3 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Threatens BAT for Allegedly Sabotaging Local Firms

Photo: Mabvuto Banda/IPS
Small scale tobacco farmers

The heat against British American Tobacco (BAT) intensified last week, after Robert Mugabe threatened the company with unspecified action over allegations that BAT sabotaged trucks belonging to a local company, in order to maintain their dominance.

Mugabe was speaking at an indigenisation conference last Wednesday, where BAT gave up over 26 % of its shares to locals, in compliance with ZANU PF's indigenisation policies.

But the company was attacked by the ZANU PF leader, who said investigations by intelligence and security divisions had revealed that BAT was behind the hijacking of trucks belonging to Savanna Tobacco, while they were delivering cigarettes to South Africa. He claimed BAT trucks were never attacked, suggesting that they were involved.

"I hope all will be well but in fact those are the things that have been happening in order to kill competition and you try to undo a competitor in that ugly way that's not acceptable, some people will have to answer for it," Mugabe told the Conference. He added that he hoped the management was unaware of the plot.

According to the state run Herald newspaper police detectives said investigations are underway and at an advanced stage, with more leads unfolding. The case is reportedly being dealt with by the CID.

Charles Taffs, president of the Commercial Farmers Union, told SW Radio Africa that truck hijacking is a problem throughout the African continent and hijackers do not specifically target cigarette trucks.

"BAT is not a cigarette exporter as it explained. It is an exporter of partially processed tobacco leaf. So for accusations to be made that their trucks of cigarettes are getting through when others are not is absolutely ridiculous," Taffs explained.

The Herald said BAT Zimbabwe spokesperson, Shungu Chirunda, dismissed the allegations and the company published a statement in the local press on Sunday, saying they do not even export cigarettes.

Taffs said these threats and accusations against multi-national companies are meant to force them to fall in line with ZANU-PF's indigenisation policies. But he warned that all it does is diminish investor confidence and damage our broader economy.

A report in the Herald said local cigarette manufacturers that export to South Africa have lost about R100 million worth of products last year to "organised armed gangs."

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