THE search for the root causes of the Zimbabwean political and economic crisis will be a subject for debate in the years to come.
However, what is clear today is that President Robert Mugabe has failed to democratise the Rhodesian settler capitalist formation as admitted by George Charamba in his weekly column under the pseudo name, Nathaniel Manheru, published by the Herald last Saturday under the title: “MDCs: Talks to nowhere”.
Charamba concedes that while Zimbabwe is not starving, it faces an escalated struggle against white industrial and merchant power that has decided to withhold production and to boycott supply. He goes on further to state as fact that white-owned business interests have decided to boycott the market in a price dispute with government.
Given Charamba’s role in the government, it is important that his views are taken seriously as they are not only informed but they have a material bearing on policy making. Charamba concludes that the empty supermarket shelves is a direct consequence of the treacherous abuse of white power. In his words, those who wield that power deliberately decided to starve the market of select goods for which prices were determined by government.
He then states that: “The empty shelves which the Western media have been showing would have been where those goods would have been seating but for the boycott. The full shelves which the propaganda cameras are too shy to acknowledge are full of goods whose prices are uncontrolled. It is a political struggle over who the boss is. And to the extent that we are dealing with two contesting power points – one Rhodesian and residual; the other African and ascending – it is clear this is a fight for real mastery, with Zimbabwe poised between full independence and neo-colonialism as the only two possible outcomes.
“The power is not in the supermarket shelves; it resides with the grower on the land. That grower is predominantly Zanu-PF. The trouble is Zanu PF often lives with unrealised power. For far too long, we have been minors in this economy whose workings we have never grasped, let alone tackled. The party must now use its countryside power to set new rules and ethics in the economy. That should be the direction.”
If this was a confession, I have no doubt that President Mugabe would resign from office for having lived for 27 years in the people’s house, State House, paying no rent with unrealised power. No explanation is provided by Charamba as to precisely why Zimbabweans should expect Zanu PF to use the power that it failed to use for 27 years in the next administration. Zanu PF had 27 years of unfettered control of state power with no visible opposition and yet it now wishes people to believe that it has been a minor in the economy whose workings it never grasped, let alone tackled.
What are the implications of Charamba’s honest admission of the policy bankruptcy that has underpinned the post-colonial state on the economic and political challenges facing Zimbabwe? If the government accepts that it has lived in the shadows of a sophisticated Rhodesian and settler economic model whose inner workings it has failed to grasp and yet the whole value proposition of independence has been underpinned by production and finance controlled by settler capital, it is important to interrogate the proposition that Rhodesia never really died.
If Rhodesia is alive and well today, as accepted by Charamba, what has the government been doing for the last 27 years? Who should be held culpable for non-delivery and failure to democratise the economy?
The critical challenge of the post-colonial state was to extend the gains of the civil rights movement to the economy and is so doing deal squarely with the colonially induced poverty of the majority of the population. Charamba accepts that Zimbabwean supermarket shelves are regrettably controlled by enemies of the state.
While the government would like the world and the Zimbabwean public to believe that the root of the crisis lies in the treacherous association between the MDC and settler capital, it is evident from Charamba’s confession that, indeed, the Zimbabwean appetite has been fed by Rhodesian values and products even under Mugabe’s watch.
This raises the question about the relationship between Zanu PF and settler capital. Could it be the case that if settler capital had not aligned itself with proponents of regime change; the status quo ante could have continued without any policy shift on indigenisation and empowerment issues?
Having accepted that Zanu PF had no program of redressing the inherited Rhodesian dual economic structure that has thrived and entrenched itself more under Mugabe’s watch, Charamba then proposes that the party must now use its countryside power to set new rules and ethics in the economy.
Why should the party resort to using the rural poor to assert its values and way of life on the economy as a substitute for making the hard policy choices required for any well functioning economic system? Is it the direction that Zimbabwe wants or deserves? Can any rational person trust a rider that has been on the saddle for 27 years and led the country nowhere, slowly to have the courage and wisdom to do everything that he has failed to do when he was not under any pressure?
In as much as Charamba has criticised the MDC for lacking the vision to transform Zimbabwe, it is important that he is consistent in his critical analysis of Zanu PF’s rule. It is common cause that no-one in the opposition has been privileged to be in any leadership position in government since independence.
When one critically examines what has been sustaining the Mugabe regime, it is evident that settler capital was the key and yet no-one has alleged that Mugabe was a puppet of the Rhodesians. However, the import of what Charamba is saying above is that Mugabe has never been in control of the economic pulse of the nation.
The Rhodesian economic system still remains as robust as it was during the colonial era. The farms have been alienated from settler control and yet the challenge of food security has become more acute after the land reform program confirming that Rhodesia was feeding Zimbabwe for as long as Rhodesian accepted that Zanu PF would be in government and not in power. The way of life that informed the Rhodesian system is diametrically opposed to what Mugabe stands for i.e. socialism and yet the two have co-existed comfortably until settler farmers made the mistake of poking their noses into who should be in government.
The world has watched with mixed feelings the unfolding land reclamation in Zimbabwe and it is true that the last 7 years have seen fundamental changes in the ownership of land. Many white farmers have been forced to change residential addresses but unfortunately many have seen through the political context of the reforms to the extent that they have not taken the route that many black Zimbabweans have taken to run away from the challenge.
In fact, I was not surprised when I met four former white farmers two weeks ago who were grateful that Mugabe had removed them from the land because they are now making more money as miners and traders to the extent that they would not even contemplate leaving Zimbabwe. In fact, they pointed out that they would never again get involved in black politics. They have learnt their lessons. They reckon that Rhodesia would have been alive and well had they accepted that the role of black under Mugabe was meant to keep them outside the economy while ensuring that Zanu PF would govern for their interests.
It was pointed out to me that even after the land reform program, Mugabe has substantially no problem with accommodating Rhodesian and foreign control of the economy as long as they can keep out of politics. It has also been highlighted that the victims of Mugabe over the last 27 years have largely been black. In fact, the majority of the businessmen arrested were black and Mugabe has involuntarily externalized black businesspersons than whites. In fact, many white businessmen are more optimistic about the future of Zimbabwe under Mugabe than under any other leader.
Only last week Meikles Africa, Kingdom and Tanganda proposed a merger that the Herald described as a “marriage made in heaven”. But what are the origins of Meikles Africa? The same article was kind enough to provide a brief background of the origins of the Meikles Group. Meikles is listed in London as well as in Zimbabwe. Its role in the colonial state is well established and respected as its role in the post-colonial state.
Meikles is the largest shareholder in both Tanganda and Kingdom. In Tanganda, the hotel group holds a controlling 44 percent stake and has been the biggest shareholder since 1943, thanks to existing family ties between Meikles founder, Thomas Meikle and Tanganda founder Florence Phillips. In Kingdom, Meikles became a strategic partner in 1999 with the acquisition of a 25 percent stake in the banking group.
Meikles has since raised its shareholding to 36 percent in KFHL. In fact, Kingdom has benefited significantly from its relationship with Meikles.
The Meikles story began in 1868 and over a hundred years later, the empire that was built by a settler family is now a multi-billion-dollar enterprise with tentacles in the entire economy. The government of Zimbabwe approved the external listing of the company. The largest tea plantations in the country are controlled by the group notwithstanding the land reform program.
The Meikles group outlived British control of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and has co-existed and prospered under a so-called Marxist regime. It would not be expected for such a company to be seen advocating any regime change. The government has already used us to demonstrate the futility of being critical of the policy bankruptcy that Charamba eloquently pointed out in his column.
To the extent that they key economic decisions in Zimbabwe continue to be made by persons whose interests many not be aligned with the majority of Zimbabweans, the prospect of any regime change are remote. The poor will play a convenient role in keeping the business sector in check and the RBZ will do its part in monitoring the political behavior of this important class and rewarding them with price increases in return for compliance.
The economy will continue to be controlled by the nameless and politically voiceless Rhodesian construction while blacks will fight for the control of a fast crumpling state system underpinned by hopelessness and poverty for the majority unless Charamba’s message is digested in its full context.
Rhodesia is still in control of not only the shelf spaces but has the wherewithal to re-invent Mugabe if only he understands that white Rhodesians may not be opposed to African dictatorship as long as the victims are black. Under Rhodesia, capitalism was for whites with zero tolerance on black capital formation. For the last 27 years, the modus operandi has been largely the same with marginally better tolerance on black capital formation.