The indigenization and empowerment discourse has been characterised by policy discord and ambiguity within government. This is more glaring in the public spats between the Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono and Minister of Youth Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, Saviour Kasukuwere and of late Education Minister David Coltart.It is the contention of this paper that the nature, form and content of the transformation pushed Gono and Kasukuwere are too limited.
Chief among the weaknesses of the approaches of the models proposed by the two are (i) both approaches treat the question of transformation as an event/project, (ii) elite targeted and thus marginalizes the underprivileged classes, (iii) obsession with equity and ignore the aspect of empowerment and (iv) informed by plunder and greed. Transformation is (i) a process and should be viewed as a package, (ii) should also target the underprivileged classes, (iii) should seek to harness entrepreneurship, and (iv) create more wealth and opportunities for the nation.
The rationale of indigenisation and economic empowerment lies in historical justice issues and the need to create social cohesion, but the model pushed by Minister Kasukuwere has been more obsessed by equity and at the same time hollow on the mechanics of share transfer. The question it has failed to answer are who does it really target and how is it done? There policy discord and disillusionment in government. Obsession with equity/ownership negates the aspect of empowerment.
Whilst equity maybe achieved, wisdom from nations that have successfully transformed their economies indicate that ownership without capacity is hollow. Dr Mahathir Mohammed (former Prime Minister of Malaysia) in a Foreword of Duma Gqubule’s book Making Mistakes, Righting Wrongs: Insights into Black Economic Empowerment, in reference to South Africa warns that, “The New Economic Policy and affirmative action plan have provided the opportunities. However without the right value system, the training and consequent growth of self-confidence and even in the best of system and with the best of intentions will not empower the indigenous people”. It therefore has to be understood that the question of indigenisation and economic empowerment are a package that needs to look beyond the question of just Africanising the corporate sector. There is also the question of value system, training and business culture that needs to be looked into if indigenisation is to be a success. This calls for an integrated approach that has to include academic and research institutions, business and civil society.
Developing winning and transformative policies is process that requires heavy investment in thought, national cohesion, collaboration and coordinating. Indigenisation should thus not be about cutting and dishing the cake, but creating more, bigger cakes. Regrettably it seems like we are failing to learn from history and the malaise in Chiadzwa and Chimanimani where the Chinese and Russians now own most of the diamonds through various syndicates whilst the indigenous communities remain marginalized. For instance in Chiadzwa, the Chinese company Anjin owns close to 90% of the diamond operations despite that the official government position says that diamond mining is a 50/50 venture. There is need to push for indigenisation that seeks to harness and nature entrepreneurial spirit of those that aspire to go into business.
Thabo Mbeki in his State of the Nation Address of February 2005, argued that; “South Africa’s collective future depends on the ability of all our people to understand that the success of black South Africa is conditional on the success of white South Africa, and that the success of white South Africa is conditional on the success of black South Africa”. Similarly this has much semblance of truth for Zimbabwe that the success of economic reform is intricately and symbiotically linked to all the races in it. In a bid to transform the Malaysian economy and increase the stake of indigenes Dr Mohammed posed that, “Can indigenous Malaysians acquire the work ethics of the Koreans, Japanese and Chinese?” His answer was, “yes, they can if they are prepared to apply themselves diligently to whatever they are doing or wish to do.” This was achieved through (i) putting a premium to education and skills training, with 25% of the national budget being allocated to education and training (ii) skills training provided at all levels (iii) encouraging indigenous people to change their work culture through work camps and teaching of entrepreneurial values and skills. These lessons from Malaysia clearly show that transformation has to be a package that goes beyond just targeting equity.
Similarly Singapore offers similar lessons to Zimbabwe. According to Lee Kim Yuan its founding president, after gaining independence they had national dialogue and set a vision on how to transform their country from a third world to a developed nation. They identified a niche which they could tap into. One key niche was within the world financial system, where they discovered that there was an 8 hour gap where the world financial system did not operate. They worked around the cloak to harness this opportunity and occupied that gap. This was complemented by various systems of modernizing Singapore, heavy investment in education, courting foreign direct investment and promoting a new culture and dedicated leadership. Today Singapore is a developed nation and on of the key epicentres of the Global Financial System.
Indigenization and empowerment are complex matters that need crafty policy makers and must go beyond half-baked approaches. There is also need for national dialogue to set clear targets and goals with set time frames that may be evaluated and re-adjusted to stay in line with national priorities and objectives. More so the how part of it has to be spelt out clearly, and at the same time provide adequate support and incubation.
Government needs to realise the value of civil society, private sector, university institutions and research institutions in crafting a comprehensive indigenisation process as well investing in new thought leadership. There is need for the government to revisit the question of transformation, learn from its past mistakes and invest in creative thinking that unlocks value and potential.
Tamuka Charles Chirimambowa (Political Economist)