Zimbabwe business silent as the country’s economy continues to teeter


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busisa-moyo-at-chronicle-breakfast-meeting

In September this year, leading South African businessmen openly called on President Jacob Zuma to step down.

Sipho Pityana, chairman of AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s largest gold producer, said Zuma had to go to lift the economy. Neal Froneman, CEO of South Africa’s biggest gold miner Sibanye Gold, said “Zuma has to go”, because “no solid investor” could stand Zuma’s poor governance.

A coalition of business leaders, including some ruling ANC supporters, was formed to campaign for Zuma’s departure.

Watching all that drama unfold across the border, Zimbabwean executives must have choked on their wine in shock and horror.

From Nandos SA’s frequent sharp barbs at Zuma, to open calls by leading businesspeople for accountability, there is much that South African businesses are free to do that Zimbabwean executives would never even dare to think of.

Even as Zimbabwe’s economic crisis deepens, with their profits falling and their companies closing due to poor government policies, Zimbabwean executives have learnt to keep their mouths shut.

In a year in which “citizens” raised voices against the government, the voice of business was absent, a faint whimper at best.

While the economy crumbled around them, the executives only met in endless business breakfasts and seminars, where they paid large sums of money to spend hours trading sob stories about how much trouble they were in.

But, over breakfast bangers, bacon and rooibos tea, the crisis was always debated in polite terms and hushed tones. Even the language is chosen carefully; we face “challenges”, not crisis.

Long “position papers” are produced, and slipped into the hands of whichever government official is polite enough to listen to big business. Then the papers find themselves onto some shelf in a government office, to be forever forgotten.

It is easy to trace the source of big business’ fear. ZANU-PF has worked for decades to keep big business either on its side, or silent. Just as with ordinary citizens, businesspeople live with the real fear of losing everything just for speaking out.

Back in 2007, a group of some of Zimbabwe’s most prominent businesspeople came before President Robert Mugabe, and effectively apologised for his running of the economy.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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