Jack Murehwa, the former president of the Zimbabwean Chamber of Mines, has criticised the new legislation requiring companies to divest their ownership to indigenous residents. Until now, industry representatives have been keeping their powder dry on the subject.
Zimbabwe's Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, passed last year and, according to President Mugabe, enforceable since April 17th last year, has never been popular with foreign investors in general nor the mining industry in particular.
This law requires all public companies and certain other businesses, such as mines and banks, to be at least 51% owned by indigenous Zimbabweans. No changes to company ownership, be it a proposed merger or other restructuring, are to be permitted unless this requirement is met as a result of the change.
It has been widely reported that the government may use the legislation to seize 25% stakes in the country's $20 bn mining industry without paying compensation, leaving 26% available to buy by indigenous citizens. "We don't believe that setting up empowerment limits is the way to go, it serves no purpose at all," Murehwa commented at a mining conference. "Let the mining companies set the targets."
Companies are to be assessed, and rated, according to their degree of compliance and all government procurement, at the local and national level, is to be sourced at least 51% from companies that comply with the Act. Mugabe has long been committed to such redistribution as a point of principle.
In a May 2002 interview with African Business' sister publication New African, he said this emphatically, in the context of the cost of sanctions against Zimbabwe: "If that is what we are going to pay, we will pay it for sustaining our principle and the right of our people to be sovereign over their resources, yes. You cannot, as Nkrumah said, sacrifice principle to expediency, no. Principle must never be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. That's Nkrumah. And he is right."
Zimbabwe's mining industry, like much of the rest of its economy, has been hard hit by the political crisis, which has led to a lack of investment, an exodus of skilled workers and a resulting fall in mining output. There were some 88 mines operating in the country last year, compared with just 20 this year--and only three of these are believed to be operating at capacity.
It is believed that the country's industries as a...