A Zimbabwean businessman of Indian origin Ramish Kewada, who owned a paint and plastics retail shop in Harare, asked a United States embassy official eight years ago whether the West was afraid of President Robert Mugabe because he was an intelligent black man because he did not understand why they wanted to get rid of him.
Kewada who had a lot of faith in Mugabe and believed he could turn around the country’s economy said Mugabe was not corrupt but was surrounded by corrupt advisors who did not provide him with the information he needed to make proper decisions.
He argued that Mugabe was not aware of the level of corruption around him because he always said something when he was made aware of it.
Kewada said that commercial farmers were partly to blame for their fate because they were stubborn about land reform and overly confident about their ability to control events.
He said Mugabe protected the commercial farmers after independence but finally had to balance land ownership. He said that the British and Americans reneged on their monetary and political support, so Mugabe did it himself.
He, however, acknowledged that political expediency also played a role in Mugabe’s land reform implementation.
Viewing cable 04HARARE1308, ASIAN INDIANS WEIGH PROSPECTS IN ZIMBABWE
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001308
STATE FOR AF/S
USDOC FOR AMANDA HILLIGAS
TREASURY FOR OREN WYCHE-SHAW
PASS USTR FLORIZELLE LISER
STATE PASS USAID FOR MARJORIE COPSON
USDOL FOR ROBERT YOUNG
STATE FOR MARINDA HARPOLE
¶E. O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: ASIAN INDIANS WEIGH PROSPECTS IN ZIMBABWE
¶1. (SBU) Summary: Can Indian-Zimbabweans escape the
wrath that the Mugabe government has showered upon
whites? EconOff spoke with Zimbabweans of Indian descent
(“Asians” in local vernacular) and an Indian Embassy
representative about conditions in Zimbabwe. Some are
hopeful while others are less optimistic about their
future in Zimbabwe. End summary.
ASIANS IN ZIMBABWE
¶2. (SBU) Indians came to Zimbabwe three or more
generations ago, mostly engaging in commerce. In the
latter days of Rhodesia, Asians formed strong ties to
Zanu-PF and its leadership to combat discrimination. They
assisted monetarily and otherwise the then-rebel ZANU-PF.
Asians are now Zimbabwe’s largest minority, accounting
for nearly 1 percent of the population.
¶3. (SBU) The Asian community built its own society with
separate schools, religious worship centers, sports
clubs, etc. Interaction with indigenous Zimbabweans is
limited to business transactions and general social
encounters. Since land reform began, Asians have kept low
profiles while quietly funding and supporting GOZ. They
hope to retain their possessions and positions by
publicly staying away from politics. Many attribute the
white commercial farmers’ sudden downfall to their public
and defiant support for the opposition.
RAMISH KEWADA: A ZANU-PF SUPPORTER
¶4. (SBU) Kewada owns a paint and plastics retail shop in
downtown Harare. He claimed that his family had close
ties to the ruling party. Kewada expressed faith in
President Mugabe and GOZ’s ability to better the economy.
¶5. (SBU) Kewada believes that commercial farmers are
partly to blame for their fate- they were stubborn about
land reform and overly confident about their ability to
control events. Kewada believes Mugabe protected the
commercial farmers after independence but finally had to
balance land ownership. He says that the British and
Americans reneged on their monetary and political
support, so Mugabe did it himself. Kewada did acknowledge
that political expediency also played a role in Mugabe’s
land reform implementation.
¶6. (SBU) Kewada believes Mugabe is not corrupt but is
surrounded by corrupt advisors who do not provide him
with the information he needs to make proper decisions;
Mugabe is unaware of the level of corruption around him
and always says something when he is made aware of it.
¶7. (SBU) Kewada does not understand why the West “wants
to get Mugabe”. He asked whether the West was afraid of
Mugabe as an intelligent black man. EconOff told him that
the West welcomes honest intellectual debate as part of
its core free speech principles. Rather, it is repressive
policies that the West dislikes. Kewada admitted there
had been mistakes, but attributed them to corrupt
advisors’ mal-adherence to Mugabe’s policies.
¶8. (SBU) Kewada says that Asians keep a low profile and
support the ruling party. As a minority, it is their only
option. Although the youth leave the country for higher
education, Kewada believes they will return because this
is their home and they cannot live the same luxurious
life in the UK or USA.
VAS NAYEE: TRYING TO SURVIVE IN A SINKING ECONOMY
¶9. (SBU) Mr. Vas Nayee owns a blue jeans manufacturing
concern in Harare. He also runs the Jaipur restaurant at
the Sunrise Club (the mostly-Asian sports club). Nayee
expressed concern about the fate of Asians and business.
¶10. (SBU) Nayee’s blue jeans business used to supply
Target stores, but now survives on local and South
African orders. Target shifted business to AGOA-compliant
countries. At the same time, labor wants a living wage
that he cannot afford. He hopes wage negotiations will
produce a more modest proposal. In an hyper-inflationary
and random government interventionist environment,
businesses cannot plan any type of short, medium, or long-
¶11. (SBU) Nayee feels there is not an historic tension
between locals and Asians in Zimbabwe. However, recently,
general resentment of Asians’ quality of life has
increased. Nayee has personally felt this walking into
stores where people glare at him- although no one has
actually physically or verbally abused him. He can just
feel the suspicion and resentment in their glaring eyes.
¶12. (SBU) Nayee described how when the Joshi brothers
fled, many Asians suddenly felt vulnerable. The Joshis
were supposedly so connected that they were protected
from anything as long as Zanu-PF remained in power. Now,
they wonder if it is not such a large leap from farms to
commerce. So, Asians keep a low profile in the hopes of
weathering the storm. The youth are studying higher and
secondary education abroad and will likely not return.
¶K. JEEVA SAGAR: AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE
¶13. (SBU) Mr. Sagar is the Indian Embassy’s second in
charge. He stated that Asians maintain a low profile with
their own schools, places of worship, etc. Their small
numbers and self-enforced isolation has kept them safe.
Asians’ heavy involvement in the independence struggle
and subsequent support for Zanu-PF and Mugabe has bought
them protection. But loyalty could run out, especially
when indigenous Zimbabweans generally believe that the
Asian community takes advantage of business opportunities
without giving back to the community.
¶14. (SBU) Sagar believes Mugabe’s personal loyalty to the
Asian community runs too deep for any backlash to emerge.
Particular individuals, such as the Joshi brothers, may
be targeted, but not the community. However, a new
government (Zanu-PF, MDC, or other) may feel differently.
All the elements for a backlash exist: an easily
recognizable minority who enjoy an higher standard of
living than the local population, who keep to themselves
and do not contribute to the local society.
¶15. (SBU) Despite Kewada’s optimism, there is a general
uneasiness among Asians. As the youth leave the country
for higher education, they are unlikely to return after
establishing lives elsewhere. Kewada himself appeared as
if he were trying to convince himself.
¶16. (SBU) the low profile and financial support strategy
may prove shortsighted. While Mugabe has refrained from
targeting Asians, the leap is not that great from farms
to other sectors (as the recent grab for conservancies
illustrates). Eventually, when the land reform promises
fall short, a new scapegoat will emerge.
¶17. (SBU) Once a government begins demonizing part of
society, the madness may not stop until brother fights
against brother. Asians are distinct in race, color,
religion, and dress. They also isolate themselves from
the general society. This makes them easy targets if Zanu-
PF chooses. Sagar may be correct that Mugabe’s loyalties
run too deep, but he is 80 years old and there is no
guarantee that the next Zanu-PF or other government would
uphold those loyalties. The local Asian community should
seek to build bridges and connect with the general
society rather than retreat.