The Same Old Story

Some readers may remember that during the debate on adopting a World Bank/IMF-designed Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) some of us suggested that we might benefit more if we learned from the experience of the “Asian Tigers”, nations like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia,

Those countries had developed their industries rapidly by ignoring some of the main prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank. Those imperialist-oriented organisations insisted that a free market meant emerging countries could not protect their own industries and jobs by subsidising manufacturers or putting tariffs on imports that competed with local industries.

Those unashamedly capitalist Asian states refused to obey these instructions. They decided which industries they wanted to develop, then supported them by all means possible until companies like Hyundai could stand on their own feet and undercut their European and Japanese competitors.

In 1980 we inherited the second biggest industrial sector in southern Africa and Dr. Chidzero’s careful policies had helped it to grow, so this suggestion sounded sensible. But no, our government, who still called themselves socialists (though they soon changed that), swallowed the whole IMF/WB prescription. The only evidence they gave of having heard about Asian Tigers was that, when they were looking for foreigners to sell our assets to, they gave most favourable terms to their Malaysian friends.

Did our leaders believe that a yellowish skin tone made any exploiter less of an imperialist? That is a racist assumption worthy of Ian Smith. So we had ESAP and two decades of deindustrialisation.

Now we are told that the Chinese are our saviours. Someone forgets that the Chinese are very canny business people. They invented paper and paper money, which was much easier to move around than silver and gold. They’ve been in business as long as any nation that exists today. They know all the tricks.

We know about their business practices. We don’t forget that there are good and bad in every nation, but the best don’t often do business with a corrupt basket case like Zimbabwe.

We know how ‘our’ Chinese treat their workers. We know something about their air base in Marange. We know that government is not getting its share from Marange diamonds. Now the Centre for Natural Resource Governance confirms that China provides more than half of the little foreign investment we get.

I haven’t read the document, but apparently the ZimAsset programme bases its hopes of growth on investment from the emerging economic powers; China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa. The record so far gives little hope that these will benefit us any more than the old imperialists did.

The deal with Essar of India to revive Ziscosteel is stalled because somebody noticed in time that it included selling 90% of our iron ore reserves, possibly the biggest in the world and worth many billions of dollars, for $750 million. Essar talked about reviving iron smelting, but their plan seems to be to dig the ore out of the ground and take it somewhere else for processing. That will only make a few jobs here for low-paid mine labourers. We wouldn’t get much money for unrefined ore, while Essar would make all the profit on our iron somewhere at a safe distance from our control.

Some shady Russian companies are buying into platinum mining, also planning to ship out crude ore. No money and few jobs for us in that. And we know from long experience that South African mining companies don’t do much processing on this side of the Limpopo.

Yes the Chinese are farming, to grow tobacco and food for China, not for us. They aren’t even growing maize because they don’t eat it. The whole story is such a familiar repeat of past failures that it’s not surprising some Europeans are trying to get in on the act, once BRICS have shown they can provide less jobs at lower wages than the colonialists did. Somebody is making big profits and it’s not us.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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