COLUMN | Zimbabwe’s refinery privatisation: Whose gold is it anyway?

By Takura Zhangazha

The government of Zimbabwe has decided to privatise its gold refinery, Fidelity Printers and Refineries.  In a report carried by newZWire, it turns out the parastatal is now going to be majority (60%) owned by at least ten unnamed gold mining companies that paid a total of $US49 million to the Zimbabwean government.

For many a Zimbabwean, this may be a run-of-the-mill business transaction.  They wouldn’t even bother with any follow-up questions on either the necessity, let alone accountability, of this specific development, nor its far-reaching impact on not only gold mining, but also the broader political economy of the country. 

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What has however been in the public domain about gold has been stories and allegations of gold smuggling, even most astoundingly at our own international airports.  So the narrative is one of cartels and shady operations about gold.  This includes the more tragic ones concerning gold-panners and so-called ‘illegal miners’, commonly referred to as ‘makorokoza’. The latter are always in the media for either violent incidents or tragic deaths in collapsed disused mine shafts. 

What gets lost in translation is the fact that the mineral that is gold is a key component of our national wealth, initially by way of historical symbolism. 

It is recognised on our national flag and it is also recognised as having been key to not only the establishment of our revered ancient civilisations, but also what racist colonial settler capitalists initially envied and sought to conquer us for.  

So the given national assumption via historical consciousness is that we, as Zimbabweans, own our gold. It represents a key component of our national wealth, and therefore must be utilised for the general public good and not the aggrandisement of individuals, let alone for corporate profiteering. 

That the government can, with relative ease, privatise not only its mining, but now its actual refining and end-process global marketing, should give us pause to reflect on a number of issues.

Whose gold?

The initial emerging question is; “To whom does our gold now belong?”  

Given recent developments, it now evidently belongs to a select private sector, with probable links to our ruling political elites in one form or the other, with an assumption, probably from state officials, that there shall be some trickle down benefit to the masses with the passage of time.  

We have been here before as a country via what was then the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAPs) of the late 1980s through to the year 2000. Large scale privatisation of the national wealth meant the loss of jobs due to following the arbitrary dictates of a global market. All of which came to undermine our national social wellbeing, while protecting global capital’s interests. 

The second element that emerges with this new move by the government is where and when it is juxtaposed against the whole idea of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) of 2000 going forward.  

So, assuming we took the land from our previous oppressors for revolutionary ownership purposes, how do we then privatise a key mineral asset such as gold? It comes from underneath the very soil we claim to have fought for, but our government is of the view that it cannot be nationalised for the public good? Never mind the fact that we were accusing former white commercial farmers of illegal gold and diamond mining during the FTLRP. 

And, even now, we are compensating them at competitive global market prices for the same land we popularly argue we reclaimed. It is as contradictory as it is an incremental reversal and sacrifice of nationalist ideological causes at the altar of neoliberalism.

In the third instance, the privatisation of gold does not appear to have a bigger plan that the people of Zimbabwe can appreciate as impacting any improvement in their everyday lives. 

Sure, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has embarked on infrastructural rehabilitation projects. But in the majority of the examples that can be given for these projects, it is in order to enable what he has referred to as the “ease of doing business”.

There is limited room to doubt the priority of private capital’s interests with this government. Whereas in Venezuela or Bolivia, major mineral extraction plans focused on large-scale national welfarist programmes, despite global capital’s hostilities and sanctions, it was evident that the national wealth was to be spent on the majority poor in those countries. 

Here in Zimbabwe, we appear to be keen on assuming that if we satisfy private capital, we satisfy the people. This has been historically proven to be a false assumption, and one that can only lead to a result which I outline as a final point in this write up.

When political elites find common ground with owners of local and global private capital, it is a recipe for the establishment of national oligarchies.

It is as American a model as it can be Chinese. In the former they create revolving doors between business/private capital and politics. In the latter they expand a one party state into a global corporation that resists challenges to its overall hegemony.  

We are probably in the early stages of either of the same in Zimbabwe. That is, a combination or alliance of the political and corporate/private capital elite in order to establish permanency to their newfound potential hegemony. Hence the latest scramble after the scramble for the control of gold production and profits. 

We would still, however, as Zimbabweans, need to answer this question; “Whose gold is it anyway?” 


*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (