Tragic truth behind Indigenisation policy

The worst constraints affecting Zimbabwe’s economic recovery continue to be self-inflicted policies that are still having profound effects on business confidence. Because political objectives lie behind all the policy decisions, it is impossible to describe the situation in purely economic terms.

This remains true of the latest policies imposed: huge increases in mining taxes, fees and royalties, renewed attempts to force non-indigenous investors, ranging from international banks to neighbourhood nursery schools, to relinquish 51% of their shares. And now the Draft Constitution reinforces assertions that the State has the right to evict agricultural landowners and to deny them recourse to the law.

These moves have decisively undermined any hope of business expansion, job creation, export revenue growth or capacity improvements that could have promoted growth, made the country more competitive or improved revenue flows to the fiscus. Even Zanu (PF) does not deny that this has been the result, but the party’s officials have resolutely kept the policies in place. The purpose of the policies, therefore, is clearly much deeper than the widely discredited hopes that a lucky few beneficiaries of the indigenisation programme will suddenly become rich.

Very poor dividend prospects and the uncertain futures of the businesses are now seen to promise nothing but disappointment, so energetic defence of the policies can only mean that a few influential people are getting something else they want.

What they want, and what they are getting, is the prevention of any hope of economic recovery, whatever the cost. And the reasoning: to them, a far greater cost would be to lose the next election. As an economic recovery would be fully credited to the MDC, and as that might tip the electoral scales, all moves toward economic recovery are being deliberately suppressed.

Tragically for Zimbabwe, the cost has already been staggeringly high. However, the ruling political class is happy to dismiss the entire topic with a simple, “Who cares?” response. This is because they have very deliberately directed all these costs onto the shoulders of the general population, a population that is considered deserving of both punishment and contempt because the majority has transferred its loyalty to the opposition party.

So deep is the ruling political class’s disdain for the population at large, it doesn’t even pretend to believe its fatuous promise that the painful costs to everyone will be comfortably offset by indigenisation empowerment gains. They all know that their promises cannot be kept and they have never even pretended that they planned to keep them.

However, most targets of the intended deception have understood the real objectives better than the perpetrators. Every day they receive reminders of tough conditions that have made them victims, not beneficiaries, and all too clearly they see evidence of the increasing riches of their oppressors.

While they know that only temporary empowerment will be acquired by very few, they are also keenly aware that ordinary people will carry the enormous costs of the privileged class’s ill-gotten gains for years to come.

A few years from now, the ruling political class might well decide that its dismissal of the masses was its biggest mistake. Ordinary Zimbabweans know the origins of their handicaps and are measuring the costs a lot more carefully than are the politicians who are imposing them.

To shake off responsibility, the politicians are much more preoccupied with placing the blame elsewhere. And they can conjure up myths of sanctions, drought and regime-change conspiracies as fast as they can use the party-controlled media to spread their deception.

Evidence that the law is unworkable has accumulated fairly quickly and most of it can be placed into two separate folders: the evidence that almost everybody realises it will do nothing whatever to empower the population at large, and the evidence that the demands of the legislation are in conflict with many other established and much more important laws.

In particular, it is in conflict with Companies Act, with the Constitutional rights of citizens and with the obligations of the State to foreign investors, specially those from countries with which Zimbabwe has signed a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.

Parts of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act are even in conflict with other parts of the same Act, and also with clauses in the Statutory Instruments that are supposed to give effect to the Act. However, a third folder has been filling up with a different kind of evidence.

This does not argue against the claims that the indigenisation law will prove massively disappointing to those who hoped to get something out of it, or that the law is already harming the business environment. Instead, this evidence suggests that from the start, the whole purpose of the legislation has been to slow, if not prevent the recovery of the Zimbabwe economy.

Zanu (PF) authorities seem to have been happy to see all the various claims and counter-claims absorbing the energies of non-indigenous company officials and fuelling the excitement of the less well-informed who have been deceived into believing that riches will soon flow into their pockets. But these party officials seem to be getting much more satisfaction from the powerful evidence that they have achieved their hidden motive: Zimbabwe’s economic recovery has been scuttled.

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