SW Radio Africa (London)

South Africa: Indigenisation Climb-Down Linked to Mbeki Visit

ZANU PF's attempts to 'soften' its indigenisation approach have been linked to a recent visit to the country by former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki, who is said to have warned Robert Mugabe about the potential dangers in the policy.

Mbeki was in Zimbabwe for an unexplained visit with Mugabe last month. It is now being reported that the former South Africa statesman advised Mugabe to tone down the ZANU PF indigenisation rhetoric.

ZANU PF has previously been unrelenting on the policy, threatening major firms across the country with a 'comply or close' approach. Under former Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere's leadership, firms such as Zimplats and others were repeatedly threatened for not complying with the policy.

The implementation of the 'empowerment' programme appeared relentless, despite warnings from economic analysts that the plans are a major threat to Zimbabwe's economic recovery, because they scare away potential investors.

But in recent weeks Mugabe himself and other members of the party have taken softer stance than usual on the controversial empowerment policy, which is meant to target 51% of foreign owned firms.

Since meeting Mbeki, Mugabe has made two public statements about how the policy has been 'misinterpreted', once at the Independence Day celebrations in Harare, and then again in Bulawayo at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair last week.

A source quoted by the NewsDay newspaper said: "Mbeki came to discuss with Mugabe the country's investment perception, especially by foreign players who are skeptical on whether their investments will be secure especially with frequent indigenisation rhetoric from his ministers."

Mbeki's intentions meanwhile are being questioned, with observers noting that the South African is a friend of Mugabe's, but not Zimbabwe's. He has been blamed repeatedly for helping Mugabe cling to power through a 'softly-softly' diplomatic approach, even crafting the unity government arrangement in 2008 to allow Mugabe to remain President despite losing elections. Critics say his presence in Zimbabwe now is likely to better secure personal interests than the national ones of Zimbabweans.

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