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The Indigenisation Mirage: Alex Magaisa

By Alex T. Magaisa

The harsh exchange reported between Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Indigenisation and Empowerment, Justice Wadyajena, is yet another reminder of the mirage of indigenisation and the arrogance that accompanies the conduct of governmental business.

Former Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere
Former Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere

For years, Zanu PF has touted land reform, indigenisation and lately, beneficiation as their flagship policies. All  are grounded in the reasonably-couched language of social justice and fairness. In Kasukuwere, the policy of indigenisation had a combative and abrasive advocate.

During his tenure, took indigenisation to the top of the political agenda and it served Zanu PF well. It sounded well to most local ears but was disturbing to foreign investors. Under indigenisation, foreigners were supposed to give up at least 51% of ownership of big business operating in Zimbabwe.

The philosophy behind it is hard to fault. The idea of locals benefiting from resources in their areas makes sense to anyone who cares about social justice and the need to protect the vulnerable against the aggressive nature of global capitalism. It is also a principle captured in the celebrated Convention on Biodiversity, signed at Rio in 1992 – locals must benefit from their resources.

It is also an idea that was included in the new constitution. The national objective on national development, in s. 13(4) of the constitution provides that, “The State must ensure that local communities benefit from the resources in their areas”.

Indeed, Zimbabwe is not the only country that has policies designed to protect local interests in this way. In 2009, Indonesia passed a new mining law, banning the export of unprocessed minerals after January 2014. It requires mining companies to process and refine raw minerals in Indonesia.

The law also requires foreign shareholders in mining to divest shares in their businesses in order to achieve majority Indonesian ownership within 10 years from the commencement of commercial production.

All this is part of a narrative of “resource nationalism” which is popular in resource-rich nations of the Global South, which for years have exported cheap raw materials, only to pay steep prices importing finished products made from those materials. Resource nationalism is meant to counter this exploitation.

During his tenure as Minister of Youth, Indigenisation and Empowerment, Kasukuwere was its great apostle and exponent. His aggressive style made it a central theme of the Zanu PF narrative in the run-up to the 2013 elections. It became an important campaign tool.

A number of community-share ownership schemes were launched amid great fanfare. He gave ultimatums in various areas, including finance, where he clashed with the then Governor of the central bank, Dr Gideon Gono. In the end, the policy was felt the most in the mining industry. The flagship deals involved platinum and diamond mining companies or so the nation was told.

But a few weeks ago, during a hearing of the Parliamentary Committee on Indigenisation, it emerged that only one of the deals that were touted by the Government had materialised. This was confirmed at the hearing by the head of Brainworks Capital, the company that was engaged by the Indigenisation Ministry to advise on and negotiate the indigenisation deals. All others, amounting to $1 billion had apparently been abandoned.

It also emerged that Brainworks Capital was engaged by the Ministry without following the rules of public procurement – it did not go to tender, signalling potential corruption in the award of the deal with would yield a substantial amount in fees.

One of the most glaring examples of the deception is the community-share ownership scheme linked to the Marange diamond fields. In 2013, President Mugabe was paraded on national media holding a $50 million cheque, representing the contributions made by the 5 diamond companies operating in the mining fields. It was supposed to benefit the local communities around Marange. But as it turns out, this was a real dummy. It was all a lie.

When the diamond mining bosses appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Indigenisation, they denied that they had ever made pledges of $10 million each to the community share-ownership scheme’s fund. The then Governor of Manicaland, Christopher Mushohwe was implicated in those murky dealings around the Marange diamond fields, with allegations that he had directed funds to be paid into a personal account.

Overall, he gave unconvincing responses when grilled by the same Parliamentary Committee. Ironically, when President Mugabe reshuffled his Cabinet earlier this year, Mushohwe was elevated from Minister of State for Manicaland Province to become Minister of Indigenisation!

Much earlier, when Mushohwe was grilled, the Parliamentary Committee on Indigenisation also called Saviour Kasuwere in his capacity as former Minister of Indigenisation. Kasukuwere was reported to have declined on the basis that he was no longer the responsible Minister.

At the time, Francis Nhema, now deposed, was the Minister of Indigenisation. Kasukuwere’s stance was wrongly backed by the then Clerk of Parliament, Austin Zvoma. At the time, I wrote that both Kasukuwere and Zvoma were wrong. The new constitution makes it clear in s. 107(2) that:

“Every Vice-President, Minister and Deputy Minister must attend Parliament and parliamentary committees in order to answer questions concerning matters for which he or she is collectively or individually responsible”.

The provision imposes a mandatory obligation on Vice Presidents and Ministers to attend Parliament or its committees to respond to any questions. They do not have the option of refusing to attend.

They cannot say, as Kasukuwere and Zvoma said at the time that he is not responsible for that Ministry because the principle of collective responsibility applies, too. We are pleased, therefore, to see that sense eventually prevailed, and that Minister Kasukuwere attended the Parliamentary Committee’s hearing. He should have done so a long time ago.

The harsh exchange between the Minister and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee suggests a bad relationship between the two men.  The Minister seems to think the Chairman is driving a personal agenda. For his part, the Chairman is adamant that he is only performing his job.

Beyond that, the way it’s going, this will be interpreted as a sub-plot to the succession drama in Zanu PF. Wadyajena is said to be a close associate of Vice President Mnangagwa and this will be seen as yet another move to squeeze Kasukuwere in the battle to succeed President Mugabe.

But this succession narrative will obscure what should be an important investigation into an issue of national significance. What really happened to the indigenisation deals? Why were they abandoned? What happened to the $10 million pledges? Who is telling the truth – the mining bosses who are saying they never made the pledge, or Minister Kasukuwere who is saying they did?

Are there rent-seekers who might have prejudiced the nation and the local communities by extracting ‘rents’ from the mining companies? Why was Brainworks engaged without going to tender? How much did they earn from the work they did on behalf of the Ministry? Who are the real beneficial owners of Brainworks Capital? What else has it done for and on behalf of the government?

All these are crucial questions that demand answers. The Parliamentary Committee on Indigenisation has a lot of work on its hands. They have been carrying on these hearings for more than a year now. There is a lot that seems rotten in this whole package.

There are too many skeletons in the closet and soon enough they might begin to talk.  For its part the Parliamentary Committee must persist with its enquiry. That is exactly what Parliament should be doing. That is its constitutional role – bringing Government to account. No-one should feel offended. We often criticise MPs for sleeping on the job. They must earn their keep.

Alex Magaisa can be reached on [email protected] . This article was first published on AlexMagaisa.com