Feature Article: Private property rights and Zimbabwe from a gender perspective

I am not an economist, but the challenges facing the Zimbabwean economy disturb me. Being a woman, wife and mother, I think the importance of property ownership rights can best be explained from a gender paradigm. You may question this nexus but I insist this is key to unlocking Zimbabwe’s economic development. I read about complex economic strategies; mine is an analogy which if understood and applied could well help Zimbabwe recover from what economists refer to as high risk perception, confidence deficit and deflation.

Confronted with such challenges, Zimbabwe has made several calls for SMEs to boost the country’s revenue, advocated national debt relief, and the return of the Zim dollar among myriad other strategies. The business community has not been spared. Recently, a delegation led by Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries toured Europe attempting to unlock investor confidence in Zimbabwe. One of the major concerns raised by EU members was around the Indigenisation and Empowerment Policy.

We can make a thousand trips to Europe, make new policy announcements, but as long as the basic elements influencing business activity are not addressed, all of our efforts will amount to nothing. This paper argues that the basic influences that affect business activity can best be explained through the-woman-wife-mother analogy.

Motherhood and property ownership rights

As a mother, I have a strong biological, natural and genuine attachment to my two sons. From birth, I took care of them diligently with love and affection. My wish then was to make sure they grow up as comfortably and as free from harm as possible. I would go to work to make sure they were well looked after. I would become restless the moment one of them fell sick and insist that he be taken to the doctor. My husband at times would feel it was unnecessary and that I was being overly sensitive. All I wanted was for my boys to grow into fine adults. I would fight anything that interfered with this vision. I did not want to see them hurt and could not stand a moment when they were out of sight.

I narrate this everyday story of a mother’s plight so that one appreciates the importance of ‘ownership’. To me your property is like your child; it is yours. You are committed to see it flourish and you always wish the best for it. You will always go out of your way to protect it from all forms of danger. Imagine waking up and being told that your business or property has been given to someone who has no emotional or ‘labour’ attachment to it like you? That person is bound to abuse it because they do not understand how everything got to be where it is. They have a zero connection with the business. They have no mother and child umbilical bond and therefore will not put much effort into ensuring its survival. As a mother, when my child cried, I knew exactly what to check.

Taking a business has serious consequences

Taking over a business you did not create, or purchase, is theft. It is claiming heritage to something that does not belong to you. You cannot gauge its ‘normal temperature’. You won’t be fully aware of the times for diaper changes or when ‘established trends in the business’ may need to be changed. You can never replace the passion of the original owner, of the mother. The first owner of the property had a clear vision, one you might not even understand. The best person to look after a business is its ‘mother’, the rest are mere pretenders wanting to abuse the child (business) or simply benefit.

Corruption exists in our institutions simply because they are not ‘owned’ by anyone. We need a society that teaches us to create and innovate competitive businesses. The policy of expropriation has created a Zimbabwean who shamelessly takes away. Corruption is a result of that culture.


As a wife, I remember the first days after I moved in with my husband; how I rearranged everything, from the bedroom to the garden. I made sure that everything was tidy and met my expectations. Over the years I have not only maintained but continued to spruce up the image of my home. I did all this because I felt that my husband’s home was mine to make good. I also made sure my husband dressed smart and was well fed, because he was mine. If he was not mine, I do not think I would have bothered. When you feel you own something, you go out of your way to protect it and develop it.

It is my belief that businesses are like spousal relationships which bloom when they feel secure and comfortable. If you want to see a woman’s worst aspects, cheat on her or violate her. All smiles evaporate. She won’t care about how the home looks - behaviour typical of business operations. Business needs security. It blossoms in secure environments. Volatility is an enemy of business. We can claim anything about the Zimbabwean economy, but without secure property and ownership rights, we will continue to toil because of our failure to address this business principle. The moment you scorn property and ownership, remember how a woman enraged behaves!

Before I became a wife, I went out of my way to be attractive. To me, this is what Zimbabwe needs to do - to make itself attractive for investment. It needs to look at how it deters its investor courtship overtures, be it politics or policies. Besides her looks, a woman is attractive because of her demeanour. Zimbabwe needs to speak in a manner that attracts, that creates interest in her and by so doing will rejuvenate business interest. Unfortunately, the way Zimbabwe speaks repels potential ‘suitors’. The Zimbabwe-speak in media and legislation portrays a scary volatile repulsive zombie.

Respect for ownership and investor security remain key

To unlock Zimbabwean business activity, we need to undergo a creative destruction process, destroying old economic structures (which do not respect property rights) with new ones. This is important because we inherited an extractive colonial economic system that was meant to create wealth for a minority. ‘Indigenisation’ opens avenues for the politically connected only. The poor remain subjugated. Zimbabwe needs to move from extractive to inclusive economic institutions that encourage private property, uphold contracts, create a level playing field, and encourage and allow free entry of new businesses.

Author Fungisai Sithole is the Zimbabwe Programme Officer of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.


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