CONVERSATIONS WITH MAWERE
"Invest in the change you want to see"
- Mutumwa Mawere -
Africa 2012 – When minds meet - political opportunism or genuine campaign to make a difference
Posted on May 01st 2012
I was one of the people who attended the Launch Dinner on Saturday, 28 April 2012, in support of a campaign led by the Deputy Prime Minister ("DPM") of Zimbabwe; Professor Arthur Mutambara to raise funds for the University of Zimbabwe's ("UZ") aimed at improving the standards at the country's oldest higher institute of learning.
The physical and financial condition of the institution tells its own story.
The journey from 1980 to date calls for doctors and historians to locate the reasons why after 32 years independence it would be deemed fit to use the route chosen by the DPM to not only raise awareness about the challenges faced by the factories of knowledge building but also to expose the fact that a public good now requires the strategic response of private benefactors.
On 23 April 2012, I received an email from the DPM with two attachments and a request to complete and submit a pledge form before the 28 April. This was followed by a phone call from the DPM requesting me to circulate the email to my circle. He implored on me to attend.
I did indicate to the DPM that only opportunists will attempt to selectively deal with issues instead of locating the UZ challenge in a larger context that has seen the increase of the frontiers of poverty, institutional decline, human capital externalisation, economic, social and financial decay.
I reminded the DPM about the state and condition of the employees of SMM Holdings Private Limited ("SMM") and the implications of them learning through the media that their predicament is less important to me than the condition of the UZ.
I had a lengthy chat with the DPM about the need for state actors to focus on what matters in the business of building nations and viable states and also the importance of sharing the same platform at SMM instead of the UZ only to highlight and showcase what is wrong with Zimbabwe.
As a former UZ student, I understand why it was important to use informal channels to raise funds but also I was concerned and remain so that the predicament that the UZ finds itself may be used for political expediency by unscrupulous politicians who see the looming elections as an opportunity to improve their political fortunes.
The fact that the UZ like many other institutions finds itself in a position that the state is too broke to intervene must be a source of concern that should go beyond the institutional challenges to a higher level that will assist in identifying the kind of values, principles, and worldview that are required to create sustainable and viable institutions.
On this front, I got the distinct impression that the DPM was more concerned about my role in making the event successful than in using the opportunity to raise awareness about the role played by state actors in limiting opportunities and also in reducing the fiscal space within which to address the national challenges.
Indeed, I got more phone calls from the DPM all directed at establishing how much money I would be able to raise. It became clear to me that any policy prescription I would suggest would not be listened to.
Notwithstanding, I did indicate that I would be prepared to attend if and only if the resolution of the SMM issue would be part of the agenda. He responded saying that he had met with H.E. President Mugabe and the matter of SMM was discussed but he could not brief me on the phone.
With that assurance, I agreed to participate. I brought some business colleagues with me to Zimbabwe. We arrived in Harare on Friday afternoon. We then proceeded to check in at the hotel and immediately afterwards we met the DPM at his office.
I naturally wanted to better understand the thinking of government on SMM and tried in vain to link the fate of SMM to the UZ challenge.
The DPM made the observation that the private sector led by Messrs. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, and Warren Buffett, was leading the charge for business players to plough back into society and the same should apply to African businessmen.
In response, I said to him that if Gates and Buffett were born in Zimbabwe they would have been persecuted leaving no room for them to engage in philanthropy.
I pointed out that it is not accidental that America has produced billionaires because its founding fathers believed in the American idea that would allow for social and economic mobility of human beings.
However, it is the Zimbabwean idea that the DPM as a state actor should be seized with. He time and effort should be devoted not at robbing private individuals in the name of a misunderstood concept of philanthropy but at creating conditions that would limit the encroachment of the state in private matters.
Philanthropy by construction and performance is a voluntary endeavour whereas the state by design and performance is based on a social contract that permits state actors to collect income generated by others involuntarily.
Zimbabwe underpinned by right policies is capable of producing its own billionaires. No slogans or campaigns to make those who have been fortunate to come through the neck of a bottle feel guilty at their acquired stations in life will make Zimbabwe a winning nation.
When I was a student at the UZ, the conditions were better than they are now. The institution was inherited from the colonial past and it must be accepted even by the DPM that the post-colonial experience should have produced a financially viable and sustainable institution.
Regrettably this is not the case and attempts to take a minimalist approach are nothing but a betrayal of the worldview that informed the liberations struggle.
The target was to raise US$10 million but the outcome exposes the fallacy of the thinking behind the initiative that funds are resident in the addresses of Zimbabweans to chip in as directed by state actors.
I did attend the dinner but the format and the participants confirmed my cynicism that the new crop of politicians may not be interested in making Zimbabwe the country of hope and promise. Rather the interest may be in personal brand building using other people's money.
The guest of honour was former President H.E. Mbeki and his intervention was sober and mature. He made the point that to approach the challenge of the UZ through the instrumentality of philanthropy was to miss the location of higher education in the realm of a public good that ought to attract the attention of public policy practitioners.
He called on Zimbabweans to take responsibility for the outcomes they wish to see because ultimately the future of Africa is in the hands of builders.
It was ironic that H.E. Mbeki whose contribution to the struggle and post-colonial nation and state building is well established could be a guest of honour at a function themed on philanthropy.
His contribution to the conversation led some of us to join in with Chiyangwa on an initiative to build a chapel for the University.
The genius of Chiyangwa's response that our consortium should contribute the building rather than the case is informed by the attitude of many state actors to give mineral rights and contracts to foreign players and when need arises for philanthropic intervention look to black entrepreneurs for support.
H.E. Mbeki made a significant contribution that the use of the word philanthropy must end and be properly replaced by interest based intervention.
The people who benefit from mining must show cause why they would want the metallurgy department of the UZ to be closed when a careful understanding of the supply chain suggests that the beneficiary of the human capital building is industry.
At the end of the dinner, I was satisfied that H.E. Mbeki had brought sanity to the process and hopefully we can follow Chiyangwa's lead in starting a new conversation that will hopefully answer the question of why the DPM would want to campaign for the UZ and yet have amnesia on the plight of the forgotten workers at SMM and more importantly want me to contribute to the UZ when the very assets from which I could have contributed are in the hands of a government of which he plays a key part in shaping and defining its character.