The appetite to indigenise the economy seems to be growing among some of our leaders. It has become so urgent to unstoppable proportions. Its echoes were heard across the Limpopo rivers and of course, every time such a thing occurs it causes a few jitters this side.
What everybody thought was a crude policy issue yet to be refined through debate, discussions and consultation, had actually found itself into a government Gazette. The Minister of Youth, Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment had scored what seemed to be a first by issuing General Notice 280/2012 to businesses in the finance, tourism, education, sport, arts, entertainment and culture, engineering and construction, energy, services, telecommunications, transport and motor industry sectors to indigenise their entities within one year.
Well the minister would argue that he was not acting of his own volition, but had the backing of the Indigenisation Act, 2007 and regulations issued in 2010. Gleaning through the discussions last week, I learnt from the social media and blogs that the legal side of this issue has been addressed by experts in the area.
In addition, it has created an interesting unity of purpose between people initially divided by ideological orientation. The Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Reserve Bank governor are singing from the same hymn book. Well, this may be a first on their side. From the armchair analysis, what remains to be explored is whether this is a case of populism in battle with logic. If so, who is on which side? On this one, it seems the MDC side of government is speaking with one voice than the other side. Armed with the government notice, Indigenisation Act, 2007 and Regulations issued in 2010, the Minister of Youth, Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment for now seems to have an upper hand in this battle.
Realising the resistance that has characterised the announcement of this government notice, it may be vital to pursue the indigenisation debate further as it seems there are some among us who think the take-over and hand over still holds key to the economic question. A few weeks ago, I wrote arguing that indigenisation for a 32-year-old country whose economy is currently on the recovery path after being battered by reckless policies, may not be the right prescription.
Secondly, I questioned the rationale of the indigenisation policy. Are we indigenising because we think foreign ownership is slowing down economic growth or we think Zimbabweans are not creative enough such that they need the government to help them access ready-made ventures than starting their own? History shows that such policies rarely breed the desired results apart from promoting corruption and fomenting racism, nepotism and politics of patronage. The ultimate result is another economic downturn and no one wants to go back to that dark period. Let’s give the country a chance, comrades.
Perhaps we need to go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves what we intend to achieve with these policies. Surely, if economic growth is the goal, there are many other ways of achieving growth without killing the goose the lay they golden eggs. If empowering Zimbabweans is the desired result, still I think there are several ways of achieving that too.
Secondly, if indigenisation is the only language useable for anything economic, then surely we can still indigenise other things. If by indigenising we mean economically empowering the general population of Zimbabwe, then surely we can explore other avenues. Among such approaches is indigenising consumption in order to sustain local production.
Instead of buying products from outside the country, let’s live on our own to sustain our production. Even with diamond funds, the country still survives on a hand-to-mouth basis simply because the country consumes from outside its borders. The production side is also not sustainable because those with money have developed an appetite for foreign products.
Perhaps let’s put this into perspective and challenge those in power a little bit. Let’s attempt to analyse how much a minister’s daily dressing is worth and how much of that is purchased from within the country. If not, then we should ask if this indigenisation drive is really about empowering the people or something else. We know most of our ministers are among the most decorated dressing-wise, but let’s for now use their suits as a unit of analysis. Let’s just assume that each minister purchases an average of thirty suits per year, all imported. Of course some have more than that. Let’s suppose each suit is valued at an average price of one hundred US dollars even though we know that some are far more than that. Then we multiply this by approximately 60 thatis the number of ministers, their deputies and provincial governors only. We exclude Members of Parliament, Senate and other senior government officials for now. Just to dress our government ministers, the country externalises nothing less than $180 000 per year just for suits. If we include their shoes, ties, shirts, watches, personal cars etc, then I am sure we can better implement the indigenisation policy, that is if it is necessary.
There is a local tailoring company which is struggling to raise just a tenth of that amount to sustain its business operations and some closed their companies as they are forced by circumstance to join the import-trading business. If our beloved comrades and the majority of the people indigenise their consumption and sustain local production, we would be talking about a fairly respectable economic growth. Local empowerment in the 21st century is no longer about taking over, but opening space for people to explore available opportunities.
lTapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa