Five lessons from Rhodesia


Leadership integrity and accountability were at the centre of the success of Rhodesia’s import substitution.

Column by Vince Musewe

The name Rhodesia remains offensive to most of us blacks.It hangs like a nightmare in our brains because of what it stood for and what it did to our forefathers and those who perished fighting for our freedom. Racism remains an obnoxious and indefensible evil whether it is practiced by whites or blacks.

However, we must move on, and is to our advantage to learn from our past, regardless of the context and objectives of the actors that created it.

Rhodesia faced serious sanctions, but the country rapidly developed notwithstanding. We must learn from that.

I want here to force our minds to appreciate how Ian Smith reacted to those circumstances and why he was successful in developing the productive capacity of a country isolated by the international community, but continued to have a strong currency and was a net exporter of food.

It is an open secret that Zimbabwe has all it needs to develop and yet we continue to complain about how sanctions are preventing that. In my opinion, it is not the issue of sanctions that is our problem (real or imagined); it’s our response to our problems that continues to hold us back and disempower us in coming up with our own solutions.

I think that the main reason why Rhodesia’s self-sufficiency developed rapidly during its import substitution programme was the discipline and integrity of its leadership; racist they were, but here I want us to learn from the enemy.

Smith was not in it for the money or personal wealth. He truly believed in the national cause, skewed as it was. Although misguided, he was dedicated to it to the bone. He was not greedy nor did he pursue personal wealth accumulation as is the case with our current political leadership. The preservation and development of Rhodesia came first and all State enterprises and institutions were established and competently managed only to meet that end.

Our first lesson is that leadership integrity and accountability were at the centre of the success of Rhodesia’s import substitution project. The unfolding revelations of the rot in our State enterprises are shocking, and reflect the value system of our current leadership.

Unless we brutally address this, any of our contemplated economic recovery blueprints are a waste of time.
Second, he ensured that no raw material left the country as a matter of policy.

Vertical integration of industry was primary at all costs. If no raw materials were to leave the country, it required that the country had to develop the capacity to process them first. This was achieved by investing heavily in infrastructure,especially in the railway network, power and water.

In many instances, this government announces good projects without first ensuring that we have the capacity to implement them. It also does not do enough homework to make sure that implementation does not create negative unintended consequences that derail or immunise the intended results. We need to think clearly and anticipate before we act. Inconsistent government policy clouded by hidden vested interests remains our core problem.

The third thing that Smith did was to implement selective subsidies, but these were price subsidies and not input subsidies. In other words, the finished product would be subsidised through its sell price only.

This avoided a parallel market for inputs developing. It also avoided profiteering at input level as is the case now, where chefs buy fertiliser in bulk to make profits thereby creating artificial shortages and increasing production costs unnecessarily.

Fourth, Rhodesia had very strict import control measures with strong accountability and fairness. Companies had to have import licences which were managed fairly and with minimum corruption. They had to first prove that they could not source inputs locally and this further encouraged local supply companies to grow. The middleman had no place in that process.

The important thing here was that this policy was only guided by the national priority of producing goods locally. Government officials did not drive imported German or British cars as is the case now. They used locally assembled Peugeot 504s if you remember, thus creating local demand and jobs.

From this we can learn that we must control the import bill strictly but fairly, we must all live within our means and we must walk our talk.

Fifth, Rhodesia had incentives in place for industry to build local production capacity. For example, building a manufacturing plant had huge tax incentives and farmers could write off costs for building dams and thus we could irrigate throughout the year ensuring food security and exports. Incentives — and not penalties — work more effectively.

Of course, Smith had his own currency which remained strong because it was managed prudently. Discipline and national interest were not negotiable; something which we have dismally failed to do.
My contention here is that we can certainly do these things if we wish. Our problem is not the lack of ideas or sanctions; it is because of lack of leadership manifested in self-centred politicians who want the privileges of power without the responsibility that comes with it.

Yes, we can rebuild our country, but this requires that we all put our heads together in the national interest.Our leaders must also lead by example.

Zimbabwe comes first!
Vince Musewe is an economist and author based in Harare. You can contact him on


  1. This is a good example of a former government which had common sense.It is painful to realise that Smith’s prediction of misrule under a black government is becoming a reality, and all this leads to former Rhodies laughing with glee.At least they had a much better economy than what we currently have now.

  2. All things are done on history and corrections or are done after an act or circumstance has been encountered.It is the will that is needed by the Government of the day than spending time accussing others for sanctions yet stealing or mismanaging the little resource we have.President Mugabe hero basa ,show us what you are made of in leadership matter. Yes good things have been said about some of the thieves and you were wrongly advised even by your croonies and office. You even praised Karakadzai but he performed badly at N.R.Z for the years he was at the helm. Gushungo do not relie with fault facts you are being fed by your senior security officers,get the junior reports for further sruttiny.

  3. This is ridiculous, Vince. Hitler was also dedicated in a sick twisted way and it would be unimaginable for a Jewish columnist to write a Hitler’s Germany loving piece for the benefit of other Jews to draw inspiration from. Why is it acceptable for us, the blacks, to find anything good in racists who despise us the most and admire their systems which thrived on exploiting and murdering us? I am sure many Jews drive Volkswagens and Mercedes and there is nothing wrong with that but it would be quite shocking for them to sing praises for the system which enslaved, murdered and exploited their forefathers, don’t you think?

  4. With all your education and exposure I am sure you can come up with better solutions that are not elitist and insulting to the memories of the hundreds of thousands murdered by Smithie. Unless, of course, you are singing for your supper, then that would be very sad indeed.

    • The writer of this article is using his education in telling us the truth. That what we had then was a dedicated commitment by the Smith regime to take gigantic steps which ensured economic prosperity. Indeed his regime and those before failed to acknowledge that majority rule was inevitable and a reality. Similarly given your good education you have failed to acknowledge there is a lot truth writer has come up regarding a more prosperous past. I very much doubt that “hundreds of thousands murdered by Smithie” You forget to mention that atrocities were also committed by the other side in the camps and later on by Mugabe in Matabeleland. The argument is we should learn from history rather than cherry pick what we perceive as beneficial and condemn the rest.

      • You miss the point, Larry. I am not discrediting the facts, so yes, rhodesia worked for rhodesians and like minded forces. The point is this, as much as we have received knowledge through studying and traveling across the world, I find it ridiculous to continue admiring rhodesia’s selective and elitist success when we are in a country of majority rule. Should we not look to examples that make sense for a majority rule set up? Also, the other point you missed, is the political incorrectness of even mentioning rhodesia in the same sentence as ‘five lessons for Zimbabwe to learn..’ – are you not seeing the infelicitous of such a credo as this one by Vince?

    • @scotv, the writer gives points that i want to believe can help solve our problems, he has given suggestions worth my attention and you have given none. one point of note is that of subsidies, i think that is a good idea as we have experienced artificial shortages created to benefit a few individuals. I WANT TO URGE YOU NOT TO BE TOO RIGID IN YOUR ANALYSIS THAT ANYTHING THAT IS NOT ZANU PF IS BAD.

      • Did i mention ZPF or did you mention ZPF? Let us stick to what is actually mentioned otherwise we are just wasting each other’s time.

  5. Vince well done,
    Your article is so refreshing for any one who is forward thinking. Yes the Colonial period was nothing short of evil ,however like all negatives there are also many positives . As you quite rightly point out we the people of Zimbabwe should stop looking in the rear view mirror as a current issue and put all the positives that came out of that period of time(as you point out) to good current use. Quite honestly it is our totally blind reverse racialism that has got Zimbabwe stuck in the mud. Unfortunately SCOTV is one of those who is glued to the rear view mirror.

    • To the contrary, @ Ronaldos. I am very much looking ahead but as you will probably disagree, the further back one looks will determine how much one advances. Many commentators to or not to look before 1980 when it suits their argument, which is just pathetic. On one hand they say justice must be served and all who committed crimes after 1980 must be dragged to the Hague while the ones who committed worse crimes before 1980 must walk because these crimes are irrelevant. When it comes to solutions, they say yes, let us look to before 1980 for answers and forget everything that happened after 1980 without analyzing why pre 1980 economics made so much sense then under those circumstances which are very different to today’s circumstances. They also choose to ignore the pre-1980 mistakes, corruption and are either ignorant of or choose not to expose the deep financial holes that were dug pre-1980 which are partly to blame, together with post 1980 mistakes, to our current situation. Our present situation is not as simplistic as the commentators portray.

  6. With respect to you scotv, I actually agree with your statement ( the further back one looks will determine how one advances) contrary to what you say, so long as we take the positives forward and leave the negatives behind.
    I am not sure why you have brought up the hague in response to my article ?, It is way out of context.
    I thought we were talking about the economy.
    Taona na

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