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Zimbabwe PM Tsvangirai woos foreign investors

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai courted foreign investors on Thursday, saying private property was safe despite moves to force mines to sell off majority shares.

But he acknowledged at an investment conference in Johannesburg that his uneasy power-sharing government with President Robert Mugabe created an unstable business climate.

This was especially the case since the enactment of the “indigenisation law” forcing mines to sell majority stakes to black Zimbabweans.

“I want to be honest with you by saying that our investment environment has been worsened by the mixed messages coming from the government, especially on the issue of indigenisation,” he said in his keynote speech.

He voiced regret over the case of South African firm Implats, whose plan to satisfy indigenisation requirements for its Zimplats operation was recently rejected by Zimbabwean authorities with a stern warning that the firm had two weeks to reduce foreign shareholding.

“I know that this has caused a lot of consternation, but this is a price that we are paying as a coalition government which has no shared vision and no shared values,” Tsvangirai said.

But he sounded a bullish note on Zimbabwe’s recovery since the economic melt-down and political crisis that led to the signing of his power-sharing deal with Mugabe in 2008.

“Four years ago, in 2008 in particular, it would not have made any sense at all to host such an event to call for investment in Zimbabwe. We had unprecedented hyperinflation, one billion Zimbabwean dollars could barely buy you three eggs,” he said.

“Today’s event is therefore a testimony of the painstaking journey we have travelled towards normalising the political, social and economic environment.”

Zimbabwe was once considered a regional bread basket, but as Mugabe, in power since 1980, embarked on a policy of seizing white-owned land, foreign direct investment crashed from a high of $444 million a year in 1998 to $4 million in 2001.

Foreign inflows have slowly rebounded thanks to strong interest in the country’s mineral resources, but remained low last year at $125 million.