Stallholders at the Mupedzanhamo market on the outskirts of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, thought they were immune to the 2008 Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, which requires large businesses such as banks and mining companies to relinquish at least 51 percent of their shares or interests to indigenous Zimbabweans.
They were wrong. Bustling Mupedzanhamo, where shoppers can buy anything from hairpins to refrigerators, has for many years provided traders with a small income and an escape from the country’s economic woes, but recently groups of youths have descended on the market, brandishing letters they claim authorise them to eject any trader that they believe is opposed to the black empowerment programme.
Miriam Raradza, 38, a stallholder and widow living in the populous nearby suburb of Mbare, was forced out of the market last month after they accused her of belonging to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister in a coalition government formed in early 2009.
‘‘They accused me and other stall owners of belonging to the MDC, which they said is opposed to indigenisation, and said we should stop doing business at Mupedzanhamo. Hundreds of people who are known MDC supporters have been booted out since the beginning of this year,’’ Raradza told IRIN.
She said members of the Chipanganos - a gang with a reputation for violence, based in Mbare and thought to have links with President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party - had hijacked the stalls and, in some cases, also the goods that their victims were selling, she said.
‘‘I have been robbed of the only source of income that I had for about eight years. The money that I realised from the sale of used clothes was enough to send my three children to boarding school and buy all basic items,’’ Raradza said.
Stanley Ziwakaya, 42, a teacher from the low-income Harare suburb of Highfields, whose wife runs a small informal convenience store, or tuckshop, described the gangs preying on the traders as ‘‘vultures feeding on the flesh of the poor who are at the edge of death’’.
‘‘The militia in this area call themselves the Empowerment Brigade and are notorious for visiting vending sites, where they demand bribes from the poor vendors. They claim to be representing the youths who need economic empowerment,’’ Ziwakaya told IRIN.
|Empowerment does not mean just taking over the mines, banks and big factories. We cannot do that because we don’t have the money, so we will start with the sell-outs who are opposed to indigenisation|
A member of the ‘‘brigade’’, who identified himself only as Peter, defended their actions. ‘‘Empowerment does not mean just taking over the mines, banks and big factories. We cannot do that because we don’t have the money, so we will start with the sell-outs who are opposed to indigenisation.’’
The MDC opposed the indigenisation act, passed on the eve of the violent 2008 elections, when ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, and Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential elections to Tsvangirai, who subsequently withdrew from the second round in protest over the political violence.
After pressure from the Southern African Development Community, a regional body, and the international community, a unity government was set up in 2009.
Tsvangirai has called the indigenisation programme a ZANU-PF political campaign strategy meant to win votes, and during a recent visit to the US described it as a ‘‘warped indigenisation policy [that] has eroded investor confidence’’.
According to John Robertson, a Harare-based economic consultant, ‘‘This policy is the direct opposite of empowerment. The number of Zimbabweans who are poor, and those who will become poorer, will increase. The net effect is far much more poverty and far less self-sufficiency.’’
He said ZANU-PF militias were using the flag of indigenisation to take over the businesses of “already struggling people, and what is worrying is that the police seem to be blessing their actions because they are not being arrested”.
More job losses
Robertson told IRIN it was likely that the indigenisation policy would force many foreign-owned companies to close down, leading to further job losses, while people struggling to find jobs would fail to do so because investors would keep away.
He compared the indigenisation policy to the fast-track land reform programme launched in 2000, which led to the forced eviction of more than 4,000 white commercial farmers, often leaving the farm workers homeless and without a livelihood.
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‘‘The land reform programme seriously injured the economy, thrived on clear violations of human and property rights and led to widespread misery. This is what will happen with the indigenisation programme,” he said.
Welshman Ncube, president of the smaller MDC faction and minister of industry and commerce in the coalition government, said there were problems with the implementation of the empowerment programme and also a lack of transparency.
‘‘There would always be cases of greed, abuse and personal gain in the implementation of a programme like the indigenisation drive, but what is important is that everything that is done by the government is made transparent to avoid the problems. That way, we can also be able to bring the culprits to book,’’ Ncube told IRIN.
There have been signs of economic recovery since the formation of the unity government in 2009, but economic activities are often subject to political decisions.
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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions