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Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Tuesday, 14 September 2010 13:01 UK
Zimbabwe to take over foreign firms

By Mike Thomson
Today programme, Harare

A Zimbabwean man holds a placard among as a crowd gathers to attend commemoration of Heroes Day at the National Heroes" acre in Harare
Zimbabwe's government aims to take power away from western businesses

First came the government sanctioned invasion of white owned farms. Now foreign companies in Zimbabwe are being taken over.

All firms valued at more than $500,000 will be required over the next five years to sell a controlling 51% stake of their companies to black Zimbabweans.

Among the many internationals in the line of fire are Barclays, British and American Tobacco, BP, Nestle and Unilever.

The government says the aim of the move is to empower the black majority population and right the wrongs of colonialism.

Zimbabwe's Minister for Indigenisation, Saviour Kasukuwere, told me that he is not going "to allow this same cartel to continue plundering this country's wealth and resources at the expense of the majority."

"This is a continuation in the struggle for freedom," he added.

The minister insists that companies will be paid the market rate for the controlling share of their firms. Though he added, rather ominously for some, that this price must not be "exploitative".

Mining firms, however, will not be able to include minerals they have rights to mine as part of their assets.

"Everything that is underground belongs to the people of Zimbabwe and their values must go to the people of Zimbabwe," he said.

Disinvestment fears

Mr Kasukuwere, who has amassed significant business interests here in recent years, did not rule out the possibility of buying assets in foreign firms himself.

Critics fear that many other senior members of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party, along with some military leaders, may do likewise.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe
Mugabe: "It has always been our aim to have control of our resources"

Ordinary people, they claim, who are supposed to be empowered by this policy, are unlikely to have the money to invest in anything.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is among those within the country's unity government who fear that the move could damage economic recovery and dissuade foreign companies from coming to Zimbabwe, a company that is still on its knees economically.

But it is thought foreign firms may be able to retain control of their businesses by agreeing to invest in local infrastructure projects like schools, hospitals and roads.

President Robert Mugabe remains bullish. In an interview with Reuters last week he repeated his intention to press ahead with the policy which was first announced in 2008.

As for foreign firms fleeing in droves because of the move, he said "it has always been our aim to have control of our resources and I don't think the private sectors of the Western countries would, in total, decide to stay away."

That remains to be seen.

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