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Zimbabweans' views on empowerment: jobs vs. business takeovers - Briefing Paper No. 115
Eldred V. Masunungure and Heather Koga, Afrobarometer
March 28, 2013

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Two views of empowerment

A wide policy disjuncture exists both inside and outside Zimbabwe’s coalition government regarding the best way to empower the country’s citizens. Empowerment is a popular war cry among most former colonies, especially those that were under a settler regime as was the case in many Southern African countries, including Zimbabwe. The crux of the problem is how best to more evenly redistribute national wealth and resources between the former colonising minority and the indigenous majority population. In Southern Africa, the former were invariably white and the latter predominantly black. Empowerment is therefore viewed by post-colonial governments as a policy imperative in order to remedy historically rooted injustice that created racially based social and economic inequalities.

In Zimbabwe, there is remarkable policy consensus on empowering historically disadvantaged groups based on the broad-based realisation that the inherited system is unsustainable and is a sure recipe for future social and political instability. However, the policy consensus immediately breaks down with respect to methods for achieving empowerment. Two contrasting but not necessarily contradictory paradigms dominate the policy debate and the empowerment discourse. In sharply polarised Zimbabwe, the two methods take on a partisan flavour. The first is articulated and popularised by the formerly hegemonic Zimbabwe African National Unity-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party, which was the ruling regime from 1980 to 2008. The second is voiced by the two branches of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Resolving the differences is complicated by the fact that since February 2009, Zanu-PF was compelled to share power in a coalition government with the two MDCs after disputed and violent elections in 2008.

For Zanu-PF, empowerment is best achieved through compulsory takeover of foreign-owned businesses in order to benefit the indigenous black population. In pursuit of this, the then Zanu-PF dominated Parliament passed the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act (IEEA) in October 2007 which the President assented to in March 2008, just before elections. Among other things, the Act aimed to “provide for support measures for the further indigenisation of the economy; (and) to provide for support measures for the economic empowerment of indigenous Zimbabweans”. It defines an indigenous Zimbabwean as:

any person who, before the 18th April, 1980, was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race, and any descendant of such person, and includes any company, association, syndicate or partnership of which indigenous Zimbabweans form the majority of the members or hold the controlling interest.

The Act then defines indigenisation to mean “a deliberate involvement of indigenous Zimbabweans in the economic activities of the country, to which hitherto they had no access, so as to ensure the equitable ownership of the nation’s resources”. In fact, economic empowerment is the broad policy goal while indigenisation is the instrument for achieving it. Indigenisation is understood to require each non-indigenous company to dispose of 51% of its shares to black Zimbabweans. The IEEA was not implemented until early 2010.

The second empowerment paradigm advocated by the two MDC parties argues for empowerment via creating more jobs for the multitudes of unemployed Zimbabweans, especially the youths. Estimates put the national unemployment rate at over 80%, and that for youths at over 90%.

The controversy over indigenisation versus job creation has dominated the policy agenda since the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment enacted statutory instruments from January 2010 that were designed to provide the operational framework for implementing the IEEA. The controversy remains unresolved, and in fact the contestation over the most appropriate method for empowering the people has become sharper and fiercer as the country prepares for watershed elections that will end the quarrelsome and fragile coalition government. It should be noted though that since the survey was done, the Zanu-PF party has significantly shifted its posture to inject a strong dose of job creation in its economic development policy (see “Parties woo voters with job promises”, The Herald, 23 November 2012).

While politicians and others in the policy community argue about empowerment and the best means of achieving it, the opinions of ordinary Zimbabweans remain unknown. This Bulletin, based on Afrobarometer data collected in Zimbabwe in 2012, is an effort to join the debate from a public opinion perspective. The major findings show, beyond reasonable doubt, that Zimbabweans are overwhelmingly in favour of the jobs creation strategy rather than takeover of foreign-owned businesses.

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