• Thursday, July 24, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    ZIMBABWE: Activists Seek WSF Solidarity Against Privatisation

    By Stanley Kwenda
    HARARE, Feb 7 (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.

    "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 Gorden 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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