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Letter from America: Why our business culture must change!

By Ken Mufuka

I think I owe Hopewell Chin’ono a goat for some advice he gave me more than a year ago, which saved me from serious intellectual embarrassment.

We must invest in our villages, and if we prosper, and continue as urbanites, we can take our children to our village chateau’s for week-ends. The land if free and by such investments, we can improve village lives while at the same time removing burdens of dependency from ourselves.

As a historian, I was surprised to find that such a scheme had been proposed by Government Chief Economist Norman Reynolds in 1984. Norman proposed something akin to village cooperatives.

A growth point (semi-city) would provide all the inputs and supervision required, including banking. This scheme was rejected by Robert Mugabe because it would divorce villagers from dependence on ZANU-PF.

One of Mugabe’s “regacies” was the overwhelming sense by Zimbabweans of dependency on government or foreign donors. Therefore village life requires a major recalibration of the mind-set. I was a board member for the Lutheran Federation many years ago.

On one of our trips to a formerly successful horticultural project, we found that members of the association had been out of work for three months, June to August, the peak season for winter crops.

“The pump died and we were waiting for you to take it for repairs.” They said. No one had bothered to inform us and so the growing season (winter) had passed by.  When I realized that the members regarded it as our duty to repair their machine, my heart almost “died” as well.

While life was good, nobody kept a record of incomes generated by the project, and the following is the mother of all sins. Members ignored our advice that they set aside ten percent of their incomes (savings) for rainy days.

Sociologists have no sympathy for people like us, do-gooders. By helping this village find a different direction from their past, they had become dependent on us, mentally and materially.

But my brother will cry when he hears another story in my repertoire. When I left home, I asked a friend of mine, who was city administrator to manage a property investment I had made. After a year, and numerous pleas on my part, he showed no interest in accounting for the surplus. His collection fees were pegged at ten percent.

When I sent an investigator, he suggested that if I allowed him a share in the business, it might jerk his interest. Since my investment was $100 000, I suggested a share of ten percent or $10 000.

Hold your breath. Here is an educated man, who did not know that a partnership is predicated on the amount of capitalization each partner brings to the plate.  There is a tradition in Zimbabwe that allows politicians to own shares in businesses where they have not contributed a penny.

My information is that this “political arrangement” is what has brought former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko into conflict with his Botswana partners. Mphoko was recruited by Botswana investors as a front and a “protection shield” from volatile political storms in Zimbabwe. Court papers indicate that Mphoko was posturing as a majority shareholder in the company, “Choppies” (52percent) whereas he had contributed less than seven percent in capital funds.

This custom has been the ruin of many businesses in Zimbabwe. Mphoko, if we are to believe his former partners, was “eating for free.”

Professor Stanlake Samkange was like a big brother to me. On one of his journeys to the farm, he sought my companionship. “I want somebody to talk to while I drive,” he said. When we arrived, I was surprised that he had a large parcel containing sugar, meat, flour, tea and some edibles. He said to me: “Ken, let me introduce you to my mismanager.” The terminilogy surpised me and I asked for an explanation.

Here we are, coming from Harare, we should be expecting that the manager would have goat meat, one or two chickens and perhaps even a bag of maize meal. Yes, I remember, Samkanage had remembered to bring a bag of ngwerevere maize meal as well.

He also explained to me that he had a brother who had abandoned his wife and children and went to Zambia. I saw him write two checks for Chishawasha High School.

I am in agreement with Hopewell in that unless we take a serious commercial attitude of the rural land mass, we will continue to ignore a resource that is free for us to use. A factory farm could become a lucrative business since Sandringham Methodist Boarding School was buying its supplies from Harare Musika.

The manager was by no means an ignoramus. He had a high school certificate and surely could have taken some horticultural lessons at Gwebi College for free.

If you do not cry or laugh at the following story, you are not human. I had a block of offices in Masvingo. When I visited I found that one of the offices had been unoccupied for more than a year. I asked the building inspector if we could see inside. He did not have a key.

When we broke the lock to the office, we found that the last occupant had left all his rubbish everywhere. The place was not cleaned. The town council said they were owed some large sum for electricity. “How on earth can you advertise a flat like this and hope to get positive results?” I asked.

The inspector had two graduate degrees, one in management. How on earth was this brother to be paid if he did not make sure the offices were occupied and rent generating? I went into a corner, cried and prayed the prayer of Job the Uzite. “I came into this world with nothing. I will leave with nothing. Jehovah must be praised.”

One of Robert Mugabe’s “regacies” is converting a self-sufficient nation into a nation of beggars and donor dependents when resources are right under their noses.

The brothers are geniuses. I have seen Zimbabweans with so many degrees (nyembe) that some of them have to attach them to their behinds for lack of space. In international fora (forums) they cut a figure and shine, but Zimbabwe remains a hell hole (Trump’s words). They have a reputation as hard workers abroad, but once they return home, it is like putting fish back in water.

In the recent United Nations Conference in New York, my white informants marveled at the display of economic mastery displayed by Zimbabweans. But, my informers told me mysterious figures.

One of the recurrent urgent import matrices is automobile spare parts. This issue if closely related to horrendous car accidents, which in turn are closely related to indifferent state of car tires and brakes. Why other to say what everybody knows-that insurance premiums are the highest in Africa. These awesome Zimbabwean geniuses, my white informants whispered to me in private, have not grasped a simple truth that if they repaired their roads, they would cut this carnage in half.

(Ken Mufuka (with Cyril Zenda) spent ten years researching for Life and Times of Robert Mugabe: Dream Betrayed (Innov Bookshops)