The Zimbabwe Indigenisation Revisited

Zimbabwe is a nation state whose future is and must be determined and shaped by the actions of its citizens. It is always easy to look at the future in a historical perspective but it is more difficult to be the change that one wants to see.

Some of the questions that have occupied my mind as I try to appreciate the challenges and opportunities of nation building include the following: What is the difference between a nation and a nation state? Who is Zimbabwean? What does a Zimbabwean look like? Who should be in charge of the economy?

The issue of national identity and its role in nation building has to be understood in its proper context and construction.

At the outset it is important to underscore that being Zimbabwean is just an illusion. A Zimbabwean only exists because human beings have decided that he/she must exist in a certain geographical area. A human being to the extent that he/she is mortal is just a mere illusion. One day he/she is living the next day he/she is gone.

A nation is no more than a family of human beings who share a common bond. A nation state is a body corporate that is a creature of citizens and its sole purpose is to serve citizens.

However, the state like any artificial person can only exist if citizens support it and civilization compels citizens to create a body corporate to provide the services that citizens cannot provide for themselves at the individual level.

The state also should be a referee so that citizens can play the game in their own self interest but fully cognizant that their rights will be respected and protected.

A state cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs citizens to fund it from income generated from economic activities. It has to be premised on a simple principle that I used in my article entitled: "We must listen to whispers of tomorrow and not ghosts of the past" that if you pick you must pay. Any society that is founded on good and sound foundational principles can deliver its promise to citizens.

Citizens should and must own the state. In the context of Zimbabwe, we must accept that the concept of citizenship has sufficiently been abused for political expediency to the extent that there is confusion on its true meaning.

To many, a Zimbabwean cannot be anything other than a black person. However, citizenship is a choice and the laws of the country permit people who may be born outside the country to be citizens and more importantly allows people of any race, ethnicity, and class to be a citizen.

If the law permits a white person to be a citizen of Zimbabwe, then where does indigenization fit in into the general framework of nation building? Black people are the majority of the citizens of Zimbabwe and yet they are poor.

After 29 years of independence that will be celebrated this Friday, blacks continue to be poor and marginalized to the extent that the mission of any government even the inclusive government is to find ways in which the majority can be made part of the mainstream.

At this defining hour in Zimbabwe’s history, it is important that we pause to think and rethink about the causes of poverty in contemporary Zimbabwe. Are black people poor in their majority in 2009 merely poor because whites are rich? What will it take for the majority to be part of the economic mainstream?

Would weakening white people strengthen black people? Are the few white people in Zimbabwe who continue to be affluent solely responsible for black poverty? Would transfer of rights to land and other assets to black people lead to black affluence?

God made minerals and hid them. Whose minerals are they?

God also gave human beings intellectual capital that can be mined in any geographical location. Many black Zimbabweans have chosen to vote with their feet. Equally a large number has elected to acquire citizenship in other countries confirming the view that citizenship is ultimately a choice.

A Zimbabwean is, therefore, a legal construction. A citizen ought to have rights and there are naturally obligations associated with citizenship. The relationship between the state and citizens can determine the viability of the state.

There are two forms of citizenship. Human beings are natural citizens. They have a voice and have dominion over all the resources of the nation state.

The other citizenship relates to artificial persons. For example, Anglo American Corporation of Zimbabwe is a citizen of Zimbabwe although non-residents may hold the shares evidencing an interest in the company.

The company itself as a person is an indigenous person in the same vein that an individual who may have foreign-born parents can still be a Zimbabwean. The company is legally brought into existence when it is incorporated and its life can be terminated as well. The company has rights and obligations separate and distinct from the rights of its parents.

So what does it mean when one says that indigenous people, for instance, do not own Zimbabwean minerals? A company to the extent that it is a citizen, should it not be properly understood in terms of the construction of citizenship.

Yes, the providers of seed capital may be domiciled in a foreign country but the company has to be profitable to survive.

If nation building is premised on concepts like exchange of value then it should ordinarily not matter who holds the certificate in the company.

It is the company registered, for example, in Zimbabwe that makes the profit and growth of the company can be financed either by retained earnings or by an injection of cash by shareholders and debt providers.

Although the company cannot vote like natural persons, it also requires the rule of law to be in place as well as the respect of property rights. From income generated, the company also contributes to nation building through taxes and payroll to workers.

Any progressive nation is compelled to respect the rights of both natural and artificial persons.

A parent whose children may be billionaires would be foolhardy to consider himself/herself as a billionaire.

Equally, a company registered in Zimbabwe that makes a profit would own the profit and at the discretion of directors only pay out in form of dividends the cash that it does not need to its shareholders.

In the proper construction of corporate law, shareholders do not own companies in as much as parents do not own their offspring.

A shareholder has a relationship with a company and that relationship is not an ownership one rather it evidences parentage. The holders of shares can change hands without any change to the company.

In the context of land, it means that a holder of a 99-year lease can negotiate the lease, transfer the rights or sell the right during the tenure of the land.

However, in contemporary Zimbabwe, it has yet to be accepted that the holders of land rights can be free to exchange such rights for cash. What it means, therefore, is that any enterprising Zimbabwean who develops the land acquired will not be able to exchange it for value without the intervention of the state.

The experience of post-colonial Zimbabwe is pregnant with lessons. Many black Zimbabweans have not responded to hollow indigenization calls. To convert land into productive assets requires capital and knowledge. It is also instructive that a crop, for example, does not belong exclusively to the farmer rather it belongs to all the supply chain providers.

The land is merely an instrument to convert a seed into a crop. Equally, gold in the ground is not useful until it is mined and processed. The value is only relevant when the gold is exchanged for cash.

Any country that elects to leave the gold in the ground in the hope that such gold, for example, should be extracted by a certain class of citizens condemns its future to the past.

Although the inclusive government talks of indigenization, it is ironic that last week a 22-member delegation led by Mr. Patrice Motsepe, a beneficiary of BEE policies in South Africa, that is premised on only the benefits of economic progress being reserved to the previously disadvantaged groups, visited Zimbabwe and met with the President who encouraged them to invest in the country.

It is common cause that a black person like me born in Zimbabwe but chose South Africa as a new home is excluded from accessing South African mineral resources and yet Mr. Motsepe and his crew are facilitated while unjust laws like The Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies Act 2004 are in existence with no lessons for people like Motsepe on the dangers on embracing suicidal political gimmicks clothed as inclusive governments. Mr. Motsepe like his inclusive government facilitators see no threat of laws like this to future investment stability.

South Africa like Zimbabwe has sought to implement indigenization policies without thinking seriously about the consequences.

Mr. Motsepe with his white friends can access Zimbabwean resources with constructive state support and yet in his own country of birth xenophobia has taken root. Xenophobia and indigenization may ultimately be cousins and if not well thought out can lead to undermining the "One Africa" project.

Who should be in charge of Zimbabwean economy? Any entrepreneur who seeks to make it in Zimbabwe must recognize the customer in whose interests profit is generated. If black people want to pick goods in Pick n Pay, they must know the consequences. They must pay and if in so doing Pick n Pay becomes rich so be it.

What would be wrong is for the government to prescribe where citizens should buy and what they should buy. If black people are fine with buying from companies whose shareholders are white then so be it. However, if black people are interested in using the services, for example, of black lawyers then they should be free to use such lawyers. It would be wrong for blacks to seek to blame whites in the name of indigenization for their inherent inability to provide leadership on issues related to economic power.

Economic power distribution in Africa can only be premised on blacks allowing it to exist because of low investment in financial literacy. We have many politicians and very few financially literate people (not in the academic sense). Human beings look for value and if black people can invest in value enhancing projects there is no reason why they cannot prove themselves.

As a black person who was victimized by a government made up of black people, I am acutely aware of how I am perceived. Some would conclude that it is fine for me to be victimized because I was a beneficiary of state power forgetting that it is the customer who ultimately determined whether companies related to me prospered or withered.

The question that needs to be addressed is whether companies associated with me were state indebted and insolvent and if so the new Ministers in the inclusive government should help the nation by providing answers rather than pretending the problem is a Mawere issue.

The companies that were nationalized as a consequence of an act of state using emergency laws are domiciled in Zimbabwe. Some people would want such companies to be associated with mortal human beings like me. However, by nationalizing the companies, it is the customers, suppliers, the state and other stakeholders that suffer not merely the holder of shares who may derive no direct income from the enterprise.

I should like to believe that any black person who scales the heights inspires other black people to climb the mountains with hope and determination.

If by indigenization we mean that black people should create the change that they want to see then it should be encouraged. We need black role models and we are responsible for creating them.

To the extent that the majority of Zimbabwean citizens are black, there is no excuse for not creating a New Zimbabwean Mutual instead of looking at Old Mutual, for instance, for answers.