Letter from Zimbabwe: Generations yet to be born

Cathy Buckle

by Cathy Buckle

Christmas has arrived with a bombshell to Zimbabwe this year. A seven page photocopied form has flooded what’s left of privately owned, legally operating businesses. It’s called the ‘Notification of Extent of Indigenisation and Indigenisation Implementation Plan.’ All ‘foreign’ owned businesses have been instructed to outline their plans to hand over 51% of their companies to ‘indigenous’ Zimbabweans.

At first glance you assume that ‘foreign’ refers to non Zimbabweans but that assumption isn’t the case. According to the Form, an ‘indigenous’ Zimbabwean is defined as “any person who, before the 18th April 1980 was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race, and any descendant of such person and includes any company, association, syndicate or partnership of which indigenous Zimbabweans form the majority of the members or hold the controlling interest.”

This phrase, and those that follow, leave you with more questions than answers, no matter how many times you read them. It seems that by including the word ‘descendants’, the term ‘indigenous’ also refers to generations yet to be born, conceived or even dreamed of. Then there’s the question about just exactly who is indigenous. If you are a Zimbabwean born Indian, or mixed race or white Zimbabwean, can you be called indigenous? If you are a black Zimbabwean whose parents, grandparents or great grandparents were not born in Zimbabwe – are you indigenous? If your skin is not black but you have a Zimbabwean ID card, a residence permit or a work permit can you be called indigenous? If you were born after 1980, regardless of your skin colour , are you therefore not regarded as indigenous? Or have we all been condemned because of the colour of our skins, regardless of our beliefs, values and actions both before and after 1980?

The most worrying question of all is: Are non-black Zimbabweans, born and resident here, working, employing and paying taxes, to be punished for eternity for something that other non-black people did?

All companies have been told they must submit the Indigenisation Form by the 1st of January 2014. A list of over 50 categories of businesses are itemized on the Form and with each line your heart sinks. All the things that everyone has been doing to survive since farms were seized and the economy went into freefall, are on the indigenisation schedule.

The Indigenisation Form stipulates that every business must ‘cede a controlling interest of not less than 51%’ of its shareholdings to ‘indigenous’ Zimbabweans with effect from the 1st of March 2010 or within five years from the commencement of business. According to the Permanent Secretary for Indigenisation, non compliance with the Indigenisation law will lead to arrest. Lawyers say they are waiting for people to come forward and challenge the legislation but they aren’t offering pro bono services and for companies struggling to stay open, lawyer’s fees aren’t in the budget, nor is the ability to swallow the outrage that you must give away a 51% controlling interest of your company because of the colour of your skin.

While this ugly plan is unfolding in Zimbabwe, we tried to follow the events in South Africa but it wasn’t easy. ZBC gave almost no coverage to the death of Nelson Mandela or the week of international memorials and tributes. ZBC TV waited until the day after the Johannesburg memorial service and then screened just a few minutes of the service, not providing the audio of any of the speeches of world leaders. They didn’t give Zimbabweans the chance to hear US President Obama say words that we so wish were also true for Zimbabwe. President Obama said that because Nelson Mandela was not only a leader of a movement but also a skilled politician, South Africa now had a Constitution that was: “true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.”

This is my last letter of 2013 and I wish all Zimbabweans, and people who follow our trials and turmoil, a happy, peaceful and safe Christmas. Thank you for reading this letter and supporting my books for so long, without you I wouldn’t have had to courage to keep going. Until next time, love Cathy.

Read Cathy Buckle’s blog where she posts regular letters from Zimbabwe.