Zimbabwean Businesses and Wealthy People: A Call for Immersion in Morality for the Country’s Socio-Economic Sustainability

Background

File: Nationwide demonstrations erupted after President Emmerson Mnangagwa said fuel prices would double.

The last three decades have presented interesting challenges to Zimbabwe and its people. There were many missed opportunities and the Zimbabwe that we all dreamed of was lost as the country slipped downwards in our watch. It was only in 2009 when the Government of National Unity (GNU) was put in place and dollarisation occurred that the economy started to grow again and inflation was nipped in the bud.

However as the economy grew, liquidity challenges were experienced and maybe the introduction of a local Zimbabwean currency should have been prioritised during the GNU as one of the possible solutions. An opportunity to introduce a Zimbabwean currency was lost during that time. The return of fiscal and monetary indiscipline after the 2013 elections spearheaded by President Mugabe and his Cabinet started to reverse the gains made.

It can be argued that during GNU, the economy had graduated to a level where it did not need a multi-currency regime. However, lack of action at that time meant that electronic money printing took centre stage during the few years that followed. A deep hole was created and if we are to get out of it there is need for a tripartite alliance that involves the usual culprits: Government, Business and Labour. All three partners need to be on board to pull the country forward. The focus of this discussion is on business and ordinary Zimbabweans that have access to wealth. They need to do, the best they can in order to create more market share for businesses and to secure a better sustainable future for themselves and for all Zimbabweans.

During the GNU a culture of compensative rent-seeking activities surfaced and matured. There were ridiculous salary packages awarded to executives in industry and in municipalities for example. All people with access to wealth wanted to make up for lost time that is the decade between 2000 and 2009. They say in Shona “Chikara kununa kudya chimwe”. “The fattest animal is the one that eats other animals” The period since the start of the GNU can be regarded as a “dog eat dog period” where some became excessively rich while most of the poor- the bottom rudder of society became poorer. Most rural communities continued to survive on government handouts, which were distributed according to political allegiance in most cases.

A Critique of Zimbabwean Pricing Culture

Fast forward to October 2018, rent-seeking behaviour and speculative pricing fuelled by changes in monetary and fiscal policies and extremely worsened by social media, crystallised into capitalism without a conscience. Many individuals with access to wealth also applied same principles. As I discuss this issue, I note what Mahatma Gandhi said: “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” I am proffering my opinion and observations from my viewpoint.

I would be most pleased to get some feedback that is different, adjusted or in partial or full agreement so that as a society we can crystallise our thoughts, ideas and decisions in an optimal and constructive manner. Prices of many products local and imported increased and in many cased even products where local labour, whose cost remained dominant and constant, doubled and in some cases, became 4 times the original price. My concern here is the morality of increasing prices while the cost of labour remained fixed or close to a constant. I am tempted think about what Mahatma Gandhi said. “The roots of violence: Wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principles.” These are considered to be the “seven social sins” and are considered as “the enemies of humanity” that are “eating away the spirit in the body” of human beings.

As individuals and as businesses, if we acquire more wealth and do not work for it or work for it insufficiently or minimally, we have violated the concept of productivity that generates or creates wealth. In the process, there is exploitation or the workers and of the poor in society through many ways that include loss of potential jobs, encroachment on slavery, unscrupulous dealing and downright theft. This calls on all of us, people and business owners in Zimbabwe, to nudge our consciences and elevate our levels of humanity; to be people of character that attract reverential respect. We need to raise the bar of morality so that when our revenues expand in any currency, we compensate employees effectively through many different types of rewards and emoluments. That our “hunhu” or humanity must ooze out to all and sundry; that our religious nature is reflected by the sacrifices we make to develop a better society and future. That our politics should be based on our culture and humanity, shunning foul language, violence and incitement to do evil.

It is my argument that currently, the business sector could have and can do more to reward their employees. If one sells their product and you have the situation that previously an employee would have needed one month salary to purchase that product, if they need 4 months’ salary now to buy the same product- something is very wrong. The employee will have effectively impoverished the employee. If as an individual, you buy a house for cash, knowing that this is not the norm in all countries where 20 to 50 year mortgages are needed to buy a house, you must ask yourself how you are exploiting your fellow beings. I like the words in one of Oliver Mtukudzi’s songs: “Kana kuri kungwara uchavigwa naniko”. This means how you are getting your money is beyond being clever, it is not based on knowledge or wisdom: You might be eating your fellow human beings alive. Mahatma Gandhi further summarised this concept and sutuation: “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

The Need for Entrepreneurship with Morality and with new Attitudes

In making these arguments, I hope that people will not misconstrue this to be an attack on entrepreneurship and on business. The Japanese have managed to reward employees well and to grow successful businesses simultaneously. Maybe we can learn from them and from their approaches. Unfortunately I will use Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts and ideas a lot. He has indicated that “Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil. Capital in some form or other will always be needed.” Countries fight hard to attract investment because talented capitalists and mature markets offer the closest to optimal allocation of resources. It is in the midst of a growing economy that opportunities for equity can be found and exploited by governments. However the economy must first grow before allocations occur. The plea is that let that growth be moral and sustainable. This is particularly so for foreign investment and current globalisation.

As Nelson Mandela put it: “Where globalization means, as it so often does, that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and weaker, we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom.” This warns us that as we attract foreign investment, we need to avoid second level colonisation, this time in the name of business and investments. The more we grow and strengthen Zimbabwean businesses in the long-term, the better for the country. This also gives credence to the call for businesses to value-add locally and to employ mostly local people.

My appeal to Zimbabwean businesses and people is to take heed and pay attention to Mahatma when he said “Our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world; but to change ourselves.” We need to find ways of changing ourselves so that we expand our entrepreneurial activities in a manner that expands market share whilst addressing a need in society, creating good sustainable jobs that enhance the dignity of our fellow beings- the workers too. It can be a change that can increase business value and profit values without being narrowly rent-seeking, selfish and greedy. In so doing let us be cognisant that “The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the co-operation of the poor in society” as Mahatma put it. When a strike occurs and if it turns violent, it can consume all value created for decades for example as workers vent out their anger and disappointments. When non-cooperation by the workers becomes dominant, all that one has worked for will be threatened.

Grounding Entrepreneurship in the Zimbabwean Values and Culture based on Honesty and Truth
Mahatma Gandhi said: “Morality is the basis of all things and the truth is the substance of all morality”. Let us as a country called Zimbabwe find our own universally accepted truth and not fake or false truths. That real truth will guide our morality. My argument is that we might be sliding into an abyss of immorality. Once fully stuck in the mud of immorality, it will be most difficult to extricate ourselves. Yes all this sounds idealistic and theoretical, far from reality. Yet it cannot be denied societies and human beings go through cycles of valleys and hills over a space of many decades and centuries. In that process some of the ideas and theoretical concepts have become grounded. Mahatma has also indicated that “It is difficult, but not impossible, to conduct strictly honest business.” We can at least try to do honest productive business. It is cleaner for the soul and for our conscience, I think.

Poverty as one of the Worst forms Human Rights Violation

Mahatma said: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”, It could be that as individuals and as businesses we are inflicting the worst violence to the Zimbabwean society. It is noted that the violence unleashed by poor people who have nothing to lose will not spare anyone. It can consume us and obliterate our future too. Mandela has similarly warned us: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” We might be the authors of our own misery. For adds Mandela “None can be at peace while others wallow in poverty and insecurity.”

Are we creating our own criminals and tormentors? “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all” echoed Nelson Mandela. Basic needs for employees that are affordable, must be provided, and as Mandela further stated: “Poverty and deprivation in our midst demean all of us.” A society or country cannot be respected unless the least income people in that environment live with enough dignity and pride to deserve to be respected. “Poverty is man-made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” (Mandela) People that engage in business and people that have access to wealth are best placed to assist to eradicate poverty. This is not a call to avoid getting profit or to stop expanding businesses. It is a call to do that in a manner that fairly rewards and motivates employees to do better and to belong to the business and be party of the family.

Some Remarks on the Role of Business in Contributing to Social Sustainability

Finally quoting from Mandela: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” It is therefore imperative that as business gets the freedom to conduct business and make profits, it respects the need to free employees from poverty, from violence, from exploitation and from hunger. In conclusion, there might be resonance to be found in what Mandela indicated: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.” I am sure that if businesses and wealthier Zimbabweans correctly adjust the allocations of the extra revenues that they are earning, they can assist to alleviate the suffering of Zimbabweans most effectively and with immediate effect. That way the difference that they will have made to their employees and their families will become more sustainable and the good work that they are doing now will have a big multiplier effect.

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