What do you do when, as a multi-billion dollar global mining company, you wake up to the news that the newly-elected government of Zimbabwe where you do business, plans to seize control of foreign-owned mining operations without compensation?
Do you scream at the top of your lungs in the hope that the international community will come to your rescue? Do you organise a legion of soldiers of fortune to unseat that government and replace them with your own puppet administration? Do you call Bob Mugabe names . . . like black dictator, black lunatic . . . Or do you simply cover you face with both hands and cry?
Not a single one of the above options would work.
Whatever may be your tactic, learn a lesson from what the white Zimbabwean farmers did or failed to do in the face of those land grabs more than 13 years ago.
Let me take you back a little.
In the year 2000, during the height or the heightened beginning of the land grabs, Mugabe was addressing Zanu-PF supporters in what was his last campaign of the parliamentary elections in the Chinhoyi District.
I was standing right in front of him as I was covering that story, and Mugabe publicly invited white Zimbabwean farmers to sit around the table with him to discuss the matter of farm grabs.
“Come, come. Let’s have a discussion,” he said.
It did not happen. White Zimbabwean farmers were in a furious mode. So, the farmers lost out, Zimbabwe lost out.
Mugabe and his policies aside, white farmers failed to sit around the table with the man (Mugabe) to find a meaningful solution to what was a looming socio-economic disaster. Instead, they organise themselves into a few bands of military style militias to defend their farms against the so-called liberation war veterans with disastrous consequences. A lot of people died, including farmers.
After those early land grabs, there was a tremendous drop in agricultural output with exports suffering severely, resulting in starvation and famine. Zimbabwe, which was the sixth largest producer of tobacco in the world in 2001, produced a third less of that produced in the previous year, the lowest volumes in 50 years. Zimbabwe had once been so rich it was considered the “bread basket” of Southern Africa.
Today, Zimbabwe is struggling to feed its own population. Some 45% of its people are now considered malnourished.
So what should mining companies do today?
Do yourselves a favour: engage Mugabe and Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere whose portfolio includes directing the foreign transfer of foreign companies’ assets to black Zimbabweans and government.
Engage, engage. Sit them around the table until you find a solution. Who knows? You might surprise yourselves at those roundtable discussions. You might find that these guys are not monsters after all.
You owe it to your shareholders, staff and some of those communities where you do business, and most of all you owe it to yourselves and your consciences.
Executives of companies doing business in Zim, were employed to lead and manage. This includes managing governments. In crises like these, please go to the table and engage.
Good luck ladies and gentlemen.
Nobody said it was going to be easy.