By Dr Davison Todson Gomo, CEO, Affirmative Action Group [AAG]
The opportunities created by a new political and economic climate in Zimbabwe attract interest from a lot of investors throughout the world. This is not surprising because Zimbabwe has an impressive array of natural resources that huge investors are interested in, particularly in the mining sector.
As is the case, Zimbabwe offers one of the most generous set of incentives to foreign investors very much contrary to the popular belief that an environment inimical to foreign investment exists in this country. It is a pity that when Zimbabwe is opening its doors to foreign investors, there are still countries that believe that this country is an unsafe destination for foreign investment.
To date, a number of companies have invested in the country on terms that can be considered very generous indeed. Given that Zimbabwe desires to have the indigenous people play a key role in the economy through active participation as required by the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act , foreign companies have been called upon to comply with the law in this respect. So far, a number of companies in the mining sector and one in the energy sector have had their indigenisation plans approved except of course that in one case, the jury is still out concerning the authenticity and validity of the deal.
We have witnessed the setting up of Community Share Ownership Schemes almost exclusively in the mining sector and one notable one in the commercial sector and all things being equal, we hope that the communities will begin to benefit at some point as funds in form of dividends find their way into these schemes. This model, if successful, will assist in growing the local economies of the areas concerned and will generate the confidence that we desperately need to boost confidence in the efficacy of the indigenisation programme. Currently, there are sceptics who believe that this programme is a gigantic excuse for primitive accumulation by a small elite in strategic and powerful positions. Of course, in most cases this is just political hot-air.
Yes, indigenisation is much simpler to deal with because of the exactness of the requirements of the regulations in this regard. However, the area of economic empowerment is open to wide interpretations and in some cases, the laws that should be supporting the empowerment drive are scattered and located in different pieces of legislation that may not even directly lend support to our quest for total empowerment, especially through employment.
The AAG has always taken the view that when large foreign or partly foreign owned companies are making appointments at top level, they should necessarily give priority to local people as foreigners should be employed only when there is demonstrable evidence that such skills are not locally available. Where foreigners are brought in on the basis of necessity, it must always be time-framed and conditional on local persons being trained to take over.
This is not discriminative in any way as all countries do it.
Zimbabwe can not afford the luxury of bringing foreigners here on open cheque system because we have serious unemployment challenges and besides, we want our skilled people in the Diaspora to come back and fill these
positions. Therefore, government must take a serious view on this matter lest unjustified requests will be made from time to time for extension of work permits where the need for them is no longer necessary.
We had an argument with the situation at Telecel, but with time, we won that argument and today Telecel is led by our own people and seems to be doing even better. Therefore all companies that seek to extend work permits have to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that they have done everything possible to find a Zimbabwean to fill vacant positions.
Government must only allow for extensions in exceptional circumstances because we have a moral duty to provide employment to our own people. The excuse that foreigners have unmatched skills might just be a big lie and companies should be required to pass a stringent test before any application for this purpose can be entertained.
As more investors come in, rules need to be put in place that help us to avoid a needless influx of foreign workers when locals can fill the jobs. Maybe government should carry out an audit of the current situation so that we can be sure that those we have allowed to work deserve to do so. Otherwise, we need every job for the thousands of jobless or underemployed or even misemployed Zimbabweans.
What is the use of creating all these opportunities and then close out our people when they are appropriately qualified and in some cases those out side the country wish to return home but fail to get the jobs they deserve? We hear reports of indigenous top executives being ruthlessly removed and replaced by foreign teams and if this is true, we need to protect our people by all means lest respect for government will recede as more people are made to feel unwanted in their only country on earth.
Zimbabweans must not be made to feel ashamed of asking for a small share of the resources and opportunities offered by their country. Government’s first responsibility is to its people and the people must have confidence that government will act in their interests at all times.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.