Calls to boycott Nestlé spreads to South Africa

JOHANNESBURG – Talk Radio 702 on Monday received dozens of calls and text messages calling for a boycott of Nestlé because its Zimbabwean operation is buying milk from a farm controlled by the country’s rogue first lady.\r\n

It emerged at the weekend that Grace Mugabe is selling milk from six farms to Nestlé in Zimbabwe.

The company said it was forced into the move because other milk producers had shut down.

“It is not fair that they have taken six farms from people and Grace and Robert Mugabe are coining the money,” said one furious caller.

Nestlé South Africa says it is not officially linked to Nestlé in Zimbabwe.

The company’s Theo Mxakwe says the firm had no choice.

“By providing basic food products to Zimbabwean consumers [we] aimed to meet the needs of the local population and the other alternative was to move out of the country – had we decided to close down we would have triggered further food shortages and hundreds of job loses,” says Mxakwe.  

Nestle SA said it is buying milk in Zimbabwe from a farm controlled by President Robert Mugabe’s family that was seized as part of a program to transfer land from white commercial farmers to black citizens of the country.

Nestle buys milk from the Mugabe family’s Gushungo Holdings Ltd., which owns a property formerly known as Foyle Farm, Ravi Pillay, a spokesman for Nestle in Johannesburg, said in an interview today. Purchases account for as much as 15 percent of Nestle’s intake in the country, Pillay said in a later statement. Calls to Mugabe’s office in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, weren’t answered.

“At the end of 2008 the company found itself operating in a market where 8 of its 16 contractual suppliers had gone out of business,” Pillay said in the statement. “As a result, in early 2009, Nestle was forced to purchase milk on the open market from a wide variety of suppliers on a non-contractual basis. This includes milk from the Gushungo Dairy estate.”

Mugabe and his allies are the target of asset freezes and travel bans imposed by the U.S. and the European Union because of concern over violence and irregularities during elections in the country over the last decade. The land seizure program, which began in 2000, slashed exports, deepened a recession that lasted a decade and caused a famine.

“Nestle is a truly global company, which operates in a wide variety of political settings,” Pillay said. “Had Nestle decided to close down its operations in Zimbabwe the company would have triggered further food shortages and hundreds of job losses.”

‘Good Example’

Nestle owns a milk powder and cereal factory in Harare, employing about 200 people.

Gushungo’s dairy estate is in Mazowe, about 20 miles (32 kilometers), north of Harare. Zimbabwe’s “first family” installed a modern dairy facility on the farm, the state- controlled Herald newspaper said on June 29, citing Martin Dinha, the provincial governor.

“The president is setting a good example and those who do not believe in the country’s land reform program should come hear and see the success,” Dinha said, according to the Harare- based newspaper.

The Mugabe family also farms corn, wheat and soybeans at its Highfield Farm in Norton, about 20 miles west of Harare, the Herald said. The farm may produce 5,000 metric tons of cereals and grains this year, the newspaper added. Mugabe’s family bought Highfield “soon after” Zimbabwe’s independence from the U.K. in 1980, according to the Herald.

Under white rule, which spanned 90 years from 1890, the best farming land was allocated to white settlers while black farmers were mainly confined to unfertile areas that further deteriorated when over farmed.

Food multinational Nestle has defended its decision to buy milk from farms owned by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace.The company said closing its operations would have led to further food shortages and job losses.According to London’s Sunday Telegraph, Mugabe’s wife took over six of the country’s most valuable farms during land grabs in 2002. The United Nations slapped the couple with strict targeted sanctions while America and the European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on their inner circles. Nestle said it was not obliged to comply with the sanctions because its headquarters were in Switzerland and insisted it had not broken any laws.

The company said it merely purchased milk on the open market from various suppliers.