/ 17 June 2008

Mugabe warns business to get on side

President Robert Mugabe rejected fresh calls for economic reform at a rare meeting with the heads of Zimbabwe’s largest business groups this week. He accused business of being part of a Western conspiracy to overthrow his government.

At the meeting on Wednesday the heads of bodies representing banks, industry, mining and tourism presented Mugabe with dire accounts of the state of the economy.

The official inflation rate is 165 000%, but private estimates put it at over more than one million percent.
Industries are shutting down under the impact of price controls and rising production costs, the business heads told Mugabe.

However, the president refused to accept any responsibility for the economic crisis. ‘The blame lies with manufacturers and distributors who are contributing to the escalation of prices,” he told the meeting.

He also defended legislation introduced last year compelling all major businesses to sell majority stakes to local investors, saying it was designed to help businesses ‘make sovereign decisions”.

Mugabe said his government wants to check who owns companies he suspects are controlled by ‘people representing foreign interests”.

‘Some — are just managers and their authority is limited. Their political orientation might be that of the past and not in line with that of the present government,” he said.

‘It is now time that we accept that we have been left by ourselves, we have been abandoned by people who used to rule us,” he said. ‘Instead, some of you here are dishonest. You have turned against the government and refuse to comply with our policies.”

Mugabe asked the businessmen whether they were willing to allow Zimbabwe to die because of the Western sanctions he blames for the economic crisis.

Zimbabweans should not vote his party out of power, ‘handing the country over to the colonialists, just because they cannot get sugar”.

He warned his audience that ‘our veterans were not happy by the actions of businesses”.

At the meeting were the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe, representing large groups such as Zimplats, and the Bankers Association of Zim­bab­we, which includes the Zimbabwean arms of Standard Bank, Barclays and Standard Chartered.  

Large international corporations such as Tongaat Hulett, Rio Tinto and SAB still directly or indirectly hold assets in Zimbabwe. Many are members of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, which also attended the meeting.

This was Mugabe’s first meeting with business leaders since August last year, when they approached him at the height of the crisis caused by his order to retailers to halve prices.