'We empower ordinary people'

The Daily News on Sunday’s Jeffrey Muvundusi sits down for a wide-ranging interview with Affirmative Action Group (AAG) regional president Reginald Shoko. Below are excerpts of the interview

Q: What is AAG all about, what is your mandate?
A: AAG is socioeconomic organisation which focuses on the empowerment of the ordinary people who were previously disadvantaged; empowerment and affirmative action plays an important role in the development of a society.

AAG plays that role on the economic front; …empowerment is broad by its definition which is why you will find our participation across various sectors of society and nation building. In some rare cases, you will find us taking up class action cases to court in the interest of the community.
We also lobby government and other authorities on issues of policy andregulations.

Q: Is your organisation membership-based?
A: Our organisation is membership-based and our members are individuals and corporates numbering over 1 200 in Bulawayo.

Q: Ever since you became the regional president of this organisation what can you say have been your major achievements?
A: It’s not about me but the team; we came in as the first born frees to lead the organisation in the region and we changed the game from the usual way of doing business to more robust civic engagements.
We minimised the jambanja (militant) way of doing things and also introduced the women’s desk to deal with the empowerment of women.

We also launched the basic education empowerment fund which specifically focuses on the payment of fees for kids from disadvantaged families and, above all, we introduced a desk that provides litigation assistance for members and also dispute resolutions.
There are more achievements but I have just shared those few to reflect the progress we have made as a team.

Q: In the same vein what have been your weaknesses?
A: There is polarisation in our country and yet issues of affirmative action and empowerment are not limited to one political party or race. 

Q: You have been a thorn in the flesh for the city fathers in Bulawayo, in particular, do you have any problem with the way the city is being run?
A: The organisation has had challenges with the local authority related to a number of issues but I am happy that most of these have been looked into and the process of addressing these is underway. 
In some cases, the local authority has failed to properly communicate and also we have had a new breed of councillors who seem to be after self-enrichment rather than delivering service to residents; being a councillor should not be considered as employment.

Q: You have also taken aim at Town Clerk Christopher Dube; is it personal?
A: It’s never a personal issue; its about offices we hold. We clash over issues.
While he is like my father in terms of age, he is a public officer hence once in while we will take aim at him as the man in charge of the local authority.

Unfortunately, he came in when we were already demanding accountability on a number of issues. 
The town clerk is responsible for the day-to-day decisions of council hence the constant engagement with him over issues and allegations of corruption and mismanagement in council although most of these issues happened way before he was in that position. So it’s never about the town clerk as an individual but the office.

Q: How best can BCC empower its residents while at the same time doing away with corruption?
A: We believe it’s a two-way thing. The residents must play they part by paying rates and also participating in all consultation meetings convened by the local authority and, above all, voting the right people to lead council.
On the other hand, those who have been fortunate to lead us must remember that theirs is a civic duty not a self-enrichment scheme or a platform for nepotism.
At the same time, councillors must be capacitated to play their oversight role.

Q: What’s your take about the calibre of councillors that BCC has, especially ever since the MDC took over the running of the city?
A: The unfortunate part is that these (councillors) are voted into office by the people hence we cannot do much about it as because such is a tenancy of democracy.
Generally though, they have left a lot to be desired with regards to both conduct and character as we read in the media about their abuse of office and corruption.

Q: Some have argued that AAG is now a dead horse, do you think the organisation is still as powerful as before?
A: Everyone is entitled to an opinion and, in all honesty, we have been a vibrant organisation over the years. We have been consistent (in our mission) although others might feel that we are no longer as aggressive.
Our membership is very happy with the organisation.

Q: From your assessment, how best can the Bulawayo industry be revived; is there any hope for the city. We have been told of the revival of NRZ, CSC, and Zisco Steel, we have also heard about Dimaf and now we have Sez, what’s your take?
A: We need to agree that some of our industries can never be revived as they have been overtaken by technological developments and the effects of globalisation. 

The three — CSC, NRZ and Zisco can be revived but require massive capital which we, as a country, currently don’t have hence the important thing will be to look into low hanging fruits such as horticulture and mineral beneficiation.
The downstream industries feeding into and from CSC can grow Bulawayo’s economy and help reduce the demand for imports and foreign exchange.

Q: What’s your take on the concept of devolution which government is in the process of implementing?
A: Devolution, although it is in our Constitution, must be looked at from an economic perspective. 
This economy is not able to sustain some of the things that are required under devolution.

We are importing the culture of devolution from countries that have a very large population and huge economies.
While it has worked very well in the Brics countries, we are just a small country.

What we will need as a region is to ring fence opportunities for our people as they have no capacity to compete given their historical challenges.

Q: Your last words?
A: We need to balance our need for foreign direct investment with the empowerment of our people through ring fencing opportunities for locals in the economy as we turn around the country.