Can we do it?

I think one of the greatest challenges I face in my day to day labors is a thing called Afro Pessimism. I find it in the old Rhodies who inhabit the region and who justifiably claim that Ian Smith was right when he said we were not ready to govern ourselves.

They point to the awful track record of every State that has come to independence and been subsequently governed by some sort of regime drawn from the indigenous peoples of the continent. There is no gainsaying that the record is abysmal.

I come across it in many young Africans (of all shades and backgrounds) with some experience of the developed world and who look at Africa and ask if it can really be fixed? The most shameful group are those who fought for independence, believed in their new freedoms and the power to do things their way, only to find that behind that cardboard front that the liberation Parties presented to the world was a collection of greedy, self opinionated and power hungry monsters who simply used their freedom and power to rape and pillage.

The result is a continent that has lost its faith in its self. In their millions they have left their homes in Africa and travelled to other countries where they try to seek out a living and send their families at “home” a little each month to subsist on and to salve their conscience. Worse is the flight of our human capital; doctors, scientists, accountants managers and entrepreneurs who very often make it big in the countries to which they go, bringing a hunger for success and achievement that many raised in the softer environments have lost.

But the reality is that all countries have gone through what we are experiencing – it’s part of the learning curve that everyone has to go through and countries are no different. What matters is what we do with that experience and how quickly can we get through this painful phase in our history and start to build a new and better society for all our people? The other reality is that it cannot be done from the outside, transformation starts inside us and is then translated into how we live and what we do with what we have.

What many are missing is the emergence of a new Africa out of the ashes of the old. Just as the newly Independent States emerged after 1956 and started to make their impact on their countries and on the world, now one by one, slowly the new Africa is emerging and the most tangible measure of this is the growth trends now being manifested by the continent. Many African states are now growing as fast as the Asian tigers, overall the growth of the continents output this year will be higher than almost any other continent other than China and the Far East.

But it’s also manifest in microcosms within States. Several years ago I met a struggling young engineer, Strive Masiwa who was running an electrical engineering company in Harare. Strive sold his company for Z$3 million and turned to the field of cell phones. After a struggle with the corrupt autocracy in this country he was eventually given a license to start and Econet was the result. Econet is now one of the largest black owned multinationals in the world and two thirds of our population uses his network to communicate here every day.

This morning I visited the CEO of the Company in Harare and walked into a spacious, modern office complex, pretty girl behind the reception and tight corporate security. A guide took me upstairs, opened the door with his finger print and let me into the executive wing. I could have been in New York, London or Tokyo. Fresh flowers on desks, quiet air conditioning and deep pile carpets. Not a white in sight and not a single expatriate executive or technician. Strive lives outside the country partly because the regime under Robert Mugabe made it quite clear that if he did not play the patronage game and accept that dues were due to the politically powerful, that he was persona non grata. His is a publically quoted company today and large, powerful and rich.

The other day I was the guest of Zimplats management outside Harare at their mines on the Great Dyke some 70 kilometers from the City. For those of you who know the country, how often have we driven over the Dyke at Chegutu and not spared a thought for what was in the ground; we always knew about Chrome, but someone found a seam of platinum bearing rock in the geological formations of the Dyke complex.

The biggest mining company in the world came and invested several hundred million dollars in the Dyke at Chegutu – establishing two mines and a smelter designed to process 2 million tonnes of ore a year. They built houses and their investment constituted the largest single foreign investment in the country. The problem was they could not make it work. The geology was complex and the mining difficult. After several years they abandoned the project and returned to Australia.

A small group of Zimbabweans looked at this venture and decided to make BHP an offer. The offer was $1.00 and take over any liabilities locally. In six months they had worked out how to mine the resource and had started to make money. They drilled the Dyke complex for a 100 kilometers and proved huge reserves on their claims. They did not have the money to take it further but they had the technology, the largest Platinum mining company in the world came and looked, liked what they saw and bought the whole thing. The result was Zimplats.

They now have 6 mines on the Dyke, the two originals, three operational mines and one about to start production. They have refined their technologies and are mining deep into the Dyke complex and extracting some 4,5 million tonnes of ore a year, all of which is being processed at two refineries that employ complex technology. Last year they turned over $600 million and made a profit before tax of $200 million. They are investing every cent back into the mines and plan to raise output to 15 million tonnes a year at which stage they will be one of the largest mining and smelting operations in the world.

Everything I saw at the complex was world class, the laboratories, the refineries, the roads and infrastructure, the new town they are building that will eventually house 50 000 people, the mines, running deep into the hard rock of the Dyke and making the difficult task of tracking the seams and extracting the ore seem easy, even when you know that the problems beat the best and the largest mining company in the world.

And do you know what really rocked my boat during that visit and made me intensely proud to be a Zimbabwean? The company employs 5000 people, six of whom are white and the rest black and not a single foreigner or expatriate. From the little lady geologist that took me underground and showed me the teams mining at the rock face to the Chief Executive, they were black, Zimbabwe trained and home grown.

Can we do it? Of course we can and we are doing it right now. We are changing the way we are governed; we are winning the struggle with the old Africa and gradually bringing in the new. Our people are hard at work and we are expanding our centers of excellence and growth. But if you want to be part of this process, you have to be here, at home, where it matters and then you too can make a difference.

Post published in: Analysis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *