By Alex Bell
17 September 2010
Delegates at Thursday’s ‘Future of Zimbabwe’ summit have said that serious doubts remain about investing in the country, until there are visible changes on the ground.
The summit in Johannesburg looked at the investment environment in Zimbabwe, the impact of the country’s brain drain, the future of agriculture and food security and the ethics of investment in Zimbabwe. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was the keynote speaker and made an effort to encourage investment in the country, saying there was ‘tangible’ progress in economic reforms.
While conceding the pace of progress has been slow and limited, Tsvangirai said the past 18 months under the unity government had witnessed steps forward in the implementation of political and economic reforms. He went on to cite a few examples of this economic turn around, singling out the return of health workers and availability of medicines in hospitals, teachers and books in schools, food in supermarkets and granaries, as well as water, fuel, stable currency and a single digit inflation.
But the summit went ahead against a backdrop of worrying developments in Zimbabwe that are contrary to Tsvangirai’s accounts of progress and change. On Tuesday a farm illegally seized by a ZANU PF senator was burned to the ground, despite a bilateral investment protection agreement and a protective court order, as part of the ongoing onslaught against Zimbabwe’s commercial farming community. Robert Mugabe also recently insisted that the controversial business indigenisation programme will go ahead, which will see foreign companies in the country forced to hand over 51% of their shares to pre-selected Zimbabweans. Alongside this the exercise to gather public opinion on a new constitution has faltered marred by incidents of violence and intimidation.
At the same time, a deadline set by Southern African leaders for the unity government to implement the two year old Global Political Agreement (GPA) has come and gone, and there is still no sign from either the MDC or ZANU PF that there will be any real change.
Despite all this Tsvangirai still moved to defend Robert Mugabe as his partner in the government, saying he was “committed to change.” Tsvangirai told a news conference after the summit on Thursday that Mugabe could rescue his “legacy” as the country’s liberator.
“I suppose Robert Mugabe has been portrayed as a demon,” he said. “He himself made a contribution to that caricature because I cannot defend what he did over the last 10 years in terms of violence, in terms of expropriation and all these other activities.”
Tsvangirai continued: “But there is also a positive contribution to our country that he has made. Remember that he was the national liberation hero, and so those are positive years. I suppose there is the personality conflict between a hero and a villain, of which you have to make an assessment. History will have to judge him.”
Zimbabwean businessman Trevor Ncube, who owns the recently launched NewsDay paper, said the government was yet to put together policies to entice investors into the country. Ncube was one of the speakers at Thursday’s summit. He told SW Radio Africa on Friday that there was still doubt that the current reforms Tsvangirai was speaking about could be sustained.
“Government has to create political stability that guarantees security for people to go back home and for investors to funnel money into the country,” Ncube said. “There is still understandable wariness about investing in the country, because there are no guarantees of any sustainable change.”
John Worsley-Worswick from Justice for Agriculture (JAG) was another speaker at Thursday’s summit, and he told SW Radio Africa that the summit appeared to be a “propaganda exercise.”
“There is a great deal of skepticism about investing in the country, and it’s understandable given the lack of normalcy in the country,” Worsley-Worswick said. “But what we found alarming was the deliberate effort to paint over the cracks.”