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need each other - Interview with "retired idealist" Nigel
Makoni Muchemwa, Kubatana.net
March 18, 2011
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Mugamu is an entrepreneur and blogger. He describes himself as "'a
retired idealist' who has been smacked around a few times
by the reality of life". Nigel is a finance professional,
and has been writing for several years. His articles, which contribute
to the discourse on development in Africa and Zimbabwe, have been
published on several websites and publications in Australia and
the UK. He also maintains his own blog.
did you come back to Zimbabwe?
I don't have to worry about what visa I am on to stay in this
country. I have an emotional attachment to this country; it's
what has made me who I am.
have your perceptions of Zimbabwe changed since you came back?
I'm lucky because I walked into a job, and it's a business
that my family owns. I don't look at Zimbabwe through a political
lens all the time, I'm thinking in terms of industry and commerce.
I don't look at Zimbabwe the way that most people do . . .
maybe there's something wrong with me. We opened a bookshop
in the middle of December, and we've got five staff that work
in the shop and they in turn have families that they support. So
that's how I look at Zimbabwe now. When you talk to people
at home, they're not worried about whether Mugabe's
in the country, and whether Tsvangirai is in the country most people
are just thinking, 'it's Easter next month, I need to
go kumusha and I need to save xyz for bus fare and maybe if I can
sneak in a few days before and after that would be great'.
Being in business
you're always going to take into account the political landscape.
I'm not saying I've completely ditched it, but I don't
focus on it. I focus on getting more customers, why is there a bookshop
over there, what are they doing differently. I think we have over
politicised things. When you hear stories of the government helping
people in a particular area with maize and seed and turning that,
I mean someone just wants seed to sustain themselves, and turning
that into 'well actually which party do you support?'
I have a problem with that. And then of course I've got a
lot of friends in the Diaspora who say things like 'I won't
return to Zimbabwe until Mugabe dies'. You can't live
your life that way. I've come home and I don't see any
one who is living that way. You don't postpone. That's
an issue I think. When I was on that side of the fence, there might
have be a little skirmish in Harare and then the problem is when
the story is being told over there: Harare is on fire. And I'd
pick up the phone and call my parents asking if they're ok.
is the biggest challenge that you feel people face when establishing
It's interesting because you've got these concepts that
you've learnt, but then it doesn't work like that. Similarly
business in Germany is different to business in France. (I have
to teach myself that what happens in the book isn't always
applicable in real life.) In my experience, and I've spoken
to a number of people who are starting various projects, capital
is something that hinders some of these projects. In our own experience
(establishing a travel business) the perception, I mean, how do
you sell Zimbabwe to some French guy, because all they seem to see
on Sky News and BBC is political violence etc.
do you think the government can make it easier and help the formalisation
of informal businesses?
There are a number of things. My view is that government is there
to regulate. If you look at the UK, who actually runs that country,
it's not government, it's business. We've got
a situation here where for many, many years, like when I was growing
up; government did a lot of things for people. So we've gotten
used to that, it's almost like we expect them to help. The
last decade or so has taught us that government can't always
provide. How can they help? When you want to register a business,
lets make it easier so it doesn't take six weeks. Small things
like if you want to run your own business as a sole trader, you
don't have to register, you can go and apply for a license,
and now you're registered. Now we know, for example that there's
a person called Sam who's a builder. How do you tax Sam? There's
a minimum amount that he has to pay. And if Sam can't pay
that then he has to prove it. But at least we're getting some
sort of revenue. We shouldn't criminalize certain things -
that's how the black market works. Government also needs to
stop certain rhetoric that goes against what they're trying
to do. It confuses people. For example the empowerment laws. You
can't say 51% and then 3 months later scrap the regulations
in order to do a consultation. That scares a lot of people from
even thinking about Zimbabwe.
do you think is the key to fulfilling the country's development
We need each other. The government needs SMEs and large business
to pay taxes to provide social services. Those social services provide
jobs for mum and dad, who pay school fees for their children. The
children then become educated and become like you and I (productive
members of society). When I look at Zimbabwe, it's pretty
much like how Biti said it would be a few years ago, 85% at the
bottom, 12% in the middle and then 3% at the top. In this country
we have a small middle class, but it's the 85% that I think
about, and those 85% are the workers. NIPC says you pay your gardener
this much, and then you've got to sit there and say 'morally,
does it make sense to pay this person this much and expect them
to live? And expect them to pay school fees'. We, the people
who have the maids and so on, need to make a decision to pay them
more and help them with the school, we've got to help bridge
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