Roy Bennett Cape Town Speech
Good evening Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. On behalf of my wife, Heather, my party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and indeed the people of Zimbabwe, I thank you for the opportunity of talking to you this evening.\r\n
The continuing trials and tribulations of Zimbabwe, I am sure, feel far away, and utterly disconnected from this
beautiful city of Cape Town, and from your conference deliberations. I trust that you have enjoyed your visit and that the conference has been successful. I hope my short address will help reinforce the inescapable reality that when citizens are abused, ignored and downtrodden by despotic regimes, they will ultimately seize centre stage in their quest for justice and meaningful participation in Government. This is a universal phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that is playing out dramatically in Libya, but is underway in dozens of countries.
I doubt whether the idealistic and incredible entrepreneurial founders of Apple, and social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, could have believed that their company creations and respective technologies would become some of the best weapons available for the defeat of tyrants!
But we must not digress along this train of thought. Instead, I ask you all to bear with me as I briefly explain how I— a simple White African farmer—have become the target that I am for Mugabe’s racist ZANU-PF.
I am biased, no doubt, but Charleswood Estate is probably the most beautiful farm I have ever seen. Buried deep in the Chimanimani Mountains in Eastern Manicaland, its splendour and impact on me has been as profound as the rolling hills of Ixopo in Kwa-Zulu Natal were upon the late Alan Paton in his memorable novel, ‘Cry the Beloved Country’. Charleswood was a coffee estate, belonging to
Lonrho. It was out on a limb, run down and in disrepair. Having been so struck with its magnificence—and the commercial opportunities it offered—I faced a crossroads, a turning point in my family’s life. A comfortable life of tobacco farming in northern Zimbabwe had to be exchanged for a new journey into the remote Chimanimani Mountains.
I am a son of Zimbabwe. I speak Shona fluently. I am continually and deeply humbled by the spontaneous generosity and innate decency of most ordinary Zimbabweans. Before moving to Charleswood, and out of respect for local culture and community hierarchy, I met with the region’s tribal leaders to discuss my plans for the rejuvenation of Charleswood. Charleswood is divided by the Zhunguniu River. To the north lies the Chikukwa Communal Lands and to the south the Ngorma Communal Lands. It is with the two chiefs of these areas that I met and, in a traditional way, made representation that I would like to purchase Charleswood. Ancestrally, the land was theirs and I could only have it once I had their endorsement, acceptance and approval. I needed to follow certain cultural and traditional practices: the respective Chiefs came to Charleswood and carried out ceremonies on three separate occasions—traditional beer was brewed, livestock was slaughtered, and for three days at a time ancestors were consulted until approval, endorsement and acceptance was conveyed to me.
I fervently wished to kick-start a vertically integrated coffee industry, and in so doing act as the catalyst for a commercially sustainable agro industry—one that would be good for me and for a desperately poor community. My life, Heather’s life, and those of our two children, have been completely turned on their heads by the whole-hearted acceptance and steadfast affection of the Chimanimani people. What an incredibly brave, principled community. I was privileged to represent them in Parliament on behalf of the MDC, before being jailed and expelled from the House of Assembly.
You see, ladies and gentleman, once our farming enterprise gathered momentum—with the community participating on the basis of an agreement we negotiated during our initial discussions— the people of Chimanimani subsequently took deep offence to ZANU-PF rejecting me as their local candidate in the 2000 parliamentary elections. (Not that I asked to embark on a career as a politician. I can think of nothing worse, let me tell you!) However, the Chimanimani tribal elders, after being rebuffed by ZANU-PF, dragged me to Harare to meet Morgan Tsvangirai, the recently elected leader of the newly-formed MDC. While offended by ZANU’s arrogance, the elders were not surprised—they had expected me to be rejected and had made contingency plans. Morgan welcomed me and the people of Chimanimani into the arms of the party. To say that my family’s life has been a roller coaster ride since then is obviously one hell of an understatement! But the people of Chimanimani, Manicaland and Zimbabwe are my daily inspiration.
The racist refusal by ZANU-PF to permit my nomination,followed by that party’s rejection by the voters of Chimanimani and by the people of Manicaland, was ground breaking in Zimbabwean politics. It’s like the ANC facing defeat in the Eastern Cape, or Labour losing Scotland to the Tories!
Nearly a decade later, in 2008, MDC again won another skewed election—we won it by a wide margin. Don’t for one minute believe the results presented by MUGABE’S fraudulent polling officers, more than one month after the event . The MDC won twenty-two of the twenty-eight seats in Manicaland. Indeed, since 2000, my life has been enriched in one sense, knowing that the rural people of Manicaland have stayed strong, solidly supporting MDC through thick and thin. For its part, ZANU-PF knows it has lost all credibility in Manicaland and across the nation. Our party’s urban support base is now replicated in rural areas the length and breadth of Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe’s recent pathetic appeal to the people of Manicaland, to return to the arms of ZANU-PF, gave me great comfort and satisfaction. People power, symbolised and embodied by the people of remote Chimanimani, will win through, however long it takes. In my own round-about way, I feel I am getting us back to Libya, Kenya, Ivory Coast and Egypt, which is where I began my address.
Recent developments in these countries have highlighted and stripped bare the duplicity and hypocrisy of many of our Western friends, as individual countries and companies are shown to have abandoned principle and decency for relative short-term gain. That they now claim to be on the side of the people is grossly and glaringly cynical. The lessons for us all, and for those businesses you invest in, is that widespread social community acceptance is the fundamental prerequisite for sustainable long-term investment in Africa—be it in Egypt, South Africa, Zambia or Zimbabwe—or, for that matter, anywhere in the world.
Zimbabwe offers some of Africa’s most promising natural resources investment opportunities. Impala Platinum, Anglo American and Rio Tinto, and a host of other companies, are currently reviewing and expanding their investment portfolios there. Against this positive scenario are Mugabe’s threats and bluster relating to so-called ‘indigenisation’. These threats amount to no more than the ZANU-PF equivalent of a 1920’s-style Chicago Mob shakedown. This destructive and counterproductive strategy is a blatant ploy to enrich a politically corrupt elite—an elite rejected by the people. It goes without saying that any process of enriching individuals or companies connected to this infamous criminal syndicate WILL be nullified once the MDC are in power. And those who think they can hedge their bets by building bridges with certain corrupt opportunists who have attached themselves to MDC are seriously underestimating the determination and anger of the majority.
Zimbabwe’s wonderful investment opportunities favour the brave. Ethical Investments made through Zimbabwe’s Inclusive
Government—and which meet the requirements of legality and transparency—need not fall foul of political skulduggery in the long term. Such investments can stand the test of time and will be restored by an MDC government if they are violated in the interim.
A word of advice, though. Why is it that local communities—not only in Zimbabwe, but also in South Africa, Congo, Zambia and so on—communities which are adjacent to mining developments, are not properly incorporated into structured entities as ‘indigenous partners’? There are such obvious long term advantages to be derived from local community acceptance. In South Africa, the Royal Bafokeng example, goes some way to address this issue However, my personal relationship with the people of Chimanimani on our collective social agricultural experiment provides powerful evidence of the strength and value of community loyalty; it shows clearly the benefit of genuine local participation.
We in the MDC wish to see transparent, simple community funding as an anchor and pillar of natural resources exploitation. We do not wish to see a replication of the South African example as a model for our empowerment requirements—one where, in nearly every case, the enrichment of ruling party members has occurred at the expense of poor communities. Rio Tinto and Impala Platinum are embarking on new investments in Zimbabwe. Shareholders in these companies must now insist that they reflect the demands of this rapidly evolving new world order; they must incorporate genuinely broad-based community equity participation. It is simply unacceptable for politicians, whether ZANU-PF or MDC, to throw their hats into the ring and emerge with significant stakes in companies in the midst of such poverty. The anger of the people of Egypt directed at all the symbols of enrichment by Mubarak’s family and cronies should be heeded by us in Southern Africa.
In the Zimbabwean context, there is a need for reflection by major mining houses. Some of these institutions must come to terms with their unacceptable complicity in Mugabe’s blackmail. This is a story that cannot be left untold. There is no excuse for Impala Platinum, in an effort to placate ZANU-PF and Mugabe, to again offer the state mining rights in ZIMPLATS, a subsidiary it already owns and controls. These assets belong to Impala Shareholders! There is no excuse for Anglo Platinum to have ceded a huge chunk of its ground just before the 2008 elections—ground that was quickly sold on by a desperate and cash-poor ZANU (PF) at a $100 million profit. Shareholders need to demand from management that these rights be properly valued and retained—and not surrendered for the benefit of a blood-thirsty coterie of gangsters. Face the regime down or force them into open and into outright theft. Please don’t legitimise extortion at the expense of the people. Better to lose what you have and regain it later than to sleep with a serial rapist and killer. If you do so, remember that he will not only beat and murder the neighbours, he will turn on YOU in due course and you will be pitied by no-one. You cannot squeal if you have been playing along.
When it comes to engagement, management in companies like Impala Platinum need to initiate a structure for local community participation and for the national benefit which is endorsed by all stakeholders, including the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. As far as I know, ZCTU have not been invited in to invest in any shape or form. We in the MDC view the success of investment companies in South Africa aligned to trade unions as an entrenchment of democracy in the workplace.
You are a very influential gathering of asset managers, investment companies, private equity and venture capitalists. If you so choose, you can insist that your investments in Southern African natural resources are always directed toward companies where social responsibility principles, which most of us share, are at the heart of empowerment initiatives. The unscrupulous will tell us ‘Business is Business’. For them, the pursuit of profit seems to outweigh the human rights and benefits which ordinary citizens should enjoy.
To illustrate my criticism of the pursuit of ill-advised opportunism, we need to look no further than the sad and seedy role of Old Mutual in the illicit diamond mining that is occurring in the Marange diamond fields of Manicaland. These fields are controlled by the military junta and were attained over the dead bodies of hundreds of impoverished Zimbabweans. This unacceptable example of corporate greed and willful negligence cannot be swept under the carpet any longer. For a respected London-listed financial services company to continue its investment and shareholding in a joint venture with a disreputable scrap metal merchant and—wait for this—an infamous confidante of Robert and Grace Mugabe is simply unbelievable! It is brazen. It is reprehensible and obscene. The company has said (and I quote): “Old Mutual would like to point out that [its] … engagement post-dated any reported wrongdoing in the mining area. As a result, Old Mutual is most certainly not associated with activities which contravenes the human rights of citizens.” This is cant and obfuscation, a blowing of smoke and hot air.
As MDC, we have urged Old Mutual—quietly behind closed doors—to quit their blood-stained investment. The company has not listened, so we now air our greivences publicly. Old Mutual and its partners have benefited from the daylight robbery of mining rights and from massacres by the army and air force of Zimbabwe. In a well-documented orgy of violence, helicopter gunships mowed down civilians in cold blood, ‘clearing the decks’ for the junta’s illegal mining activities.
The opportunity exists for us to use international celebrities from Hollywood and members of the media to mount a Zimbabwean blood diamonds campaign. We warned Old Mutual of the danger of substantial contagion to their share price should this campaign get underway.
The shame for Old Mutual is compounded by the fact that the proceeds from the sales of these Blood Diamonds are being used by ZANU-PF to unleash another bout of political violence on ordinary
Zimbabweans. The International Red Cross are currently feeding starving residents from Marange Communal Lands, an area adjacent to the diamond mines, while a shameless, ruthless and predatory elite plunder the resources of the Zimbabwean people and use the proceeds to inflict violence on them! The Kimberley Process is in complete disarray. Within the Inclusive Government, the MDC cannot exercise the control needed to ensure these activities are properly subject to credible scrutiny, so it is incumbent on responsible corporates to heed our advice. This kind of corporate misbehaviour, deliberately myopic, provocatively arrogant and conspicuously inconsistent with the interests of the Zimbabwean people, is indicative of a looter’s mentality and it will boomerang on the perpetrators.
But I am not finished with Old Mutual quite yet. As if blood diamonds were not enough, this company has maintained a significant share in Zimpapers, the publisher of the government-controlled Herald, among others. If ever there was a practitioner of hate-speech and an apostle of vice and violence, this is it. This dirty little rag plays a very real part in the butchery and battery of our people. If this were 1994, I might well urge Old Mutual to go ahead and invest in that mouthpiece of the Hutu extremists, RTLM. The fundamental differences between Hutu and ZANU propaganda are scant. In a lame defence, Old Mutual has said “we do not influence or involve ourselves in the operational policy or practice of Zimpapers”. But in the same statement it goes on to say: “While we remain mindful of and sensitive to the social and political climate in Zimbabwe, these investments are … meant to meet needs and expectations in terms of returns for our Zimbabwean customers.” There’s no need to continue. We have heard you loud and clear. Profit before principle—and the Zimbabwean people be damned.
Many of you are able—and I urge you to do so—to bombard Julian Roberts in London with the question: ‘HOW, AND HOW AGAIN, COULD OLD MUTUAL INVESTMENT GROUP, ‘OMIGSA’, ever have invested in such sordid partnerships?’
These are but a couple of examples of the companies that have, and continue, to walk the halls of shame in Zimbabwe. There is no shortage of them. When the day of judgement comes, I will not lift a finger to save them from the consequences of their actions. Quite the contrary. And I am unreservedly confident that I will have a powerful constituency behind me. If these companies choose to reap the whirlwind, then so be it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope that my address has not contrasted too sharply with the positive meetings you have had in this wonderful city. But I cannot over-emphasise the importance of you insisting that the companies you invest in are conducting their activities in countries like Zimbabwe with the blessing and support of the people and—concurrently—with the objective of advancing the interests of these communities, and NOT the political elite.
Regrettably Western Governments, which should have set an example, have looked the other way for years. They did it during the Cold War and they are still doing it. Dictators like Gadaffi—Mugabe’s long-running friend and supporter—only prosper when governments ‘look the other way’, be they British, Italian or American. In Libya’s case, the people were mere spectators in an undignified scramble for oil in which Western companies divided the spoils with the Gaddafi clique. The turmoil there was a long time coming.
In Zimbabwe’s case, a new dawn of hope for economic growth and long-term prosperity for our people beckons. Our country is richly blessed and endowed with treasure. Will investors clamber over the bodies of our people in a bid to get-rich-quick or will they be patient, supporting truly sustainable development that will bring a win–win for the nation and those who seek a profit?
For this entirely feasible scenario to become a reality we need you to see that your interests and your bottom line are best served by a mature and far-sighted vision—and, frankly, by common human decency. On our side, in the MDC, we see a political transition as our calling. We want and need a process of electoral reform that will give citizens the right to campaign and vote peacefully. I can assure you all that, with these building blocks in place—and with the necessary international observers present and on the ground well in advance of elections—MDC will win a huge majority.
For me personally, I have no political ambitions. I am a product of my circumstances, as I explained earlier. Nevertheless, I will continue to participate and speak out in the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans.
We seek to be free, and for companies to prosper in a society that is relatively free of corruption like Botswana. In the dark days of Apartheid, the grand anti-Apartheid alliance was a key component in the deconstruction of that system. Is the decade-long democratic struggle of the people of Zimbabwe—one in which we seek to rid ourselves of the stench of ZANU-PF’S corruption and violence—not deserving of your collective support? Should we feel guilty asking for South African and international help?
We humbly believe we have earned our right to ask for such support—and we do so in the knowledge that another dictatorship will tumble in the fullness of time.
I hope to have touched you with some sense of the plight facing ordinary Zimbabweans. I thank you all for your indulgence and will endeavour to answer any questions you may have.