WE COMMEMORATED the life of Steve Bantu Biko – that icon of black consciousness and self-reliance – this week in South Africa. He was only 31 when he died in 1977, yet his thinking still find relevance in our communities today.
A lot of us as black communities are still looking outside instead of inside of us for solutions to the problems that bedevil our communities.
This second week of September 2012, one of our mkhenyanas, Jabulani, an engineer in the build environment with a right of permanent stay in the UK, relocates back to Zimbabwe after taking a bold decision resigning his UK job. When we discussed his decision over the phone when he was winding down, I felt that it was really bold. He remarked that he owed it himself to create his own entrepreneurial space in the country of his birth rather than continually work on other people’s dreams.
A few years ago, our company did a study on the massive brain drain that Zimbabwe suffered over the years and the consequences thereof. Jabu is one of the few professionals who have started trickling back home, and Zimbabwe needs people like him to rebuild its infrastructure. The big question is: will these returnees stay, particularly those who have stayed in places where the electricity always comes on when you flick the switch and the water always flows when you open the tap? The trick is to make them stakeholders and not spectators in the infrastructural revival.
When I was in Zimbabwe, I travelled twice on Mazowe road driving to Bindura. I could not help but notice the large and beautifully constructed new complex which I now know is the new $100 million National Defence College built by the Chinese construction company, Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company.
I also drove in the middle of the night along Bulawayo road near the National Sports Stadium where I was so excited, to borrow Simba Makoni’s last campaign slogan, “Zimbabwe was working again” right into the middle of the night building a large complex under flood lights. I was almost jumping up and down with delight when one of my hosts pricked my balloon by correcting the slogan to say “Er it was more like China was working again in Zimbabwe!”
Do we know what percentage of that US$100 million was spent on local contractors or do we even care? Did someone somewhere even bother to measure? We are now 32 years into our independence, how many entrepreneurs of national stature have we created in this space in Zimbabwe?
Earlier this year, some young Bulawayo-born men who have built what is now more than a billion rand construction company sponsored a Zimbabwe investment mission dinner in South Africa. My question is: does our economy provide space for local companies like this to bloom without the need for a kickback to anyone? Do Zimbabwean-born entrepreneurs get any preferential treatment in any large scale project?
Twenty years ago, I was working for a chemical manufacturing company in Harare. Back then, we were one of the large manufacturers of chemicals including water treatment chemicals and had a market that stretched from Zimbabwe to Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia. We did not just sell chemicals to the City of Harare. The products were promoted by a technical representative, who had been natured in our company and understood the attributes of the product.
Each time we were given a contract to supply chemicals to the City of Harare, the technical team from the City of Harare would come to the plant and we would take them through the manufacturing process for them to get a full appreciation of how the product worked.
I understand City of Harare currently spends around $3 million monthly on chemicals but are they spending it strategically? I looked at the results of the recently awarded tenders for water treatment chemicals in Harare and could not help but ask if any of these companies actually make these chemicals? They all looked like what we used to call briefcase companies who will be queuing here in South Africa at a manufacturer in Chloorkop before loading these chemicals at the back of a Marsmery bus trailer for delivery.
It seems we are expecting too much from the new councillors that democracy brought us to fully comprehend these technical processes. A large number may just be glad to get on to the food chain with their first order of business being to allocate stands to themselves. They just look at cost and to them 63c a kilogramme is better than 67c which may be an outcome of more domestic value addition.
Minister Elton Mangoma is one of the leaders I have tremendous respect for and if I may be allowed to wade into the fuel blending debate which was raging when I was visiting Zimbabwe. The process that brought that Chisumbanje ethanol project may be as murky as they come, but so was the process of distributing farm equipment by the Reserve Bank. This project produces anhydrous ethanol using Brazilian imported technology which can easily be blended into fuel without any adjustment really appeals to the chemist in me.
Compulsory blending even at 10%, would allow us to leap frog into one of the few countries that implements green fuel strategies on a large scale. I would not shut down this particular project but would sanitise it and bring it in line with the laws of Zimbabwe.
For a start, the project is built on state land and I would ensure that 51% of the project belongs to the people of Zimbabwe not a few individuals.
Anything which takes away income from Middle East oil sheikhs or Iran and brings it back to Zimbabwe is welcome and 4,500 jobs in a country where unemployment is rife is nothing to frown upon. Instead of trying to make wholesale removals of the “pandongapo” villagers to make room for the project, I would ensure the poor villagers are given 5 hectare irrigated plots where at least 3 hectares would be for the production of the cane feedstock required by the project. It could be a huge empowerment exercise for these villagers.
We can grow as a country if we start to allow local entrepreneurs to bloom and blossom with the state as a catalyst. As they prosper the country will prosper along with them but it always start with creating the space for them to do so.
Tafirenyika L. Makunike is the chairman and founder of Nepachem cc (www.nepachem.co.za), an enterprise development and consulting company. He writes in his personal capacity