resources in a given country or the ownership and management of resources.

The last 32 years of black rule have failed to produce any non-State role model in mining. What happened to Shabanie Mashaba Mines is just one of many examples of how black business is perceived and treated. The Reconstruction Act like the indigenisation Law is still on the statutes.

If anything, State actors would rather trust State agents working for State organs to be the vanguard of the national democratic revolution.

With respect to the mining sector, the control and management of resources is still in foreign hands. What is ironic is that the prospecting and mining rights of the major drivers of economic change have been granted by a black government.

If an audit were to be undertaken to test the sincerity of the economic nationalism thrust over the last 32 years to determine how many licences have been granted by the Ministry of Mines and to whom, I have no doubt that the results would show definitively that very little or no commitment exists to transform the ownership landscape.

The involvement of ZMDC and other State created instruments goes a long way towards confirming that no confidence exists among State actors in the ability of indigenous Zimbabweans to be custodians of the national trust.

Whereas Biti would hold the view that outside land, no foreign investor had its property or asset or shareholding expropriated, the facts of the diamond story would suggest otherwise, for history would confirm the prospecting rights in question were granted to a private company before the government realised the full potential of the fields.

The manner in which the rights were divested by the State would suggest that no meeting of the minds ever took place.

It would appear that Manheru has now found a new friend in Biti without unpacking the logic that informs Biti’s actions.

Whereas Manheru supports the indigenisation rhetoric, Biti supports the revenue generation thrust and may have little sympathy for indigenisation.

The inclusive government has been in existence for about three years and yet it is clear no investment has been made on aligning the worldview of the actors in the State on the nature and character of the State and how it should relate to the private sector.

The PM’s position is diametrically opposed to the manner in which the State is proceeding with the revolution.

The involvement of ZMDC and other organs indicates that the government has more faith in institutions that it controls and no one can doubt that wherever State organs are involved in shareholding that represents some form of nationalisation.

What is evident from Biti’s argument that the revenues generated by the state from the three diamond producing mines far exceed the revenues generated from other minerals and, therefore, there may be merit in engaging the services of ZMDC in platinum, gold, chrome and other minerals?

Would this be in the national interest? To the extent that the State can finance its deficit from mineral revenues, it is now being argued the new direction that is being pursued by Saviour Kasukuwere whereby the platinum mines must surrender equity to the State is effectively what Biti is advocating for.

In what way then are the minds that inform MDC-T and Zanu PF’s worldview different? The difference may very well be the same when a critical examination is made on the full import of what they stand for.

I have made the point before and continue to make the point that the real test of any policy must surely lie in how it is defended and not merely how it is promoted.

The delegation that represented Zimbabwe at the conference last week was at pains to convince potential investors now is the right time to invest in Zimbabwe, but was short of answers on how such investments would be protected when the dominant culture and thinking is that private capital is not a friend of development.

There was talk of creating a $100 billion economy without focusing on the fundamentals required to attract discretionary capital and resources required to deliver the promise.

It is my sincere hope that Biti and Manheru will use the newly-found convergence of thought to reflect on what really matters and not what is politically expedient and convenient.

Zimbabwe is facing a liquidity crisis and the owners of cash that is in the system are entitled to be short-term focussed in as much as other citizens.

To attract long-term investment would require a radical shift of thinking and may very well expose the need for a new direction from the limitations imposed by the current binary thinking that lacks depth on key ideological and existential matters that will correctly locate indigenous people at the mountain top rather than in the valley.

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