New Zimbabwe.com columnist Psychology Maziwisa recently addressed the Centre for Public Accountability (CPA) Conference in Harare where he emphasised the crucial role that the country’s mineral wealth can play in helping end poverty. But he said it would be difficult for Zimbabwe to achieve its development objectives unless more was done curb corruption as well as ensure accountability. Below is his presentation at the conference:
Mr. Chairman, sir, for a very long time, the mining sector has been overshadowed in terms of contribution to the GDP by other sectors like agriculture, in part because Zimbabwe is principally an agrarian economy. Over the past few years, however, the mining sector has emerged as a strong contender and its contribution to our economic development can no longer be ignored. There is no question that this sector is making its mark.
When the great recession affected most parts of Europe and beyond recently, our economy was able to grow thanks in part to the availability of natural resources in Zimbabwe. In 2009 for instance, Africa’s GDP expanded by 2% while America’s dwindled by 4% and an estimated 3% for Europe. I must proudly point out that Zimbabwe’s economy grew by a staggering 9% during the same period.
These statistics tell of a country and a continent rich in natural resources. We are especially blessed here in Zimbabwe to have the Marange fields, soon to account for 25% of the world’s diamond output. Indeed we are the second largest platinum producer in the world.
All the more reason, I believe Mr. Chair, to demand that these resources be used to promote the economic and social advancement of all our people. The constitution of Zimbabwe recognises the inherent dignity of every citizen including the right to a decent standard of living and, with the vast deposits of natural resources that we have here, this should not just be possible, it should happen as a matter of course.
Mr. Chair, sir, our natural resources, if properly used, can rescue millions of Zimbabweans from extreme poverty. They can go a long way in making sure we have world-class infrastructure and that our economy grows and millions of our young citizens get the best shot at life that they deserve.
To this end, I think it’s worth acknowledging the phenomenal work that has been done by the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment in making sure that our communities benefit from the vast resources that we have in this country.
I want to commend Minister Saviour Kasukuwere for spearheading an unprecedented economic crusade which has culminated in the launch of four community share schemes so far. Zimplats pledged US$10 million to the Mhondoro-Ngezi community and has given 10% of its total stake as required by law to that community.
The Tongogara Trust came immediately after that, followed by Mimosa in Zvishavane and, most recently, Blanket Mine in Gwanda. These previously disempowered communities can now improve their standard of life, empower their youths, create employment and develop their communities. This is what can be achieved if we put our minds together and commit ourselves to the use of national resources for national purposes. It is hard yes, but it is also possible.
I am heartbroken each time I go to South Africa and see how beautiful that country is; the lovely roads they have, the stunning buildings in almost every city, the generally admirable life standards in that country. Of course it would be naïve to suppose that all of that development came about because of that country’s natural resources. Yet it cannot be denied that South Africa’s resources have played a major role in building the South Africa we all envy today.
In Zimbabwe where resources are much more enormous and much more valuable, the story is a most depressing one, however. Mr. Chair, sir, most of our buildings here are outmoded. Some of our roads have potholes the size of swimming pools.
We must pose for a moment and ask: have our natural resources contributed sufficiently to our well-being as a nation? Our economy is struggling. Millions of our people are out of work and many families are struggling just to get by. Children are dying from preventable ailments. This should leave a big mark on all of our consciences.
Of course none of us is under any illusion about the damaging and widespread nature of the illegal sanctions imposed on our country. These measures have constrained our ability to optimally utilise our resources. They have for a very long time denied us, amongst other things, the right to sell our resources freely on the global market where the best value for our resources is guaranteed.
Only recently we were fortunate enough to get the Kimberly Process to certify our diamonds in Chiadzwa as clean. Unfortunately, though, our joy was short-lived as two of our major diamond companies were put on the sanctions list by the United States of America. Needless to say, that move has had the direct and immediate consequence of depriving our budget of over half a billion dollars.
Yet we must also face the reality, the brutal fact, that some of the challenges we face come from within. To put it at its most simple, we are by and large to blame for our failure to fully enjoy the benefit of our resources. And the reason, Mr. Chair, sir, is simple: accountability is in short supply here.
Everybody knows that we are more likely to enjoy the benefits of our natural resources if our government is accountable to its people. Government, and I’m glad the very able Minister of Mines, Honourable Mpofu is here today, should do all it can to combat corruption for it is presently the greatest barrier to our prosperity as a nation.
The government of Zimbabwe needs to put corruption at the very top of its agenda and it must put measures in place that will make it much harder for officials to steal from their own people. We need to ensure that national resources are used not as a means of self-enrichment but as a way of guaranteeing broad-based economic prosperity.
But make no mistake; this is not a battle that can be fought and won by government alone. Civil society, NGO’s and other stakeholders should come together for the common good of our nation.
There is a myth that the only way to ensure government accountability is to criticise government officials at all times even in cases when they should be commended. That is a very destructive and dangerous belief.
It is destructive because it is not antagonism we need. It is dangerous because what we desperately require is partnership. We need common intent to prevail. We must have shared goals. If we split, the world will see a divided house, they will play us off and nothing but regression will come out of it.
I was most encouraged when Minister Mpofu gave the green light for civil society to tour the Marange fields not so long ago so they could see first-hand what goes on there. It was a crucial step in the right direction and that is the kind of spirit we need.
Sadly, and it pains me terribly to say this, our civil society doesn’t seem to be operating on the same page as government. Time after time, they have created fictitious tales of rights abuses in the Marange fields with the consequent effect of subverting government efforts to sell our minerals without the encumbrances that come with so-called conflict diamonds.
This is shameful behaviour which is not helping our country in any way. Where there is progress, let it be acknowledged. Civil society should put the interests of this country first. They should represent the aspirations of our people at all times.
And none of this is to say they should be any less rigorous in their demand that government be accountable and transparent. Of course we need them to continue to exercise oversight in the way government conducts its business.
The point here is that, in discharging their responsibilities as the watchdogs of our society, they should not do so in a way that is deceitful and detrimental to our prospects as a country.