Eddie Cross: Can we do it?
Harare, 17th February 2012
I think one of the greatest challenges I face in my day to day labors is a
thing called Afro Pessimism. I find it in the old Rhodies who inhabit the
region and who justifiably claim that Ian Smith was right when he said we
were not ready to govern ourselves. They point to the awful track record of
every State that has come to independence and been subsequently governed by
some sort of regime drawn from the indigenous peoples of the continent.
There is no gainsaying that the record is abysmal.
I come across it in many young Africans (of all shades and backgrounds) with
some experience of the developed world and who look at Africa and ask if it
can really be fixed? The most shameful group are those who fought for
independence, believed in their new freedoms and the power to do things
their way, only to find that behind that cardboard front that the liberation
Parties presented to the world was a collection of greedy, self opinionated
and power hungry monsters who simply used their freedom and power to rape
The result is a continent that has lost its faith in its self. In their
millions they have left their homes in Africa and travelled to other
countries where they try to seek out a living and send their families at
“home” a little each month to subsist on and to salve their conscience.
Worse is the flight of our human capital; doctors, scientists, accountants
managers and entrepreneurs who very often make it big in the countries to
which they go, bringing a hunger for success and achievement that many
raised in the softer environments have lost.
But the reality is that all countries have gone through what we are
experiencing – it’s part of the learning curve that everyone has to go
through and countries are no different. What matters is what we do with that
experience and how quickly can we get through this painful phase in our
history and start to build a new and better society for all our people? The
other reality is that it cannot be done from the outside, transformation
starts inside us and is then translated into how we live and what we do with
what we have.
What many are missing is the emergence of a new Africa out of the ashes of
the old. Just as the newly Independent States emerged after 1956 and started
to make their impact on their countries and on the world, now one by one,
slowly the new Africa is emerging and the most tangible measure of this is
the growth trends now being manifested by the continent. Many African states
are now growing as fast as the Asian tigers, overall the growth of the
continents output this year will be higher than almost any other continent
other than China and the Far East.
But it’s also manifest in microcosms within States. Several years ago I met
a struggling young engineer, Strive Masiwa who was running an electrical
engineering company in Harare. Strive sold his company for Z$3 million and
turned to the field of cell phones. After a struggle with the corrupt
autocracy in this country he was eventually given a license to start and
Econet was the result. Econet is now one of the largest black owned
multinationals in the world and two thirds of our population uses his
network to communicate here every day.
This morning I visited the CEO of the Company in Harare and walked into a
spacious, modern office complex, pretty girl behind the reception and tight
corporate security. A guide took me upstairs, opened the door with his
finger print and let me into the executive wing. I could have been in New
York, London or Tokyo. Fresh flowers on desks, quiet air conditioning and
deep pile carpets. Not a white in sight and not a single expatriate
executive or technician. Strive lives outside the country partly because the
regime under Robert Mugabe made it quite clear that if he did not play the
patronage game and accept that dues were due to the politically powerful,
that he was persona non grata. His is a publically quoted company today and
large, powerful and rich.
The other day I was the guest of Zimplats management outside Harare at their
mines on the Great Dyke some 70 kilometers from the City. For those of you
who know the country, how often have we driven over the Dyke at Chegutu and
not spared a thought for what was in the ground; we always knew about
Chrome, but someone found a seam of platinum bearing rock in the geological
formations of the Dyke complex.
The biggest mining company in the world came and invested several hundred
million dollars in the Dyke at Chegutu – establishing two mines and a
smelter designed to process 2 million tonnes of ore a year. They built
houses and their investment constituted the largest single foreign
investment in the country. The problem was they could not make it work. The
geology was complex and the mining difficult. After several years they
abandoned the project and returned to Australia.
A small group of Zimbabweans looked at this venture and decided to make BHP
an offer. The offer was $1.00 and take over any liabilities locally. In six
months they had worked out how to mine the resource and had started to make
money. They drilled the Dyke complex for a 100 kilometers and proved huge
reserves on their claims. They did not have the money to take it further but
they had the technology, the largest Platinum mining company in the world
came and looked, liked what they saw and bought the whole thing. The result
They now have 6 mines on the Dyke, the two originals, three operational
mines and one about to start production. They have refined their
technologies and are mining deep into the Dyke complex and extracting some
4,5 million tonnes of ore a year, all of which is being processed at two
refineries that employ complex technology. Last year they turned over $600
million and made a profit before tax of $200 million. They are investing
every cent back into the mines and plan to raise output to 15 million tonnes
a year at which stage they will be one of the largest mining and smelting
operations in the world.
Everything I saw at the complex was world class, the laboratories, the
refineries, the roads and infrastructure, the new town they are building
that will eventually house 50 000 people, the mines, running deep into the
hard rock of the Dyke and making the difficult task of tracking the seams
and extracting the ore seem easy, even when you know that the problems beat
the best and the largest mining company in the world.
And do you know what really rocked my boat during that visit and made me
intensely proud to be a Zimbabwean? The company employs 5000 people, six of
whom are white and the rest black and not a single foreigner or expatriate.
From the little lady geologist that took me underground and showed me the
teams mining at the rock face to the Chief Executive, they were black,
Zimbabwe trained and home grown.
Can we do it? Of course we can and we are doing it right now. We are
changing the way we are governed; we are winning the struggle with the old
Africa and gradually bringing in the new. Our people are hard at work and we
are expanding our centers of excellence and growth. But if you want to be
part of this process, you have to be here, at home, where it matters and
then you too can make a difference.