Nestlé denies claims by Welshman Ncube

Harare – Swiss-based foods multinational Nestlé has denied a Zimbabwe government announcement last week that it has now decided to open its factory.

Speaking to reporters, a spokesperson said that the company is still reviewing conditions in Zimbabwe following its suspension of operations last week after it came under heavy pressure from ZANU-PF ministers to buy milk from a dairy concern owned by President Robert Mugabe’s wife.

Contrary to what Zimbabwe’s Industry Minister said last week, a Nestlé official at the company’s Geneva headquarters said that the multinational has only been in regular contact with Zimbabwean authorities since halting operations at its Harare plant over official harassment and intimidation from two government ministers.

Industry Minister Welshman Ncube announced late last week that a solution had been reached under which milk from Gushungo Holdings, owned by Grace Mugabe, would now be indirectly purchased by Nestlé  through a local cooperative from Mugabe.

But quoted by VOA, Nestlé spokeswoman Nina Backes said the company has not yet decided if it will reopen the plant despite assurances from the government as to the safety of its country managers and production staff.

Backes declined to spell out the company’s conditions for resuming operations in Zimbabwe.

Nestle suspended its operations in Zimbabwe after the company said it was forced to accept a delivery from a non-contracted milk supplier, and police harassed managers by bringing them in for questioning.

“Since under such circumstances normal operations and the safety of employees are no longer guaranteed, Nestle decided to temporarily shut down the facility,” the company said in a statement.

Though not stated explicitly, the “non-contracted supplier” was most likely Gushungo Dairy Estate, which is owned by the president’s wife, Grace Mugabe.

Gushungo was confiscated from white farmers as part of President Robert Mugabe’s internationally condemned land reform programs, and Nestle Zimbabwe recently dropped Gushungo as a supplier in response to international criticism.

The Zimbabwe government has tried to reassure the company and persuade it to resume operations, but Nestle Zimbabwe is still considering the situation.

Zimbabwe Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube blamed the international media for its role in blowing the whole thing out of proportion to begin with.