MDC’s take on the SMM saga – a Response

Last night my attention was drawn to a statement published by the online version of the Zimbabwean newspaper that was issued by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) under the title

“MDC concerned about the plight of workers and families in Shabanie and Mashava” 

After reading the article, I was compelled to respond not only because it exposes a binary worldview that is dominant in Zimbabwean politics but also if the issues are not addressed as they emerge, a danger exists that our history may end up being distorted and rewritten for purely political expediency.

No one can doubt the concern of a political party about the plight of workers and families.  The link between the labour movement and the party may have a lot in explaining why the party is not concerned about the plight of a shareholder who lost his rights through an act of state. 

To reduce the SMM saga into a personal between Hon. Chinamasa and myself can only be described as intellectual dishonesty. 

I have no doubt that within the MDC family there are intellectuals who would and should know better and yet the statement carries with it the name of the party and must, therefore, at face value represent the thinking in the party on this complex matter.

Is it fair to describe the SMM dispute as a consequence of personal bickering and wrangle between Hon. Chinamasa, a political and state actor, and a private individual like myself? 

For the record, I have no personal issue with Hon. Chinamasa and at no stage in my life have I been involved in any matter that could possibly make him hold a personal grudge against me.  But he is free to speak for himself.  How can one upset a Minister of Justice whose mandate is to promote justice and equity?  The Ministry has very little to do with the private sector and it is only in this strange matter that issues related to alleged state liability are being handled outside the Ministry of Finance which point must be of concern to any genuine democrat.

However, I have learnt to accept that in Zimbabwe, most of the opinions expressed are informed by a worldview that reduces any dispute into personal rather than national terms. 

I was recently shocked when a fellow passenger approached me on my way back from a trip to Zimbabwe in November to warn me that Hon. Chinamasa was on the same flight that I was booked on.  He was expecting some fireworks but I responded politely to him that I harbour no personal ill feelings against the person of Chinamasa.

This is and has always been my position.  Contrary to the view expressed in the statement, Chinamasa is a state actor and, therefore, represents the Republic of Zimbabwe. 

He took the same oath that was taken by all persons appointed to cabinet by President Mugabe.  It would be wrong for anyone to attempt to score cheap political points by alleging that the government of Zimbabwe is divisible. 

I should like to believe that the person who authored the statement is fully aware that there is no constitutional crisis in Zimbabwe.  The inclusive government is the legitimate authority through which the business of the people of Zimbabwe is conducted.  The decisions of the government are binding to all and the action of any state actor promotes or undermines the collective.

Under the GPA, the three principals are expected to be the custodians of the peoples’ agenda.  There is one head of state and Chinamasa’s actions have to be viewed in the context that he is and has always acted in a representative capacity.  He has no personal stake in the government and it would be wrong to accuse him of pursuing personal interest without assuming the burden of proving it. 

Ultimately, the state is a peoples’ project and anyone who acts in the name of the state has to be accorded the status that he/she deserves.

Chinamasa has to act within the context he finds himself.  He has no power to pass laws on his own.  In fact, even to invoke Presidential Powers to allow the state and not Chinamasa to seize control of SMM, one must accept that he must have consulted the President and the President must have authorised the intended course of action.

In fact, the President did authorise Chinamasa to proceed in the manner he did.  Subsequently, the temporary measures that were used to extra-judicially assume control of SMM through the appointment by the executive and not the judiciary of an Administrator were enacted into law and the President signed the bill which then gave birth to the Reconstruction of State Indebted Insolvent Companies Act.

Since 2005, this is the law of the country.  So to reduce the SMM matter into a personal one is not only regrettable but misses the fundamental issues at stake.  Chinamasa can legitimately argue the bill was passed by the House of Assembly in which the MDC was represented and at no stage has the MDC-T asked for the law to be repealed. 

Some may say that the law is a bad law but one must accept that once enacted it imposes obligations on the part of the Minister of Justice to whom its administration is vested to enforce it.  It would be wrong to target Chinamasa as a person because he is in reality he must just be a messenger unless there is proof to suggest otherwise. 

If the law was and is considered to have toxic effects like the adverse impact on the livelihoods of SMM’s employees then surely the MDC-T representatives in the executive and legislature must know what to do rather than issue statements that tend to mask the real issues at play.
Because I am black, I would not expect my entry into big business to be understood not only because of the country’s history but I believe that attitudes determine the altitude one can climb. 

We come from a heritage where there are a few role models in business and, therefore, anyone who scales the business mountain is easily misunderstood to be a crony or an appendage of political forces.

I guess to the person who authored the statement, my rights are perishable and are not worthy of concern to the party.  The link between the employer and worker as social partners is easily lost in the kind of politics that is focused on narrow and personal issues rather than the kind of Zimbabwe one would want to see.

I guess if I was of different heritage, the concern may have been about the kind of legal framework and political morality that would allow the state as a purported creditor to engage in self help activities and completely rule out the involvement of the appointment of an Administrator of a company incorporated and administered in terms of the Companies Act. 

I should like to think that the MDC is alive to the fact that the Companies Act under which SMM was registered has adequate provisions to protect a bona fides creditor.  If this is the case, why then would the party not be concerned about the fact that in this matter, the state felt as a purported creditor that it needed the protection of new laws even using temporary powers given to the President to use in the case of emergencies?

The link between the absence of the rule of law and an environment where personal liberty is not assured and property rights are not protected and job losses is and must be obvious to all and yet the import of the statement is to suggest that job losses have visited Shabanie and Mashava solely because of a personal dispute between Chinamasa and me.

Ordinarily in an environment that is characterised by checks and balances, reconstruction laws would not exist and a Minister of Justice would be restrained from converting allegations into convictions without the involvement of the courts.

I was specified in July 2004 and de-specified in May 2010.  A lot has happened in between these dates and it must be obvious to the author of the statement that what has happened could only have taken place because of the laws that were passed.

We all expect to have a Zimbabwe that respects the rule of law but when political actors focus their attention on symptoms then one must reflect and take note that the kind of protection one would expect from democracy cannot be taken for granted.  If the people to whom you look for protection are the very people who are allergic to justice then only God can help Zimbabwe.

I have repeatedly made the point that if I was selfish, I would find no need of being involved in multiple businesses because one must accept that this requires one to trust others to manage a large portfolio.

Although I have been accused of externalisation, is it not strange to the MDC that I am also credited for creating an empire not in foreign states but in Zimbabwe.  How could I do both?  To me it would not make sense for one who does not believe in building Zimbabwe to then invest in the same country.
An externalizer does not need an Administrator to expose his/her ways because actions speak louder than words yet in my case very few have cared to ask the question what kind of idiot would invest  in Zimbabwe and then stand accused of externalisation.  If I had externalised, the consequences would be obvious and the government would have had nothing to seize as the assets would have been out of reach.

Yes, I have no doubt of MDC’s interest in the plight of the workers but I should like to believe that it should not take 6 years to express it and should not have waited for me to be de-specified for Zimbabweans to know. 

In a binary world that many Zimbabweans choose to live in, every dispute can be reduced to them and us.  In this case, I am condemned to the “bad guys” and the MDC is free to assume the higher moral ground.  What the author sought to demonstrate is that the SMM dispute is a private matter.  If it was, I would be on the street fighting a private adversary but this is not the case.

Chinamasa is armed with state power and I am armed with nothing.  To the extent that this fight has lasted 6 years, I would have thought that any rational mind would see the bigger picture and what time it is in Zimbabwe.  In many other countries, this matter would be high on the agenda of people genuinely interested in change and a better future.

A point is made that: “The reduction of these mines into dead capital means people in the surrounding areas cannot tap into it for support. Workers have lost their incomes and their families can no longer afford a lifestyle they were used to before the de-specification of Mawere in July 2004.” What it suggests is that before my de-specification in May 2010, the workers were enjoying a good life style and it appears that it is the view of the MDC that I should not have been de-specified. 

It is then stated that: “It is callous for government whether inclusive or exclusive to behold such suffering and it takes no remedial actions” when it is common cause that there is only one cabinet in Zimbabwe and with the exception of the Ministry of Home Affairs, each ministry has a political head who reports to President Mugabe.  By blaming the actions of any state actor one must accept that the collective is culpable for the conduct of any of the Ministers including Chinamasa.  Even the Prime Minister and his deputies cannot escape blame when they have been part of the inclusive government for more than 2 years.  In fact, it is instructive that no dispute has been recorded between the three Principals on the SMM matter.  What we know is that on the Roy Bennett matter, there have been differences and the party has a known position.  

When the MDC says: “It is equally heartless for any government to ignore the impact of such selfish and unproductive squabbles on the women, children, and underprivileged in our society” without providing a solution one must get concerned about the state of mind of the person who authored this statement.
Is it true as alleged that: “Sadly, the lives of over 60 000 people in the two towns and surrounding communal lands have been sacrificed by the wrangling over the future of the mines?”  I have attempted to explain that to reduce fundamental governance challenges into personal feuds with no respect for the facts and the law is an act of hypocrisy at its best.

It is then suggested that: “Zanu PF – true to its colour, has shown that it is anti-poor, anti-workers and anti-prosperity, which is why in the MDC, a pro-poor, pro-workers and pro-prosperity party, we have problems with a functionary of Zanu PF in the likes of Chinamasa, who want to despoil assets without considering the burden such behaviour has on the general populace.”  What has this to do with ZANU-PF?  I should like to believe that when I deal with Chinamasa I only do so in his capacity as the Minister and not as political actor. 

I have nothing against ZANU-PF because as a political club it has no means to do the kind of things that it is normally credited for.  Governments only work best if citizens are armed with facts and this statement exposes the kind of work that needs to be done to improve the condition of Zimbabweans.  
Before the formation of the inclusive government an argument could be made that the actions of government reflected the dominant culture in force at the time but one should like to believe that there is nothing to stop the MDC-T from stating its position on issues like SMM.  I assume this statement represents the collective thinking in the party that all that is bad coming from government actions must be attributed to ZANU-PF.  This kind of thinking must not go unchallenged.

In stating that: “The MDC finds the behaviour of Zanu PF towards the mines intriguing, for nothing can be achieved by the on-going stand-off with Mawere when a solution remains elusive” it becomes clear that the author of this statement has limited understanding of how governments work.  The MDC-T has representatives in the government and their actions cannot and should not be construed as partisan.  

I cannot find an occasion where for example, a Minister has issued a letter on the party letterhead in the conduct of his duties as a state actor.  Since the formation of the inclusive government, we have to make the collective accountable and it should not be wrong to hold, for instance, the Prime Minister who is also the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers for Chinamasa’s conduct.

I was baffled by the statement: “In particular, the events surrounding Mawere’s fate smacks of policy confusion in that at one stage he is declared a criminal – thus forcing him to go into exile — and on another his specification is lifted, without any cogent explanation” because I was de-specified by the co-Ministers of Home Affairs. 

Instead of establishing from Hon. Mutsekwa who was involved in the matter, it is strange that the import of the statement is to question the basis on which the decision to de-specify not only myself but others was made.  Why would the MDC-T not be interested in verifying from its own representatives in government what is going on?

It is not clear what message the author of the statement is trying to convey when he/she says: “The policy flip flop sends a damaging message to any would-be investor, with devastating consequences for Zimbabwe’s long term economic revival” without precisely spelling out who is flip flopping. 

The people of Zimbabwe deserve a better deal and my only hope is that our experiences can help change the content of our daily conversations to a high political morality that seeks to build nations founded on values and not personalities.  Even when I am gone, I would like my voice of the challenges of today being heard by future generations.  Such a voice must remain focused on the prize that tomorrow is only different from today if change begins with us.

Anyone who is interested and concerned about the plight of workers at SMM must necessarily be concerned about the kind of environment that would permit the absurdity to take place while political actors chose to engage in diversionary tactics and strategies whose sole purpose is to score political points rather than address the root causes of the problem.