ZIMBABWE – As the country’s politicians remain sharply divided over President Robert Mugabe’s black economic laws, so is the local media whose editors have either praised or dismissed the controversial empowerment law.
Mugabe and his Zanu PF party have, in the meanwhile, and on many occasions, patched the indigenisation law since its first launch in 2008 in which foreign investors are required to surrender at least 51 % of their shareholding to locals.
But since Mugabe’s appointment of Patrick Zhuwao last year as the new minister of indigenisation, more controversy has emerged with his proposals to introduce a 10% levy on all foreign businesses to fund the indigenisation drive.
Zhuwao has on several times clashed with Mugabe’s other cabinet ministers, particularly finance minister Patrick Chinamasa who feels Mugabe’s nephew was unnecessarily scaring off potential investors.
But disagreements over Mugabe’s black empowerment law has been visibly evident in the media, especially among editors and other influential journalists in mainstream private and public media.
The public media has devoted huge acres of space in support of the indenisation law despite evidence that since its inception it has benefited those connected to Mugabe and Zanu PF while the private press has attempted to show its flaws.
Last week, Herald deputy editor, Joram Nyathi caused a stir on social media when he lashed out at journalists he claimed opposed Mugabe’s law.
“There is nothing as hard as changing the mental attitude of a slave. Why are our reporters opposed to indigenisation?” Nyathi asked, eliciting sharp responses from fellow Zimbabwean journalists locally and internationally.
Dumisani Muleya, editor of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent, hit-back describing Mugabe’s black economic law as a “stupid policy.”
Muleya argued that the thinking behind this policy is flawed even if the principle in general might be sound.
“The policy is nebulous, muddled and confused. It’s unclear in terms of form and substance, especially upon implementation. Hence, it’s now damaging to the economy. It must be a give and take; you can’t dictate to the markets and investors. The crude thinking behind it and crass dimensions or rough edges must be removed for it to fly. As it stands it’s dead in the water,” he charged.
But Nyathi would have none of this, accusing local journalists of being used to oppose the Zanu PF black economic policy.
“The fun thing about these creatures called reporters in Zimbabwe they don’t tell us who owns American, British, French or German economy.”
Responding to Muleya’s retort that Mugabe’s indigenisation in its current form is “stupid policy”, Nyathi said: “So slavery is better for the African.”
Bekithemba Mhlanga, a Zimbabwean journalist-turned economist and banker, says journalists are not opposed to indigenisation per se but the seeming opposition is probable due to one or a combination of three factors that has made the topic red meat for journalists.
“Firstly the people behind the move have very dubious credentials of successfully seeing through and delivering massive projects of this nature. If anything there have more projects lying on the graveyard of failures,” said Mhlanga.
“Secondly – there has been so much dispute, conflict, confusion and disagreements on the process whose discussion by journalists can easily be misinterpreted as dislike for indigenisation.
“Thirdly, the absence or weakness of facilitating structures to support an effective indigenisation policy has added petrol to the fire.”
Reward Mushayabasa, a former journalist lecturer now based in the United Kingdom, agrees that in principle most reporters are not opposed to the indigenisation law but differed with the way it is being implemented.
“It is used as a cloak to enrich the political elite,” said Mushayabasa.
Mthulisi Mathuthu, a journalist with a popular UK-based news website, blamed the supposed opposition to black economic law in Zimbabwe to Mugabe’s “quarrelsome” brand of politics.
“He has failed, and dismally, to lead. There is nothing that unites Zimbabweans except anger and hate! This is to the extent that those who don’t see anything wrong with indigenisation are so religious about their view that they don’t accept criticism and to extent of plain foolishness. At the same time, those who are against it are also so anti-indigenisation to the extent of being unreasonable. Thanks to Mugabe’s rule, sound reasoning is on suspension. Prevailing is what l call national idiocy,” he added.
Methuseli Moyo, a veteran journalist based in Bulawayo, noted that citizens were tired of being short-changed by Zanu PF through its skewed policies.
“Being robbed by your own feels worse and Zanu leaders have robbed people through schemes such as Nssa, war victims’ compensation fund, housing schemes, land reform, Zinara. The list is endless. Blame the leadership for creating the scenario,” said Moyo.
The opposition has all along had no kind words for the black economic law, arguing it is part of Mugabe’s patronage system to reward loyalists.
But analysts say potential investors would remain sitting on the fence as long as inconsistencies and conflicting statements remain on indigenisation.