Mugabe broadside leaves Zimplats takeover in a muddle

Zimplats, the Zimbabwe arm of South Africa's Impala Platinum (Implats), faces renewed pressure on its Zimbabwean operations as the spotlight falls on an indigenisation deal sealed with the company in January. It now has less than 30 days to appeal a government notice to take over 50% of its mining claims.

Implats said it was taking "legal advice" to protect its rights but remains in consultation with the "relevant government authorities".

The Zimplats indigenisation deal, which was brokered by Saviour Kasukuwere, the minister of youth development, indigenisation and empowerment, has drawn criticism from President Robert Mugabe, who said he was concerned about the "mistakes" made in the deal.

At his 89th birthday celebrations in Bindura last Sunday, Mugabe poked holes in the transaction, which is valued at more than $900-million.

Mugabe said Kasukuwere was wrong to endorse the agreement because it required the government to pay for shares acquired under the indigenisation deal.

"[Kasukuwere] made a mistake," Mugabe said. "He did not quite understand what was happening … the mineral resource is owned by us."

In January, Kasukuwere agreed to the takeover of Zimplats's 51% stake by means of vendor financing from Implats.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Kasukuwere said his ministry appreciated the insight given by Mugabe and he was moving quickly to address some of the loopholes in the programme.

"People must not suppose that the indigenisation programme has lost steam," said Kasukuwere. "In fact, it is gathering much more speed. The policy of the government will be to look at the terms of the deal. But our position is very clear that we will not pay for any of the resources."

Highly placed sources in the indigenisation ministry said the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board was now "taking steps" to inform the Zimplats and Implats management of preparations to rework the deal.

Political analysts said the latest disagreement over how to implement the indigenisation programme was an indictment of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, which was pursuing political expediency at the expense of a viable, sustainable and well-reasoned economic policy.

"The level of internal dissonance and disagreements about the indigenisation deals and approaches has raised concern about whether there was enough time spent thinking through the policy framework of this programme," said Trevor Maisiri, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.

"The current heckling also [signals] a lack of confidence among Zimbabweans about whether the programme will indeed deliver the promised results."

Last month, Gideon Gono, the governor of Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank, also waded into the indigenisation row and proposed a gradual supply and distribution model to counter the more aggressive 51% indigenisation drive.

Gono's proposal is premised on wealth creation for ordinary people and the gradual takeover of foreign-owned companies. It also moots delaying the 51% takeover of firms by almost 20 years and includes giving small and medium-sized enterprises the exclusive right to supply a given proportion of all inputs relating to a specific economic sector.

Meanwhile, Zimplats has said that the Zimbabwean government had notified it of its intention to take 27 948 hectares of the land it owns, which constitutes 50% of the mineral claims owned by Zimplats. Obert Mpofu, the mines and mining development minister, said the land would be given to "new investors for the benefit of the public".

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