All we want are improved livelihoods

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

AS Zimbabwe heads for this year’s harmonised elections, the Emmerson Mnangagwa regime is frantically trying to parade its supposed “successes” over the past five years.

Of note are a few investments, mostly in the mining and manufacturing sectors, which the Zanu PF government desperately wants to convince an impoverished and struggling population is good news for the ailing economy.

Indeed, this opens up employment opportunities for some of our youth, and benefits other sectors (such as downstream industries).

Additionally, the country saves billions of dollars on its import bill (as we no longer need to buy from other countries what we can produce ourselves) — while at the same time, earning Zimbabwe revenue through exports.

Who can begrudge that, especially for those who genuinely desire to see a better Zimbabwe?

What I find quite curious, though, is the fallacy that the Mnangagwa administration is actually developing the country.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Inasmuch as the country may be recording some positive figures — with mining reportedly earning US$8 billion, and the country said to have achieved a gross domestic product (GDP) of US$21,4 billion in 2022, buttressed by a 3,4% economic growth — there is absolutely nothing for the ordinary citizenry to smile about.

Let us remember that, investment on its own means zero to a country, as long as the man, woman and child on the street do not benefit.

In fact, even the process of colonialisation was, in itself, an act of investment.

The signing of the Rudd Concession on October 30, 1888 by Cecil John Rhodes’ British South Africa Company and King Lobengula came with massive investments into the country.

Gold mines sprouted in many parts of what was then Rhodesia, with the establishment of such companies as Globe & Phoenix and Gaika in Kwekwe, Cam and Motor in Kadoma, and so many more that cannot be accommodated in this article.

There were also major mining companies in asbestos, tin, copper, coal, nickel, iron ore, to name just a few, leading to such industries as ZiscoSteel, Kwekwe (QueQue) and Zvishavane (Shabanie), the list goes on.

Such companies as London and Rhodesia Mining and Land Company, Rio Tinto Southern Rhodesia, Anglo American Corporation, Amalgamated Properties of Rhodesia, General Asbestos, among many others, made a name for themselves.

As a matter of fact, most towns and cities we still have today were constructed by these companies.

Our own small town of Redcliff was built by ZiscoSteel (then RISCO) from 1942, whereby having been born there in 1973, I was a resident of a town that was nicknamed “Little London” due to its splendid infrastructure.

It gave houses to all its employees, paid salaries that gave us a decent living, had a huge hospital that catered for nearly every health need, and learning institutions with everything that made for good education.

The town had sporting facilities that competed with the best anywhere in the world — an Olympic size soccer stadium, tennis and basketball courts, an 18-hole golf course, and Zisco Club, where nearly all sport codes known at the time were available.

This was the same story in many other parts of the country.

Yet, we still rose against the colonial regime, demanding racial and economic equality and democracy.

Needless to say, after attaining independence, most of these companies folded due to a failed economy.

After taking up arms to fight for independence and freedom, what is the Mnangagwa administration offering for which we should be grateful?

What “investment” is there to talk about under this so-called second republic that destroys what was there when the people of this country waged the liberation struggle against what they perceived as subjugation?

As the situation stands, all we have witnessed are mining companies that have done nothing more than forcibly displacing indigenous people from their ancestral lands.

Their only business has been to pillage our natural resources without ploughing anything back for the benefit of the people.

In the process, not a single benefit has accrued to local communities, save for some low-paying menial jobs, a classroom block here and there, and a chance for some villagers to sell food to the poorly paid mine workers.

As a matter of fact, since diamond mining commenced in the Marange area of Manicaland province over 15 years ago, no new town has come up, let alone decent livelihoods for both local communities and the workforce, which continue to languish in abject poverty.

If anything, they are now in a worse state than before the mineral was discovered in their area.

This is the common trend across Zimbabwe, where all these so-called “investments” have been established.

Zimbabwe recorded US$8 billion revenue last year from mining, but what does the country have to show for this staggering figure, amid dilapidated infrastructure, dysfunctional hospitals and schools, and daily electricity outages?

I will not even bother delving into the billions of dollars Zimbabwe is being prejudiced through gold and diamond smuggling, over US$3 billion lost in illicit cross-border financial transactions, and half the value of our annual GDP lost to corrupt economic activities.

As such, what are we to celebrate for these few companies setting up shop in Zimbabwe when the ordinary citizenry is not benefiting in a meaningful way?

Where is the joy to come from when we are even economically worse off than we were under colonial rule?

Mnangagwa can boast of all these “investments”, but as long as the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Zimbabweans do not improve, they mean absolutely nothing to us.

Any real development should outdo what we witnessed and experienced under Rhodesia since we actually regarded that as “oppression”.

Anything less is retrogression.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author and political commentator

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