News Column

Let Rhodesian Industries Collapse

June 14, 2014

Nathaniel Manheru

Acolytes of Rhodesia

I AGREE with Nadia Piffaretti, the outgoing World Bank lady, but only on one matter which she raised this week. She is right, we should not go sentimental about "our industry", which in brutal fact is Rhodesia's decrepit industrial leftover from the old days of sanctions-busting import substitution. It is an industrial complex that made all of us blacks its underpaid labourers, its servile black operatives who ironically propped the very settler politics which enslaved us. I fail to understand our uxoriousness, our doting disposition and attachment to it.

Rhodesians, wherever they are sleeping or walking, must be very happy and satisfied that theirs has been lasting influence. Maybe that is why we continue to glorify them through certain baffling rituals such as we saw a couple of weeks on Bulawayo. If Rhodesia had survived to this day - and perish the thought - how many of its current industries would still be pepped up? And with the same devotion that we show? We have become real acolytes of a dead Rhodesian shrine. Why?

Mourning the Rhodesian scrapyard

Well, simply because at the core, we have remained Rhodesian Africans. Not quite a pleasing admission, but one which has to be conceded as a precondition for our collective resurrection, then rise. Our sense of being free and sovereign has been to assign to ourselves the impossible task of reviving Rhodesian histories, outlooks, ways and methods. We have already seen this with the rituals of that Rhodesian history we crave to re-enact.

We also have already seen this through our educational curricula which remain fundamentally colonial. The industrial correlative of all this is unthinking attachment to Rhodesian technology and industrial processes and premises. And each time each of these contraptions collapse, nay die, a dirge is composed, by us. Like kitchen niggers, we mourn the death, convincing ourselves our very existence is in danger! From that decrepitude? My goodness!

Enduring legacy

Surely the Rhodesian industrial complex was merely a holding industrial economy pending the evolution of a new one for a new people inhabiting a new world? The ageless question remains one to ask why the Rhodesian industrial complex has not been revived, never why a new Zimbabwean industrial complex has not arisen on the ashes of dying or dead Rhodesia.

Instead we ride the train from Mafeking to Bulawayo, whose front is boldly inscribed "Advance Rhodesia", with an amazing sense of attachment and nostalgia! Far more than a jolly ride, it is a symbolic reaffirmation of the enduring Rhodesian legacy, both physical and mental, into Independence.

Exorcising the Rhodesian ghost

So Nadia is right, we have to get over this irrational attachment to the Rhodesia's decrepit industrial complex, indeed accept that most industries we have received from the settler era are dead, dying or must soon die. The technology is dated, the goods decidedly uncompetitive, unpolished for a punctilious world. We need a release from the old Rhodesian ghost. A release from such a planning mental block unleashes new energies in new directions, nothing of which we see presently. It would get us to cease this unthinking mouth-to-mouth tango with dead Rhodesia, keeping its corpse into our living room for eternal grief.

I have a modest opinion of Zim-Asset as a programme of national action. It is mundane, too mundane to suggest a creative national mind. But it is adequate, very adequate in its pedestrian cast. It has enough legs on which to stand, from which to spring off. You have the agricultural leg. You have the social leg. You have the infrastructural leg. You have the beneficiation or value addition leg. Legs fairly standard and conventional. But very comprehensive legs from which to found a new industrial thrust for a new, independent Zimbabwe. We just need to be creative in national planning.

New planning template

Let me illustrate, using agriculture as an example. On the one end, we have inputs which go into the sector. On the other, we have outputs which come from our agricultural exertions. In between we have the technologies which enable transformation processes of the sector.

Immediately, that implies an industrial policy: for the generation of agricultural inputs; for the production of implements which we need for agriculture; and for the processing of agricultural products for higher value. Such a systematic approach is likely to free us from Rhodesia, while motivating us to invent a new industrial proposition as a living tissue of the whole economy. We will not have to visit scrapyards, or reading from them a dissuading story of national despair.

Even when we go shopping for friends, it becomes quite clear what the basis of that friendship is going to be, industrially, technologically. And we will discover the friends we are looking for are small peoples of our globe, well away from the imperial bloc.

It should not be difficult for us to mobilise resources, mobilise friends and build institutions which play midwifery to our simple vision stemming from our national character as an agricultural economy, at least for now. From the cadavers of Rhodesia, from the Rhodesian scrapyard, we should then be able to see what to serve, what to transform, judiciously. I am more attracted to this, than this national ritual of mourning dead Rhodesia the CZI way.

Detergent warehouse

One fact we are likely to find out quite soon is that instead of concentrating on reviving the so-called private sector, which should be renamed the Rhodesian sector, we are better off focusing on the public sector, reforming it as the basis for a new economic thrust. That is what we have, what we own, indeed what we control. That, too, is what should drive 40 percent of the economy, or more accurately 90 percent of the real economy today.

Forty percent is what used to be when the Rhodesian economy twitched. Not anymore! We have no reason to expect Lever Brothers to revive this economy. Or to expect Tiny Rowland to resurrect from where he sleeps for our sake. Lever Brothers is busy pulling down its plant for relocation to Malawi, turning us into a detergent warehouse.

Public investment strategy

Equally, we will soon realise that instead of those institutions we inherited from Rhodesia, we are better served by founding new ones which help us achieve the new focus. Why, after all these years, don't we have a look-alike of South Africa'sPublic Investment Corporation which mobilises resources from pension funds for directional investments which trigger foundational activities in the economy?

We have massive savings stashed at NSSA, savings which are being frittered away on the basis of managerial whims, and not on the basis of proper, purposeful national planning. Why? Where are Zim-Asset's stellar projects to which the whole nation focuses so we rebuild self-belief in our plans? The time may have come for a projectivised approach to development where stellar projects become the focal point. Zisco, Platinum beneficiation, Kariba South, Gwayi energy project, sustainable food production, could be some of them. Just now our focus is too wide, too omnibus, only likely to thinly spread our focus and resources. We need to narrow things down, concentrate on industrial lines that buoy areas of comparative advantage. That way we will move forward, and believe this may be what the World Bank lady may have been thinking about.

The Chinese bogey

But she uttered an abomination for which I roundly condemn her. She thinks Zimbabwe is robbing from her future generations by harnessing her finite natural resources towards securitising borrowings from China. And it is clear from the tone of her warning that she is not making a general point, but warning us against hobnobbing with China. If hers was a general point, then she would have realised Zimbabwe's scions were robbed a long time ago in history, and even then not by the Chinese. She would have also realised China is insisting that revenue from the sale of resources should be what securitised loans, not actual mineral deposits which should be exploited through partnerships.

Much more, the lady should have used her placement in the World Bank to tell the world how self-serving, spiteful sanctions do limit growth prospects of victim countries in ways that get them to self-immolate out of induced desperation. It does not sound too helpful for the Word Bank to counsel starvation and death to this generation, all to avoid robbing successor generations. Where do successors come from when their forebears have perished? Icho!

This is an abridged version of Nathaniel Manheru's column for the The Herald . He can be reached at

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Source: AllAfrica

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