Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Indigenisation: ‘Robbing Peter to pay Chamunorwa’

Indigenisation: ‘Robbing Peter to pay Chamunorwa’

Thursday, 28 April 2011 20:47

By Lenox Mhlanga

I COULD have written a syrupy piece about our Independence until I reasoned 
that I could be dancing out of tune. Surely, after 31 years of 
self-destruction, what is there to celebrate? So I decided to be more 
realistic and comment about indigenisation.

It was a little over a decade ago that I broached this sensitive subject in 
a column I used to write for The Daily News. Funny that three newspapers 
that ran my columns were to be later banned, except The Sunday News, for 
some odd reason. Well that is another long story.

Anyway, in that article I lamented the fact that the black empowerment lobby 
in Zimbabwe seemed to have lost its way and, as one economist put it, only 
succeeded in providing economic space for mediocrity. Sadly, little has 
changed. They are still groping in the dark.

If they are not chasing Nigerians out of town, they are forcefully occupying 
someone else’s hard-earned business. In fact, stealing is a more appropriate 

Despite efforts by elements in the current government to give the 
indigenisation lobby a lifeline, albeit through dubious legislation, the 
face of this otherwise noble ideal has firmly on its head the mantle of 
idiocy. It’s difficult to talk about leadership and progress in the same 
breath as the Affirmative Action Group (AAG).

Exiled activist Phil Matibe pulls no punches in his description of the 
organisation when he says that the AAG is an advocacy group for greed that 
promotes and propagates intolerance, practises hate-speech without 
limitation, and incites law abiding citizens to become lawless accomplices 
and accessories to its sinister criminal crusade.

“It enthusiastically functions as and constitutes Zanu PF’s white collar 
business robbery unit,” he adds in his trademark acerbic manner.

Perhaps that is rather harsh a verdict. Yet, given what one sees on the 
ground, it is difficult to differ with this description no matter how unfair 
it sounds. The AAG simply can’t be taken seriously as long as it continues 
to be associated with the likes of Philip Chiyangwa, Themba Mliswa and, I 
dare mention, Joseph Chinotimba. While they might be at pains to dissociate 
themselves with the former, their methods take a huge leaf from his legacy.
It goes without saying that after failing to deliver, the AAG became 
necessary to push a reluctant government punch drunk with the allure of 
self-rule to act. Citing the restrictive Lancaster Agreement, black business 
needed a body through which they could push for space in the post 
Independence  economy.

However noble that cause could have been, the indigenisation lobby proceeded 
to soil itself through very questionable actions and utterances that gave 
their perceived detractors more than enough ammunition to discredit their 
cause. The AAG and its shadow body, the Indigenous Business development 
Centre, came to be seen largely as combative. That in itself breaks the 
basic rule that you cannot build something by first destroying it.
As the economy of the time became increasingly skewed, sanity had to 
prevail. It became requisite for the black empowerment and affirmative 
action lobby to shift from its state of war with anything that got into its 
way, to one of mobilising and using existing structures to gain space in the 

The fact that over 30 years after Independence, little headway has been made 
in this direction should place the whole empowerment argument in its proper 
perspective. If there is a country that requires urgent redress as far as 
economic empowerment is concerned it is Zimbabwe. The glaring disparities in 
all sectors of the economy that were ample evidence that something was 
terribly wrong still exist in true Orwellian style.

True, one section of the community derived direct benefits from a myriad of 
legislation. The whites monopolised those resources that were key to holding 
economic power. These included land, minerals, access to capital and a 
monopoly in business. Empowerment therefore was and still is justified on 
moral and socio-economic grounds where the main aim should have been to 
redress historical imbalances and not to line a few venerated pockets.

We now have seen how having a black majority government in place is no 
guarantee for the correction of the wrongs of the previous regime. Add to 
this dilemma, the fact that the indigenisation lobby has, to quote one 
cynic, been “hijacked by characters in shiny suits and pointed shoes”.

The so-called champions of indigenisation have been more associated with 
angst; property grabbing, asset stripping and amassing land through very 
dubious means. The court appearances and law suits involving those in the 
top leadership of the AAG are ample evidence of this.

What makes the whole thing scary is the fact that the current minister in 
charge of indigenisation in government came from the ranks of the AAG! 
Former AAG vice president Saviour Kasukuwere’s barnstorming antics in the 
last few months regarding the Indigenisation Act does not give comfort to 
any right thinking businessman, let alone investor.

The slogan of the indigenisation lobby in Zimbabwe should be, “Organise, don’t 
antagonise!” Instead of making threats and raiding legitimate business 
entities, the AAG should first put its house in order. In fact, there are 
those who believe that it should be disbanded altogether. It wasn’t 
surprising that the organisation had reached the point of implosion last 
week when then the entire handpicked executive walked out.
That is what happens when you have an executive that is not accountable to 
anyone and has practically no mandate from its membership. The few continue 
to dominate with the same people benefitting whether it be government 
tenders, land allocation or bank loans.

As the few get fatter by the day, the same rumblings of discontent that led 
to liberation can be heard. The landless, in spite of the much touted land 
reform programme, are still crying out for a solution. Having moved to the 
cities in search of survival, they were met with brutal evictions and they 
remain landless. As the ranks of the unemployed continued to swell, a clear 
empowerment programme would have created thousands of jobs if only the right 
policies were put in place. We have been seeing the warning signals as 
levels of crime continue to rise stoked by a corresponding web of 
corruption. It’s a sad tale of the bread basket that became a basket case.
Social harmony and stability are the cornerstones of sustained economic 
growth. However, they are largely dependent on the playing field being 
level. When a section of the population enjoys massive privileges at the 
expense of the rest, then such stability cannot be guaranteed. Race is no 
longer the sole dividing line between the haves and the have-nots.

The black moguls who occupy seats on the AAG executive have hijacked the 
indigenisation bandwagon for personal gain. They have turned to be the worst 
oppressors hiding behind the veneer of entitlement when their interests are 
purely selfish.

Enterprises that genuinely seek success in a hostile and competitive 
economic environment should, besides demanding empowering legislation, 
concentrate on capacity and image building. Black enterprises should not 
necessarily be associated with failure or shoddy goods and service. 
Integrity and honesty are the hallmarks of good business practice.

Such qualities are sadly lacking among a sizeable number of black-run 
businesses. Such are the businesses that then clamber on the indigenisation 
bandwagon to cover up for their inadequacies. Their performance has been a 
catalogue of errors as they employ business practices that leave a lot to be 

The indigenisation lobby should be building bridges with established 
business, not burning them down. They should be assuring them that they have 
nothing to fear from indigenisation. They should drop the attitude of what 
the late Ariston Chambati once referred to as “robbing Peter who is white, 
to pay Chamunorwa who happens to be black”.

Indigenisation should benefit everyone. Established business has the 
experience that it can cascade down to the up and coming businesses, while 
at the same time building synergies and downstream industries that can feed 
into the wider economy. It’s a win-win situation we should be thriving for 
not one where we tell people to go to hell.

Organisations such as the AAG, or a sane version of it, should be there to 
encourage the propagation of the work ethic Zimbabweans are renowned for all 
over the world. The evolution of a true spirit of entrepreneurship, through 
the acquisition of business skills and recognition of the fact the seeking 
of profit is not an end in itself but a vehicle for the greater accumulation 
and control of resources. Rome was certainly not built in a day.

The compulsory transfer of wealth from one group to another adds little to 
the aggregate wealth of the nation. In fact it places a lot of that wealth 
in danger of being frittered away. A cursory glance at the state of the 
farms that were designated without a proper plan on how they were going to 
be sustained is a case in point. Some lie idle and are being reclaimed by 
the bush, a grim allegory to neo-classic post-Independence mismanagement.

Indigenous business people should identify the resources to which they 
deserve access, such as capital, and then maximise on the availability of 
such. They should also be honest to themselves by identifying and accepting 
their shortcomings as a way of finding ways of addressing them.
It is in this vein, therefore, that the indigenisation lobby in Zimbabw

should dump the language of grievance and entitlement at all costs. The 
gospel they should preach is that of equity, enablement and the quest for 
excellence. For them to be taken seriously they should cut the apron strings 
with political entities that seek to abuse them for selfish ends.

Finally, they should endeavour to mend their bad image and work towards 
changing negative perceptions. If it’s a case of bad leadership, then they 
should seek to redress this. If it is the organisation itself that is in 
question, then they should dump it and establish a credible vehicle by which 
they can attain genuine empowerment that will lead to economic prosperity.
In the current environment it might appear as if this is hard to achieve, 
yet it’s very possible.

Mhlanga is a public relations consultant and a freelance writer.—


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