APRIL 1981 - VOLUME 2 - NUMBER 4
The Guerilla Veteran As Minister of Mines
An interview with Maurice Nyagumbo
Tapfumaneyi Maurice Nyagumbo spent nearly 20 years in detention or prison for his part in Zimbabwe's liberation struggle.
Educated to primary school level in mission schools, Nyagumbo went to South Africa in the 40s in search of work. He soon became a member of the South African Communist Party, and then in Cape Town in 1953, he became secretary of a Zimbabwean social club. He was deported two years later by South African authorities who alleged he was involved with Mau Mau elements in Kenya.
Back in Zimbabwe-then known as RhodesiaNyagumbo became a branch secretary of the African National Congress in 1957 and as a result was detained till 1962. He was then elected Organizing Secretary of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and was subsequently detained from 1964 to 1974 by the white-rule regime of Ian Smith. Soon after his 1974 release Nyagumbo was convicted of recruiting men for guerrilla training and sentenced to another 15 years in jail. ,
Maurice Nyagumbo was released in December, 1979, as black majority rule finally came to Zimbabwe. Reunited with his wife and five children, Nyagumbo returned to politics as his nation's Minister of Mines. In this capacity he plans to establish a national minerals marketing board, despite protests from the corporations that currently mine and market Zimbabwe's rich mineral resources. An American businessman told Multinational Monitor's Jim Khatami that such a board would be the "biggest mistake" Zimbabwe has yet made.
Khatami was in Zimbabwe late February where he conducted this interview for Multinational Monitor.
MONITOR: It has been suggested that mining companies have used transfer pricing mechanisms in Zimbabweselling cheap to their subsidiaries overseas and buying expensively-in order to avoid taxes and currency controls. Is this correct?
NYAGUMBO: We merely suspect that this is being done. We don't have any evidence but we are looking into every company.
MONITOR: Are the mining companies being cooperative in providing you with information?
NYAGUMBO: They are giving us information but we are not persuaded that the information they are giving us is correct. We would like to get involved in the marketing of all the minerals so that we get the true picture of what is actually going on. We are meeting resistance from various companies to the establishment of a marketing authority. But we are not satisfied with their objections and we see no reason why the marketing authority should not be established.
MONITOR: In a number of other cases where transnational corporations have disagreed with host government policies in the developing world, the companies have scaled down their operations, such as in the case of Jamaica, as a means of exerting political pressure. Have you gotten any ultimatums from the companies that if the government pursues its policy they may decide to scale down their operations?
NYAGUMBO: We see no reason for them to do so. If they decide to do so because of the decision to implement the marketing authority, we will not stop them anyway. Of course we know that this will create quite a lot of problems to the extent that our foreign currency earning will be completely curtailed and also the labor forces who are laid off will be a real problem. But we believe that the state cannot be dictated to by individual companies. If we decide on a policy, it will be carried out-whether it is to the detriment of the state or not.
MONITOR: How do you feel personally, workng with individuals who inflicted so many misfortunes on yourself and your family?
NYAGUMBO: Really, l don't feel anything. After all, I have achieved what I actually wanted. The one who used to be my enemy is today my friend, as long as he will agree with me that we work for the betterment of all.
MONITOR: What steps, if any, are being taken to increase the government's role not in marketing, but in actual mining itself?
NYAGUMBO: Foreign investors in the mining industry are urged to operate with government participation. Any new companies that intend to operate mines in the country can only do so in a joint venture with the state.
MONITOR: Does the government intend to buy shares in mining companies?
NYAGUMBO: Not that really. The government will decide to what percentage it will participate.
MONITOR: You have the reputation for being one of the more uncompromising leaders in the nationalist movement. We have heard that there is some feeling that the pace of changes is too slow. Is there pressure within the higher circles of ZANU for a greater pace of changes?
NYAGUMBO: Yes, it is true that some changes are very slow. We have had strikes at the mines, for instance, and some of the strikes were not solely for wage increases. They were because of treatment. The workers were arguing that they should be in better positions. But explanations have been given to most of our followers that we are not now economically independent. The majority of our labor force understands this. The government is trying to help them by a minimum wage, which they have never dreamed of. Many of the workers in the mining industry were getting something like I S or 25 dollars a month in wages. Now every mine worker is getting $58 in minimum wages. In manufacturing it is $70 today and will go to $85. In the agricultural industry it is $30 when previously they were getting $5 or $7 and the maximum was $10. This has been a big change, and we are promising them that as long as they work hard they will get more.
MONITOR: I was trying to get at the socialist direction that ZANU has talked about for many years. How does one get from here to there?
NYAGUMBO: We have our own way of socialism in this country. Private enterprise will be encouraged just as communal enterprise will be. We will not force anyone to join cooperative schemes. We will explain to the people what cooperatives are and their benefits, because it is easier for the government to assist a cooperative society than individuals. For instance, if a group of 30 people are working a piece of land, the government will assist by giving this group tractors and implements of agriculture, plus fertilizers. If it was done by 30 individual peasants it would be difficult to issue this type of help.
MONITOR: How are the companies responding to government pressure to bring back black Zimbabweans into management and higher level positions, and how is your ministry responding to increased demands for higher wages of the mine workers?
NYAGUMBO: Although labor policy is not in fact my line-labor is handled by the Ministry of Labor and Social Services-I think I can give you perhaps a brief answer. We are embarked on training schemes now; we are encouraging the private companies to take up the training schemes for various mining institutions, and we are also negotiating with friendly countries to train our geologists, our chemists and mining engineers.
MONITOR: Which countries are these?
NYAGUMBO: They include Nigeria, Rumania, Austria and Sweden. We have also sent several people to Canada.
MONITOR: Have you been consulting with other Third World or socialist countries that have had experience in the mining industry in the sense of learning how to manage it? For example, Angola, right after its independence, worked very closely with Algeria to create a state oil company. Have there been moves in that direction by Zimbabwe?
NYAGUMBO: Not yet. But we are in the process of doing it. We expect to work out such arrangements in the future.
MONITOR: Zimbabwe has large deposits of coal but no oil. Have there been discussions about alternative energy resources and how to develop them?
NYAGUMBO: Two months after I took this ministry the prime minister added the position of energy to my department, which he has just taken away to create a new ministry. Now, energy progress in this country is being realized. And we are now thinking of the uses of our coal. We have large deposits. We have at least 23 coal fields in the country, and only one mine has been opened at Wankie. The other 22 contain large deposits of both coking coal and steaming coal which we think we will utilize in our energy diversification.
MONITOR: What about solar energy?
NYAGUMBO: Yes, the department of energy is investigating that.
MONITOR: Do you have any plans to go nuclear?
NYAGUMBO: No, not now; it's an expensive proposition.