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Thursday, 15 June, 2000, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Analysis: Mugabe targets the mines
Zanu PF banner
Land comes first - but gold and copper could be next
President Robert Mugabe's promise to africanise Zimbabwe's mining interests comes in the bitter campaign leading up to elections.

The aggressive seizure of white-owned farms by Mr Mugabe's supporters has already divided the country.

After land we must look at the mining sector, there must be Africans as owners, not just as workers

Robert Mugabe
But even critics of the squatters' violent methods generally agree the issue of black landowners disinherited under colonial rule is an urgent one which has to be addressed.

But imposing changes on the mining sector is likely to prove far more controversial.

It is not entirely clear what Mr Mugabe has in mind by the africanisation of the mines - nationalisation, or transfer to favoured black owners.

Either way, the suggestion of state interference in mine ownership is likely to evoke memories of Mr Mugabe's previous commitment during the 1980s to a state-controlled socialist economy.

As such, international jitters about Zimbabwe's economy in the wake of land occupations can be expected to turn to full-blown panic at Mr Mugabe's latest position.

New direction

Until now Mr Mugabe's militant programme to empower black Zimbabweans economically has explicitly drawn the line at the seizure of white-owned farmland.

Checking the electoral rolls
The election has already divided Zimbabwean society
This is the first time he has said he would africanise the mining sector, and his tone suggests there may be other targets such as banking or the commercial sector.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accuses Mr Mugabe of trying to the buy votes of Zimbabwe's elite with a plan that could lead to economic disaster.

Critical observers describe it as characteristic of the irrationality of a desperate government that will do anything to stay in power.

Mineral wealth

Mining accounts for about 8% of Zimbabwe's GDP, generating about 40% of annual export earnings.

A record 28 tonnes of gold was exported in 1999, raising nearly $450m or 30% of the value of exports. Other mines extract coal, copper, nickel, chromite, asbestos and iron ore.

Robert Mugabe campaign speech
Mugabe talks about economically empowering black Zimbabweans
Some marginal mines already face the prospect of closure under the dire economic and energy situation in Zimbabwe.

The likelihood of closures would increase under nationalisation, commercial mining being a complex and expensive operation usually carried out by specialist companies.

Discredited path

By setting his sights beyond land reform, Mr Mugabe appears to be following the well-trodden - but largely discredited - path of africanisers such as Uganda's Idi Amin and Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire.

Mr Amin's deportation of about 50,000 UK passport-holding South Asians in 1972 failed to bring promised prosperity, and saw the collapse of the commercial sector.

Petrol queue
Fuel shortages have hit industrial and domestic users
Meanwhile, the economic outcome of Mobutism was the wholesale plunder of Congo's resources by the ruling elite.

In the modern age, even governments ideologically predisposed to nationalisation of white-owned mineral resources have eschewed such tendencies.

In South Africa, redistribution of mineral wealth is the last thing on President Thabo Mbeki's mind, although it occasionally appears in the rhetoric of the left wing of the governing ANC.

And Mr Mugabe's opponents hope his comments about Zimbabwe's mines prove to be no more than rhetoric.

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See also:

07 Jun 00 | Africa
Mugabe eyes all white farms
06 Jun 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe fear spreads
12 Jun 00 | Africa
$100 fee for Zimbabwe monitors
13 Jun 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe hampers EU observers
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