When a nation falls apart

HARARE - In 1958, Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe’s book: Things Fall Apart was published and little did he know that in 2013 the words in the book: “When things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” would be used to describe the constitutional challenges that Zimbabwe faces after 33 years of independence.

 The revolution promised to move the country from an undemocratic and unequal society to a more democratic and prosperous one. It promised a constitutional order that protected not the strongest but the weakest.
Furthermore, it promised a separation of powers to ensure checks and balances required to underpin a constitutional democracy would be in place.

 The indigenisation programme was never meant to be a proxy for nationalisation.

The call for the levelling of the economic playing field was targeted and specific to remedy a historical injury and less to circumvent the constitutional prohibitions against deprivation of property that indigenisation can assume if not properly conceptualised and implemented.

The need for the State to be involved in indigenisation programmes and initiatives has to be understood in the context of a generalised belief that political freedom in and out of itself does not alter the inherited class relations and the weak bargaining power of blacks can best be cured by non-market forces.
 The Act provided the framework for the establishment of a ministry of Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment and the fact that Youth Development was added to the ministry goes a long way towards exposing the state of mind of the people who put together the ministry and the thinking that equates youth matters with the issues of economically inferior market participants.

 Independence was expected to bring into being the “economically born frees” but the mere fact that the beneficiaries of the indigenisation programmes are not prescribed suggests that independence has failed to deliver the promise.

 In 1980, the first legitimate black Prime Minister took office and it is the general perception that a solid foundation of a democratic constitutional order was laid.

 Parliament performed its mandate and the PM was a member of the legislature allowing for him to be closer to the ground.

 Many looked forward to the PM’s Question Time and even the then PM would agree that he learned from the experience about the real developments taking place.

 When the Constitution was amended to create the Office of an Executive President, things did not fall apart immediately but the president, with the passage of time, lost contact with the people’s representatives.  

The president is an extremely gifted person but the reality is that no person, however, smart can pretend to know the universe even if such universe was his or her household.

 He is after all a human being.  With the face of the president removed from Parliament, things began to fall apart gradually with members of the executive branch of the government increasingly feeling that their duty was to the appointer, the president, and less to the state that they ought to have a duty to.

 It is, therefore, not to be unexpected that ministers will queue to see the president and less to be visible in Parliament.

 An indigenisation programme that operates like a car with an accelerator but without breaks is doomed to fail.

The events or transactions that have attracted the physical presence of the president amount to mere photo opportunities and politically-convenient tools for ascendancy to power.

It is significant that on Tuesday, February 26, 2013, the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy, Edward Chindori-Chininga, called on government ministers who fail to respond to portfolio committee reports on time or at all to be penalised.

Surely, this kind of call would have been unthinkable in 1980 as ministers knew what time it was.
The fact that Chindori-Chininga said this while presenting the Committee’s report to the House on SMM Holdings Private Limited (“SMM”) is significant.

 As background, SMM’s parent company, SMM Holdings Limited (“SMMH”) was in 1996 acquired by Africa Resources Limited (“ARL”), a company wholly-owned by a Zimbabwean-born person who according to the Indigenisation Act is eligible and compliant in so far as the fact that he was born during the colonial era and, therefore, his market bargaining power was limited by non-market forces.

In a country not polluted by political games, one would expect the ministry of Indigenisation to be engaged to ensure that such a person is protected not only against white economic domination but a predatory State.

The fact that Parliament was seized with this matter through the Committee and no one including any member of the Executive was concerned about the fate of the Zvishavane and Mashava communities including the workers whose jobs and careers were affected by an act of State says a lot about the true condition of the Republic at this defining hour in the nation’s history.

Whereas Chindori-Chininga laments about the ineffectiveness of the oversight role, the PM seemingly oblivious of this called for a Parliamentary investigation into the country’s indigenisation programme saying he was concerned about allegations of gross irregularities and claims only a few individuals were profiting from the deals.

The PM had this to say in a statement: “I am concerned about the possibility of a few individuals benefitting from a programme purportedly meant for the majority of the Zimbabweans. I am equally concerned with reports that some relevant Government organs were kept in the dark about the full nature of some of these transactions.”

It is ironic that the PM has not made a similar call for a probe on the circumstances leading to SMM’s demise leaving the Portfolio Committee to operate with little or no support from the executive branch of government.

Could politics be at play?

Even Tsvangirai would agree that jobs have been lost due to the SMM saga and more importantly the inclusive government is coming to an end with Chindori-Chininga complaining about the conduct of four Ministers who all are members of the Council of Ministers that he chairs.

Surely, the PM should be concerned about all actions and choices that prejudice the country because political point scoring does not advance any national interest.

I have no doubt the reaction to the call for a probe by Parliament given the experience on the SMM matter has some merit in that it would be unreasonable to expect one minister to respect the authority of a parliamentary committee when others can get away with it.

When things fall apart; one cannot expect Cabinet to perform and to be more accountable to Parliament as recommended by Chindori-Chininga.

The PM must be acutely aware that the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality will only be met when all the organs of State act as one and do what they are constitutionally expected to do.

It would appear the PM would want Parliament to assume the role of the president in so far as supervising ministers.

It is evident the last 33 years have created a power vacuum that any ambitious minister fills without let or hindrance.

What is the point of having a new constitution when there is no appetite to respect the current one?
I should like to believe the PM acting together with his two other Principals have the power to establish the facts that he wants Parliament to get in respect of not only the Nieebgate deals but all deals including SMM that seem to impact adversely on the standing and reputation of the government that he is an integral part of.

Zimbabweans deserve better.  The constitutional challenge alluded to by Chindori-Chininga coupled with the hesitancy by legislators to debate the SMM matter openly and transparently does affect the country.

It would appear there are many people who would want to relegate the SMM matter to a Zanu PF issue forgetting Chindori-Chininga’s words: “SMM touches on a very important natural resource which has the potential to generate substantial revenue.”

Chindori-Chininga called for the act used to grab SMM, the Reconstruction of State Indebted Insolvent Companies Act to be repealed.  

This Act to the extent that it has been successfully used under the partial and qualified watch of the PM to deprive an indigenous person as defined in the indigenisation legislation may very well be used at a later stage to undermine any gains claimed under the deals that he wants probed.

Any minister assigned the responsibility to administer the Indigenisation Act will necessarily need guidance that appears to be missing in action on how best he can prosecute a war without ammunition and with bosses whose actions may be primarily driven by the need to win elections without a definite programme of where they would want to take the country.

The country needs direction and leadership.  

The SMM family has been let down. Chindori-Chininga’s Committee has completed its work admitting failure and the same goes for the Co-ministers of Home Affairs who specified me only to de-specify me minus the assets that I had when I was specified.

I have no doubt that God is watching, for the people elected to protect the victims are selective and hypocritical. - Mutumwa Mawere

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