Nestlé reopens in Zimbabwe

Nestlé has reopened its factory in Zimbabwe after receiving assurances from the government that its business will not be interfered with again, a government official said on Tuesday.

The Swiss food company shut its Harare factory last month, complaining of harassment by authorities after it stopped taking milk supplies from a farm that had reportedly been seized by
members of President Robert Mugabe’s family.

The move was widely seen as a setback to efforts by the new power-sharing government to attract foreign investors in a bid to revamp a battered economy.

Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube said on Tuesday he had been assigned to meet with Nestlé management and assure them
that their concerns would be addressed. “We cannot afford to lose investors at this stage when we are rebuilding the economy,” he said.

Government interference
A worker at the Nestlé plant in Harare meanwhile said: “I hope the government stops affecting our operations here. It is hard to find employment in this country these days.”

Nestlé last month said its decision to shut the facility had been prompted by an unannounced visit from government officials and police on December 19, after which the firm was forced to accept a milk delivery from non-contracted suppliers.

Two company executives, including expatriate managing director Heath Tilley, were questioned by police and released without charge the same day.

Nestlé, has been operating in Zimbabwe for 50 years and employs more than 200 people in the southern African nation.

Last October, the company stopped buying milk from Gushungo Dairy Estate following international criticism of a deal agreed earlier in the year. The farm had been seized under Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme which targets mainly whites.

Farm seizures
Critics say Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned commercial farms, which began in 2000 — officially to resettle landless black Zimbabweans who have no farming experience — has ruined the once-prosperous country.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, says Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is due to sanctions imposed by Western nations in response to land reform. – Sapa

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