Guest Column: Paidamoyo Muzulu
MONDAY, November 11, marked the 54th anniversary of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by then Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith, a move that severed the white colony from the British empire and earned it United Nations economic sanctions for 13 years. However, these were the economic boon years of Rhodesia despite a raging bush war.
Smith was a racist, Rhodesian nationalist who was by any shade a capitalist and knew where he wanted to get the country to, albeit for the benefit of the small white population. It is not my intention to celebrate racism or colonialism, but to highlight the economic miracle he performed and see if that can be replicated today with some modifications to benefit the majority black population.
The UDI was anchored on the pedestals of respect for private property, efficient public service, lean and efficient government, mixed free market economics and welfarist State, relevant technical education, semi-autonomous local authorities, a national bourgeoisie and a technically competent Cabinet. Rhodesia, after 70 years of toying around with the idea that mining could be the backbone of the economy, realised the folly and shifted to agriculture and manufacturing. The idea of making agriculture the mainstay of the economy was legislatively supported by the creation of the Agriculture Marketing Authority, State funding through the Agriculture Finance Corporation (now Agribank), freehold tenure on agricultural land and stiff sentences for people who committed stocktheft or vandalised agricultural equipment. This is in contrast to the current regime that has made agricultural land dead capital and 20 years later after land reform, resettled farmers still do not have title and cannot borrow against the land from commercial banks and other lenders.
Smith’s competent Cabinet created both backward and forward linkages in the agriculture sector.
The farmers created Consolidated Farmers Investment (CFI) that had investment in agriculture input distribution through Farmers Co-op. They had stakes in fertiliser manufacturing such as Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company and Windmill. This was a fire-proof farming eco-system that in advance would know how much fertiliser was needed for each particular farming season.
The public services were efficient; it was the nerve centre of planning. All figures about population, production, imports and exports were up to date. Having ready statistics may seem like a small feat, but this was made possible through a web of centres where data was captured.
Agriculture extension officers collated all data on production, number of farmers, crops planted and expected yield. In urban areas, the town superintendents had the populations of residents updated. Schools and health centres also played an active role in supplying numbers about children in school and diseases that were common in a particular area.
State-owned enterprises became the backbone of the economy. State entities were efficient and had a monopoly in the transport sector, telecommunications, energy, roads, water, beef production (CSC) and grain purchase through the Grain Marketing Board, among other sectors.
Rhodesian business moguls from farming such as Smith himself with his pedigree cattle and the Nicoles in agriculture, Meikles in hotel and retail services, John Sisk in construction, David Whitehead in the textile sector and Tiny Rowland with his conglomerate LonRho were all based in Rhodesia. They were never absent or became visiting businessman from other bases in foreign lands.
Rhodesia established technical colleges and a university to complement its developmental efforts.
The colleges offered technical training such as artisans, boilermakers, motor mechanics, refrigeration, accounting diplomas, building, plumbing, welding, fitter and turning and mining engineering, among others. These skills were relevant for agriculture, mining and the manufacturing sectors.
The trend has changed with the government now busy churning out university graduates from a dozen State universities with no technical skills and barely employable.
Local authorities were engine rooms of development as they planned and developed industrial areas depending on their competitive advantages. Each local authority ploughed back taxes raised to develop its own roads, water and sewer reticulation and building of local public institutions like clinics, schools and playgrounds. Poor suburbs were subsidised by their rich counterparts and these cross-subsidies ensured the poor high-density suburbs had good services. Accommodation and transport were heavily subsidised, with nearly every working adult having a roof over their head from the rented council housing stock.
Like Chinua Achebe says, we have to know where the rain started beating us. It seems we lost the way in the euphoria of independence. We trashed every other system that was in place and a warped thinking set in that governments never get broke, they would simply print more money. Every Zimbabwean with the assistance of the government rhetoric started aiming high and wanted to have that prestigious university degree, even if it equipped one with no skills relevant to the country’s economy.
For the political leaders, having concentrated power became an obsession. Everything in public service and planning was centralised. Harare became everything. The Cabinet started expanding, positions being created and doled out for political patronage, State-owned enterprises and local authorities becoming the easy job centres for party youths and other cronies.
Zimbabwe is at a crucial moment to answer the Lenin question: What has to be done now? Cabinet should be lean and efficient and provide leadership. Local authorities should regain their power and land value should be unlocked. Black businessmen and women should not run things by remote control, they should be where their money is, showing confidence in the economy. Last but not least, the education curricula should be revamped and start churning out artisans. May the real nationalistic Zimbabweans raise their hands, stand up and be counted.
Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist and writes here in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org