via 800 firms meet January deadline | The Herald December 31, 2013 by Lloyd Gumbo and Tafadzwa Ndlovu
AT least 800 companies in sectors reserved for indigenous Zimbabweans under the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, have applied for indigenisation compliance certificates. Both locals and foreigners are applying for the certificates. The applications are in compliance with a May 17, 2013 Government Gazette regulation making it mandatory for all local and foreign firms in “reserved sectors” to apply for indigenisation compliance certificates by January 1, 2014.
Earlier, it seemed no foreigners’ applications would be accepted according to the regulations.
However, Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Minister Francis Nhema has declared that no foreigner operating in reserved sectors will be pushed out.
At the same time, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa had said there would be no going back on the law.
This created confusion among local empowerment lobby groups and representatives of foreign owners of small businesses who felt the statements were contradictory.
According to the regulations, sectors reserved for indigenous Zimbabweans include agriculture (primary production of food and cash crops), transportation, retail and wholesale trade, barbershops, hairdressing and beauty salons, employment and estate agencies and grain milling.
The regulations stated that any person, including locals, who operated a business in reserved sectors without an indigenisation compliance certificate from January 1 would be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine and/or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months.
However, indications are that there was a feeling in Government that pushing out foreigners – mainly West Africans and Asians – operating in these sectors was not in Zimbabwe’s best interests nor in the spirit of empowerment policies.
Furthermore, President Mugabe has pointed out that indigenisation and empowerment are not solely about taking over foreign business, and – more importantly – involve the creation of home-grown industries.
National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board (NIEEB) chief executive officer Mr Wilson Gwatiringa yesterday said there was an overwhelming response from businesses run by foreigners and locals who all wanted compliance certificates.
“This month we have been very busy with many companies coming to us for registration or compliance application,” said Mr Gwatiringa.
“In the past weeks, we were recording about 100 companies per day but today only, we have recorded over 200 companies,” he said.
“The business community has heard the call and are making frantic efforts to comply with the indigenisation policy. We want to ensure that there is order particularly within the retail sector so that our economy can benefit from their operations.”
Some locals, including lobby groups, said there was a need for Government to spell out the binding position.
They said recent assurances by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa that there was no going back on indigenisation and Minister Nhema’s recent position were contradictory.
“On the very face of it, it would seem that the very laws we are creating to safeguard our indigenous people’s working space can easily be rendered useless and of no consequence overnight, a position, I believe is not the case,” said Affirmative Action Group president Mr Keith Guzah.
“We are waiting for a meeting with the (Indigenisation) minister to get proper guidelines and if we are not happy with his position, we will register our concerns with him.”
Upfumi Kuvadiki president Mr Scott Sakupwanya said there was need for Government to facilitate a win-win situation between locals and foreigners in reserved sectors.
“We are not lobbying for take-over of shops owned by foreigners but we are saying they must negotiate with locals so that they can come up with mechanisms that will see indigenous Zimbabweans having majority shareholding in those sectors.
“We cannot throw away our election theme of ‘bhora mugedhi’ by changing our policies overnight. The indigenisation drive seeks to empower Zimbabweans whom President Mugabe is passionate about.
“Minister Chinamasa also indicated that there was no going back on indigenisation when he presented the (proposed national) budget making the statements by Minister Nhema even more confusing,” he said.
Foreigners operating in those sectors hailed Government for the reprieve.
Retailers said the move was necessary as there was no need to chase away fellow Africans but uphold the African spirit of unity.