Zimbabweans face the choice of two sharply contrasting economic plans in elections next year: the lofty promise of owning companies, or the simple promise of a job.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), long criticised for failing to come up with an economic plan to counter Zanu-PF's more aggressive positions on the economy, has released what it calls "juice" — the jobs, upliftment, investment, capital and environment plan.
The MDC's choice of venue for the launch last week highlighted two very different approaches to economic policy. High Glen shopping mall is owned by Old Mutual, the biggest property investor in Zimbabwe. The mall, on the southern outskirts of Harare, lies half empty after most businesses abandoned it because rentals are too high.
Zanu-PF's solution to reviving the mall has been to campaign for Old Mutual to sell half of its business to locals, arguing that the company is driving small black enterprises into redundancy. In response, Old Mutual has handed shares to workers and pumped $11-million in cash into a government "youth empowerment fund".
Under the MDC's new policy, however, Old Mutual would not have been forced into selling stock or shelling out cash. The MDC claims it will end President Robert Mugabe's "confrontational approach" private businesses such as Old Mutual and help businesses to invest more to create jobs.
The MDC's plan offers sharp criticism of Zanu-PF's economic policies, but does not offer specifics on how it plans to achieve its promises of a million jobs over five years, economic growth of 8% a year and a $100-billion economy by 2040.
The MDC's policy document was launched just as Zanu-PF stepped up its empowerment rhetoric ahead of its annual conference this week — the theme of which, predictably, has to do with empowerment. Zanu-PF has used the policy, under which 51% of all foreign firms must be sold to locals, to boost its appeal. But the MDC insists the majority of people think jobs are more important.
"There will never be any empowerment unless one goes to work and earns a salary," Prime Minister and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said at the launch.
The MDC aimed to attract foreign investment to create new jobs, the policy document said, adding that Zanu-PF's indigenisation policy was a "smash and grab" that would reward only Mugabe's top table.
Zanu-PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo, however, said the MDC "believes jobs can be imported and brought to Zimbabwe in briefcases by the same Western countries whose economies are going through a crippling financial crisis".
The debate about the MDC's policy document shows how little the two sides have moved since the last election. Zanu-PF continues to address its rural power base, where its message of land ownership and company nationalisation finds support, whereas the MDC continues to appeal to urban voters, who back its jobs message.
The MDC hopes the plan will end criticism that it is always on the back foot, constantly reacting to Zanu-PF policies without driving its own agenda.
The MDC promises to immediately repeal the empowerment law once in office. "Zanu-PF's indigenisation policy is about replacing foreign capitalists with African capitalists connected to power."
Whereas Zanu-PF is using community share trusts to supposedly spread economic ownership, the MDC said it would ensure a "broad-based economic agenda" based on "robust and empirically sound policies".
Savior Kasukuwere, minister of youth development, indigenisation and empowerment, said the MDC's policy was the equivalent to "putting lipstick on a pig" and that the party was "sleepwalking". "They [MDC] do not have a single pro-poor policy."
The MDC said it would seek to mend the international relations damaged by Mugabe, but economic analyst Eric Bloch doubts that the party will be able to garner the level of foreign support it expects.
The MDC might also struggle to please global lenders, among them the International Monetary Fund, which wants the government to take unpopular decisions, such as cutting jobs in exchange for aid.