Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, normally one of the more level-headed individuals among the Zanu PF elite, last week came up with one of the most foolish statements in recent times. Addressing Zanu PF supporters last week, Mnangagwa — who is seen as a possible successor to President Robert Mugabe — said heads of foreign firms operating in Zimbabwe have to publicly denounce sanctions or risk losing 90% of their companies’ shareholding.
Mnangagwa’s statements are mere political sabre rattling; they’re not government policy, a fact pointed out by Economic Planning and Investment Promotion minister Tapiwa Mashakada — a senior member of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party.
For a country desperately short on external funding and trying to woo investors, Mnangagwa’s rhetoric is enormously damaging. The “anti-sanctions fund”, which he said would be financed by 90% share takeovers from uncooperative firms, appears to be an off the cuff idea arbitrarily thrown in for dramatic effect.
“We will ask them if they support sanctions or not,” Mnangagwa said.
“Those who indicate that they do not support sanctions will be asked to go live on national radio and tell the nation and the rest of the world their company does not support sanctions.”
Industry and Commerce minister and new MDC president, Welshman Ncube described Mnangagwa’s proposal to interrogate industry chiefs as “kangaroo courts” which further undermined efforts to stabilise already shaky investor confidence in the embattled economy.
Also, he pointed out, it is illegal under the constitution to force individuals to make public their political opinions.
But how do you remove sanctions when you are not the one that imposed them in the first place?
More crucially, while Zanu PF as a party may be united in its condemnation of the sanctions, it is stretching the imagination a little too far to assume that there is a consensus within that party on such a radical move as this. The idea might excite a few hawks, but a rational assessment of its implications would expose a regime in terminal trouble.
For a start, before raiding them government would need to prove that foreign multinationals in Zimbabwe are responsible for, or have a direct influence over the foreign policies of their home governments. They will also have to prove that the same multinationals are benefiting from the maintenance of EU and American sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Or maybe we are missing the point? Because for some time now, Zanu PF has tried unsuccessfully to replicate the land grab of 2000 in industry. First, they tried to force through the indigenisation and economic empowerment regulations targeted at companies worth over US$500 000, which had to be watered down after vigorous protests from its partners in the government of national unity. And now we have Mnangagwa and his warning which is nothing short of blackmail —- a threat to wrest control of the companies from their rightful owners without paying a cent for them.
Clearly this is a party in desperate need of a voice of reason. Sanctions were imposed on Zanu PF’s inner cabal by the West and not by companies; but now they are being forced to declare allegiance to politicians of questionable disposition.
Tsvangirai has put the cost of rebuilding Zimbabwe’s shattered economy at US$10 billion. As it stands, that kind of money is only available from international investors and multilateral institutions and lenders.
It is careless comments like these from the Zanu PF elite that have only served to scare away such investors who regard the country as a high political risk. People like Mnangagwa believe they can advance their political careers by parroting the president’s malevolent remarks. They evidently don’t care about the armies of the unemployed whose fate we can already envisage. Populism trumps good governance.