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ZIMBABWE: Activists Seek WSF Solidarity Against Privatisation

Stanley Kwenda

HARARE, Feb 7 2011 (IPS) - Zimbabwean activists will raise the issue of privatisation at the World Social Forum, taking place Feb 6-11 in Dakar, Senegal, and seek solidarity from other activists to resist a renewed government attempt at selling Zimbabwe’s state- owned enterprises.

The headquarters of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority in Harare. Credit: Stanley Kwenda/IPS

The headquarters of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority in Harare. Credit: Stanley Kwenda/IPS

“Privatisation is one of the issues that we will talk about in various discussions. We have seen its devastation in many countries where it has been tried. All it does is to leave the poor at the mercy of the rich,” Darlington Madzonga, convener of the Zimbabwe Social Forum (ZSF), told IPS.

“We want mobilisation towards a new world order where governments consult citizens before mortgaging state property through privatisation. We seek international solidarity from social movements across the world in our fight against privatisation,” he added.

ZSF is a member of the Southern Africa Social Forum, a loose grouping of organisations working to promote social and economic rights in the region.

The Zimbabwean government has embarked on an ambitious privatisation programme, pitched as reviving loss-making enterprises that burden the national purse.

The country wants to turn around 10 struggling state enterprises by restructuring, commercialising or privatising them during 2011.

The targeted firms include the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), fixed telephone operator Tel*One and mobile phone operator Net*One, AgriBank, the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM), Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), Air Zimbabwe and beef producer Cold Storage Company.

The Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO) has already been sold to an Indian company.

The unity government formed by political rivals ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change in 2009 is battling to fix an ailing economy.

State enterprises minister Gordon Moyo told IPS that the government is determined to change the fortunes of state-owned firms, many of them on their knees due to years of mismanagement.

“We are consulting with a view to implementing privatisation but we will use the best possible model to benefit the people of Zimbabwe,” Moyo told IPS. According to ministry of finance statistics, if properly managed, state-owned enterprises could contribute 40 percent of the poor southern Afrocan’s country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

For instance, when ZISCO operated at full capacity in the 1990s it contributed 10 percent of GDP.

But opponents of the programme say privatisation prejudices citizens who are already suffering due to high costs and inadequate public services.

“To expect to make billions out of services that are supposed to serve the populace is unfair as they are the ones who have to pay for such service provision,” Hopewell Gumbo, a Harare-based activist who works with the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), told IPS.

“Selling to the private sector means a loss of state control. Resources could be used for whatever purpose,” he argued. ZIMCODD is an organisation that works to promote social and economic rights.

Giving an example, Gumbo said a company like the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) might after privatisation decide to sell electricity to a richer neighbouring country for a profit, leaving Zimbabweans literally in the dark. South Africa has struggled with power outages in recent years.

Masimba Kuchera, who works with the Students’ Solidarity Trust (SST), a tertiary education pressure group, told IPS that privatisation is not entirely detrimental but should not be implemented in areas that are vital to people’s daily survival.

“By its nature privatisation is about re-orienting companies to make a profit, so it must be confined to those areas that do not have to do with people’s survival,” Kuchera said. “Services such as water, electricity, health and education should not be privatised.”

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions’ (ZCTU) secretary general Wellington Chibhebhe told IPS that, “privatisation is concerned with maximising profits ahead of human needs, rights and interests”.

ZCTU believes privatisation will result in massive exploitation, considering that most of state-owned companies hold monopolies in their markets. Chibhebhe cited the problem of high tariffs charged for electricity, water and telephone services.

Economist Eric Bloch believes many of the concerns about privatisation are unfounded. “The competition and tariffs commission will address excessive pricing and contain it,” Bloch told IPS. However, the commission’s role remains very much that of a paper tiger.

Proponents maintain that failure of privatisation has largely to do with lack of political commitment, poor design, insufficient resources, weak management and corruption.

In the past privatisation in Zimbabwe has had mixed results. After the world prices of platinum, copper and tantalite fell in the late 1990s, three privatised mines closed and left behind ghost towns and thousands of workers without jobs.

However, a study done by the trade union-linked African Labour Research Network (ALRN), titled “Privatisation: African Experiences”, discovered successes following the privatisation of Dairibord Zimbabwe Limited (DZL).

DLZ managed to widen its product base and to launch other local and foreign investments in Malawi.

It achieved real growth in sales volumes and employment and earned foreign currency for the country. It also contributes to the development of small- scale dairy farms through a special scheme it finances.

But in neighbouring Zambia, privatisation resulted in job losses when state assets were sold. The ALRN study concluded that women workers are often the hardest hit by retrenchments that accompany privatisation.

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