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Economic Indigenization and the Struggle for Social and Economic Justice in Zimbabwe

A presentation to the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), Debt and Extractives Dialogue Series 

By Takura Zhangazha

20 November 2013, Jameson Hotel Harare

Cde Chairman, comrades, colleagues, students, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to ZIMCODD for inviting me to this important meeting. It is one of the few meetings where I know I would not be out of order for referring to participants here present as comrades.

Takura Zhangazha
Takura Zhangazha

Mainly because we not only share the same ideals and principles around debt and development, but also because of general ideological persuasions which I assume see us regularly being labeled as those of the Zimbabwean ‘left’.

The topic I have been asked to share some thoughts with you on is an important one in the context of Zimbabwe’s contemporary political economy. The organizers have phrased this topic, ‘The Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act and the struggle for Social and Economic Justice in Zimbabwe,’.

It is a phrasing that correctly assumes a co-relation between indigenization and social and economic justice. But for the purposes of clarity it would be important to put indigenization in its political context.

Unlike the general reference of indigenous people’s rights in global discourse around land rights or the environment, Zimbabwe’s indigenization programme is evidently more political.

This particularly because its narrative seeks to address what it refers to as colonial injustices and makes direct reference to any person who was historically economically disadvantaged on the grounds of their race before independence in 1980 as being ‘indigenous’.

So it refers to both an historical injustice, as well as a racial identity, namely, the black majority. There are many other interpretations of this, but there is little reason to doubt that indigenization definitely talks to issues of social and economic justice.

It is however not a revolution or a revolutionary moment policy in relation to social and economic justice. It is an incremental step forward which, in as much as it is implemented generally, remains fraught with challenges.

The main emphasis of the indigenization programme as established in terms of the law is primarily that of establishing majority shareholding in companies or corporations operating in Zimbabwe by indigenous citizens in terms of the definition described above.

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It is not necessarily to change the structural nature or the reasons for an already established business, let alone invent new forms of entrepreneurship. It is largely about enhancing indigenous participation in already existent sectors of the national economy. This is a good thing only in so far as it relates to the politically charged nature of indegeneity.

It however misses the mark where and when it comes to achieving through its processes, social and economic justice.

This latter point relates to two main issues. The first being that of the porous nature of the ideological framework informing the indigenization policy. Generally spoken for the main ideological premise of indigenization as envisaged in the enabling act is a nationalism that has no problems with the structural challenges of blunt capitalism. It is also a nationalism that seeks primarily accommodation within the global capitalist framework of extractive and consumerist production.

Or to put it more straightforwardly, a nationalism that wants a piece of the pie. Not necessarily for the majority but more for the elite few.

I make the latter point in full knowledge of the fact that the enabling act also establishes Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs) which have largely been established through the indigenization of mining concerns. These CSOTs do not represent either the full 51% indigenous share ownership nor are they necessarily guaranteed a reasonable return of the profit made from the going concern back into the community.

What has since occurred with these trusts is an initial flurry of activity around building basic infrastructure without a holistic public explanation of the transparency of the CSOTs. Or whether they will not function in collusion with the corporate concern in handing out peanuts of their overall profits.

Furthermore, the leveraging of CSOTs in the Zim Asset government blueprint as investment tools into social service delivery is an unfortunate attempt at outsourcing the primary functions of government without demonstrating why government has failed dismally on the same front.

The second observation I wish to make in relation to the subject matter is how it does not address the issue of innovation or invention. Taking over key aspects of the economy goes beyond physical presence. It also requires application of national intellectual creativity in order to meet the social and economic justice requirements of a people centered and social democratic national economy.

This is both in relation to the short and long term. While there is a National Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Charter, which addresses some issues of knowledge transfer, the policy however remains bereft of propositions on how to promote innovation and creativity not only with entities indigenized but also within the context of a holistic approach to innovation in our society.

The enabling act let alone the politics surrounding it rarely address this particular challenge. The best that has come out of government pronouncements even at the highest level has been referred to as ‘beneficiation’ of raw materials.

This is all well and good were it not for the fact that we neither have the technological capacity to embark on this in the short term and we have concentrated on critiquing the exportation of raw materials without addressing our exportation of intellectual capacity to other countries. It would be remiss if we were to isolate indigenization to specifically production related entities.

In order to utilize whatever we have there is need for a holistic investment in knowledge production that extends beyond the newly established ‘psychomotor’ ministry or to be isolated to borderline colonial era reminiscent understandings of knowledge production where we label social sciences as retrogressive.

The innovation that is lacking in the indigenization project is not so much about a lack of natural science experts as it is a lack of a society that embraces new ideas with organic and democratic consciousness as opposed to repression or mimicry.

Comrade Chairperson, in my brief presentation I have underscored the reality that indigenization as a broad idea speaks to social and economic justice. In Zimbabwe’s case, the policy’s grounding in seeking to address the effects of colonial social and economic injustices cannot be faulted.

What has been faulty is its ideological premise which does not address structural questions about the economy and increasingly appears to be characterized by a ‘replacement’ and not a revolutionary or even transformational framework.

It is also imperative that indigenization does not happen in isolation of all other aspects of Zimbabwean society, particularly the promotion of innovation. In order for it to succeed, it must as of necessity embrace technology, innovation or else it will remain as it is, a project inclined to serve more the elite than the masses.

Thank you.

*This presentation was made in Takura Zhangazha’s personal capacity. You can visit his blog Takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com