Mugabe + Private Business’ New(ish) Interface: Collusion, Carrots and Elections

Opinion

 *By Takura Zhangazha

After a hiatus of at least ten years, Zimbabwe’s government recently had what the state media dubbed an historic interface with business leaders/representatives.  From the follow up media coverage one of the most surprising revelations of this meeting was by President Mugabe.

He indirectly disclosed that he was an ardent supporter/follower of former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies.  In fact he praised her,in his own words,   “There was great improvement, the economy of Britain started looking up, Margaret Thatcher had succeeded.  I am not sure if Reagan succeeded on the American front.”

Tellingly Mugabe said these words where he was making reference to state owned companies and what he considers their inefficiency and corruption.  He went on to call for some of them to be thrown into coffins and be buried ‘with the words rest in peace’.  

On the face of it this would be vintage Mugabe trying to get some sound bites out there.  To focus on that would however be to miss the point. 

Looking closer at his comments and the context in which he made them, Mugabe was probably making an offer that private capital/business cannot refuse.  Especially on the eve of an election year.  

In mentioning Thatcher and Reagan favourably in one sentence, Mugabe is essentially indicating to Zimbabwean private capital that he is game for the privatisation of state owned companies/enterprises.  As did the two leaders of the United Kingdom and the United States of America in the mid-80s with their rapid and historically unparalleled embrace of free market economics which we now refer to as neo-liberalism.  And if there were any doubters as to Mugabe’s deep seated ideological grounding, look no further thanThatcherism and Reagonomics with a sprinkling of  some radical African nationalism.  

Not that the Zimbabwean government has come late into the neo-liberal game.  It did so with the Economic Structural Adjustment programme and has not looked back.  And this was implemented at the beginning of the end of Thatcher and Reagan’s controversial economic reign in their aforementioned respective countries. 

The only difference with then and now is that Mugabe had become more radical in his black nationalism, having forcibly repossessed vast tracts of land (dubbed the 3rd Chimurenga) from white farmers at the turn of the century. Both as an election survival strategy as well as a claim to fulfilling a key objective of the liberation struggle. 

Except that this appears not to have been done for the primary purpose of broad socio-economic justice and restitution but within the ambit of a now apparent high regard for neo-liberal economics. 

To explain this point further is to point out that for all the assumed radical nationalism that was the fast track land reform programme, the governments’ intention was never to make the same a revolutionary act. Either in distributive terms or on clear ideological grounding that systematically takes the country’s economy forward on behalf of the many.

With hindsight and on the basis of the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zimasset) neo-liberal thrust around the ‘ease of doing business, Mugabe is now remaining true to capitalist and neo-liberal ideological form.  

However, the most interesting element of this state ‘interface’ with business is probably its timing.  Factually it is toward the end of this government’s tenure and the political intention,beyond a sharing of the spoils with private capital, is to retain  power in 2018.

Reading between the lines the Mugabe government and ruling party are probably angling for the support of business in next year’s harmonised elections. Not because they never had it.  There have been a number of direct and indirect donations from private capital to Zanu Pf’s electoral campaigns.  The point may however be to preempt private capital’s support for the opposition and make it clear to the same that Zanu Pf  is the only game in town. 

And in order to make this evidently clear there is the subtle offer of state capital such as parastatals to, you guessed it,  private capital. But even beyond these parastatals there is other state capital in the form of land and/or infrastructure investment tenders.  Hence Mugabe’s exhortation that private capital, again in his own words, ‘ must not disentangle itself from Government’. 

In reality the latter statement essentially means that as long as private capital endears itself to the ruling establishment, the strongly hinted promise is that its profit interests are protected.  At least going forward and with elections in mind.

So the collusion between the state and private capital is likely to continue under a Zanu Pf government if it wins in 2018. A collusion that will see the ruling party retaining power and influence while private capital is left to pursue profit not only via the privatisation of state capital (in all its forms) but also expand its already considerable private wealth. Not for the many. But for the already rich few. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

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